Deborah Ferella, August 20th, 2016
BB: This is Bree Boettner with the Detroit Historical Society Detroit 67 Oral History Project. Today is August 20. We are in Detroit, Michigan and I’m sitting down with Deborah Ferella—
BB: Ferella. Thank you, Deborah, for sitting down with us today. First question, where and when were you born?
DF: I was born in Detroit, November 29, 1954.
BB: Okay. And who were your parents and what were their occupations?
DF: John Ferella. He owned his own carpet and tile business.
DF: My mother’s name is Maurine Louise Ferella and she had various jobs.
BB: Do you have any siblings?
DF: I do. Johnnie Ferella, that’s my brother. He is—he’s like 52, 52. James Ferella. He’s a year old than me, he’s deceased. Donna Ferella, she’s my older sister, she’s deceased. That’s all.
BB: Okay. That’s good. Do your siblings live here in the Detroit?
DF: They do not.
BB: So you’re the last Detroiter.
DF: Well I never really—I lived in Redford.
BB: Oh, okay.
DF: Redford Township it was called then.
BB: Okay. So you grew up in Redford?
DF: I did.
BB: That’s where you were born. Fantastic. What was living and growing up in Redford like? What kind of city was it?
DF: Typical suburban living. I guess you would call it middle class. That’s what I considered our family to be, middle class.
BB: What’d you guys do for fun?
DF: Went to our cottage.
BB: Where’d you attend school?
DF: I went to Jefferson Elementary, went to Pierce Middle School, you called them middle schools—
DF: —and then to Thurson High School. And then I moved to California very young.
BB: Oh, okay.
DF: Like around ’69, ’70.
BB: So when did you graduate from high school?
DF: It would have been ’72.
BB: ’72. Okay. Did you ever come into the city of Detroit for fun? Or leisure?
DF: We came to Detroit all the time.
BB: What was Detroit like back in the Sixties?
DF: It was awesome. It was beautiful.
BB: Elaborate on the awesomeness.
DF: Just taking the bus all the way down here and shopping at Hudson’s. It was beautiful. It was really nice. I didn’t really see it as any different than the suburbs. I thought it was actually nicer than where we lived. It was beautiful. You couldn’t find those kinds of shops in Redford, or even in the surrounding area. It was very nice.
BB: Okay. Did you come in with family or friends?
DF: I used to come with my mother. But, we used to also take the bus. The bus was like a nickel.
DF: To get down here.
BB: Wow. That was probably expensive—
DF: That was probably a lot back then.
BB: Wow, okay. So you came mostly down here for leisure though? Your parents and mother—
DF: Leisure, shopping.
BB: Cool. Did you have any relationships or friendships with people down in the city here?
DF: I do now. My brother-in-law lives down here. I’ve been coming down over 30 years to visit him. And because of the parking situation in Detroit, that I complain about constantly, I park in Greektown and I walk to Adelaide and Woodward, which is where the new hockey stadium is being built.
BB: It is.
DF: There is absolutely positively no where to park and there hasn’t been for 30 years. But, it’s a nice walk, from Greektown, too. I don’t mind the walking.
BB: Going back to the Sixties, you used to come here for fun. Obviously, school was out during July of ’67. So tell me how you first heard about what was going on in ’67.
DF: Probably over the radio.
DF: So, what do we do? Drove down here—
BB: Very smart.
DF: We were not scared. I wasn’t. Neither was my family members. We just came down here to see what was going on. My memory is seeing all the horses and the mounted police. They just kind of looked at us like "Go. What are you doing?" Just looking around. Where we were they were just moving the crowds to disperse. To just go home, you know, go find somewhere, I guess they would stay safe. I didn’t see any, what is it called, looting or violence, or— in my mind, because, come on, you know, I was young. It was exciting. I was just looking around going, "Oh, look at all the police." I love horses. "Look at all the mounted police." We were in the middle of that and it did not seem chaotic to me.
BB: Did you get close to where it broke out, at Twelfth and Clairmont or were you guys—?
DF: We were away from that area. We were at a point where the police were not letting you go any further, I guess you call them gawkers. But, I didn’t think I was a gawker, I thought it was kind of cool to see all that. So we were told to, you know, go back and just go home. Which we didn’t do.
BB: Well, what’d you guys do afterwards?
DF: We just walked around and talked to the police officers that were on the— I don’t think it ever entered my mind at any time that it was a dangerous situation. Unlike the people that were a little bit further up, and where everything was going on, you know, like my friends and the people that are also doing interviews. I had no idea. No idea until they told me all about it. And then we went back home and, you know, it was like "Oh, that was interesting."
BB: When did you hear about like what was actually going on?
DF: I don’t think I ever did.
BB: You never did?
DF: I mean, I was too young to understand the type of violence and the type of activities that were involved in the whole ‘67 era. I just never understood it. I didn’t even know what that word meant. To this day, I don’t really understand how it happened—or why. You know, I know the National Guard were there and I’ve been told all these things, I could see all these things. But, never registered, still doesn’t. I just—I don’t get it.
BB: Did you see any ramifications of how it affected the city afterwards?
DF: I did not. Because I kind of just went back to, you know, my town, back to school, and eventually I just moved on to California. So I really never heard or kept up with what had happened. Like I said I did not understand what was going on. It just didn’t register with me, it still doesn’t, how something like that could happen and it could be so out of control, and it could get to that point.
BB: When did you move back to the area from California?
DF: Oh ’70, in the Seventies—on and off. I kept moving back, coming home, moving back, coming home.
BB: Everybody comes back to Michigan.
DF: Yeah we do. We all do.
BB: Yeah it happens.
DF: It’s beautiful here. I’m staying. [laughter]
BB: That’s good. That’s good. What are your thoughts about the city today?
DF: I think it’s amazing.
BB: Yeah? Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?
DF: Well, I, like, my brother-in-law lives at Adelaide and Woodward, been going there for 30 years—over. They’ve always been very friendly. Everyone’s always been cordial, respectful, I’ve never, ever had a problem in Detroit. To me, it just keeps getting better and better and better. I walk from the Courthouse to past the DIA [Detroit Institute of Arts], way past here. I just meet wonderful people. I’ve never had any problems. I think it’s growing nicely. The only complain I have? No parking. And why would you put a hockey stadium on Woodward?
DF: That’s disappointing because it’s people like me, that enjoy the city and I love to come down here for all the events, but think about it. You have to park in Greektown, or maybe a little bit further even just to come and enjoy those things. I noticed today that there must be a game going on because my girlfriend who lives here, I said, "What’s going on?" She said, "Well there’s a game." I’m like, well, you know, nowhere to park. And they’re just wandering about. They don’t—once the stadium is built, where you going to park? I see no underground or no parking. It’s beautiful. But, the DIA they have events constantly that even involve Eastern Market. Eastern Market is beautiful. They have that path for biking that I never knew about, until I signed up for an Instagram event through Eastern Market.
BB: Oh cool.
DF: I met the most wonderful people. It was awesome. It was beautiful. These events are going on constantly. If I miss one, it’s because I could not find parking. Even trying to park at my brother in law’s, he's like, "You might as well just go back to Greektown and park there." Which I do. But, by the time I get to the events, they’re over with. So yeah, Detroit is beautiful and it’s up and coming and it’s awesome. It’s just the parking problem. People that live right—the DIME is a good example. D-I-M-E, L. King was there, there’s all kind of musical events there, but nobody can find it. I even took pictures and said, "Look this is how you get here." And they’re like, "Can’t find it." Even if they could, there’s no parking. So, that’s the biggest problem for Detroit, I think, right now, is the parking situation. Other than that, I love it down here. Every time I come down here there’s something new opening. There’s something new I see online. "I’ve got to get down there!" Like this, I’ve never been here before.
DF: This is amazing. I was telling you earlier, I love it. I love it. I will probably spend the next two hours in here looking around.
BB: Awesome, I’m glad to hear that. Good, good, we definitely want to encourage that.
DF: You know, Detroit is a musical, musical place. The riverfront, saw Michael McDonald down there. Pattie Labell was down there. There’s always something amazing going on. St. Andrew’s Hall, go there quite often. 93.9 the River puts on a lot of events there and there’s just music everywhere. The DIA’s always having music. DIME, as I mentioned. There are places all over. The bars, they participate with these events. It’s amazing how much goes on down here.
DF: And that’s just this summer. And the summer’s not over yet.
BB: Nope, it’s not.
DF: So there’s plenty more to come.
BB: Cool, cool.
DF: I enjoy that.
BB: Do you have any other, you know, memories or snippets from the past that you’d like to talk about in regards to ’67 that you can think of?
DF: Well, just before I made my way down here I did speak with a friend who lived a block away from me and I told him where I was going. I said, "What was on your mind when all that happened?" He says, "Alls I can remember was all the neighbors, including himself, all the parents, all got their shotguns."
DF: I’m like, "What do you mean you all got your shotguns?" Well I did not understand that at all, I still don’t. But that was the, that particular area, which was only a block away from me, that was their solution. Everybody go find a shotgun.
DF: I don’t understand that.
BB: That’s weird.
DF: What they were going to do, I don’t know.
DF: Yeah, that’s very scary so I had a totally different perspective.
BB: And where’s that location?
DF: Yeah, like West Chicago and Beech. That area.
BB: Oh, okay.
DF: It’s not that far from Detroit—
DF: —but, my goodness. We’re going to arm ourselves? No, don’t think that’s necessary.
BB: [laughter] Well, thank you so much—
DF: Oh, you’re welcome.
BB: —for sharing your story. We really, really do appreciate it. Like I said, this is for, you know, expanding the narrative of the ‘67—what happened. So, thank you so much for participating.
DF: Oh, you’re very welcome.
BB: We hope to see you around.
DF: Oh, I’ll be around. I’m always around.
BB: We’ve got more events coming so join us.
DF: Oh, yes, I know. Plenty more to come.
BB: Awesome. Thank you so much.
DF: Thank you for your time.