Jacqueline Mills, August 20th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is August 20, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit ‘67 Oral History Project. I am in Detroit, Michigan and I am sitting down with Miss Jacqueline Mills. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
JM: Thank you for having me.
WW: We really appreciate it. Can you please tell me where and when were you born?
JM: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, May 21, 1951.
WW: Did you grow up in the city?
JM: Yes, I did.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
JM: I lived on Seebaldt. It was near Northwestern High School.
WW: Growing up in the city at that time, was your neighborhood integrated?
JM: No, it wasn’t.
WW: What did your parents do for a living?
JM: My father worked for Ford Motor Company. He was an art welder at Ford and my mother worked for Hutzel Hospital. She was a dietary aide.
WW: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
JM: Yes, I have one brother, Luther. He’s deceased now. And two sisters, Valerie and Eleanor.
WW: What was it like growing up in that neighborhood?
JM: We had a beautiful neighborhood. We were in – my uncle owned a two family flat and we lived in the bottom flat of the two family flat and the neighbors were really helpful and we had a real good community.
WW: Would you like to share any experiences you have from growing up in that neighborhood?
JM: Yes, well, basically we had black doctors, black dentists. We had churches that were really involved and did a lot of things with the youth like Hartford and St. Stephens. We went to them for youth programs and things. So we enjoyed – we had a good neighborhood.
WW: Growing up in the late Fifties and into the Sixties, as a teenager, did you embrace any of the social movements that were going on throughout the country?
JM: Yes, my mother was one of those who was definitely interested in Martin Luther King. She was born in Georgia and in fact, they knew the King family. They went to – my grandfather and Papa King were friends. So when they moved to Detroit, they still had a friendship. Even one of my aunts that still lives in Atlanta, she babysat for the King children, Martin Luther and his brother. So it was a family tie and so my mother was always quiet but definitely looking out for the rights of black people. So she went to the first address that was taking place.
WW: In ‘63?
JM: In ‘63. So we always were involved. Not militant or burning anything but definitely we realized that things needed to change and to be better.
WW: In 1960s Detroit, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood or did you venture around the city?
JM: We ventured around the city. Of course, downtown was really nice so we would go downtown but basically, we didn’t go past the central city for the most part. We just didn’t have any reason to.
WW: Did you sense any growing tension in the city? Or any tension at all?
JM: I didn’t really pay any attention to it. I can’t calculate but I wasn’t exposed to too much negativity so I didn’t really sense anything like that.
WW: Growing up in the city, did you experience any racism?
JM: Not as I knew of.
WW: Going into ‘67, did you or anyone you know expect any violence that summer?
JM: Like I said, I was a teenager so I didn’t have a good beat on what was going on but one of the most important things that stuck out in my mind was as things started bubbling up, I had a brother who had joined the police force in May of 1967 and as I was trying to recall back, his first day on the beat was the day of the riot. So his – he started the academy in May of 1967 and I even have his obituary because I was trying to check the dates to see what was going on, what the time frame because I kept saying the first day of the riot but his obituary says that he joined the police force in May. But, he did, but he went to the academy and his first day on duty was that day.
WW: Do you know why he wanted to join the police force?
JM: I don’t know. I really don’t.
WW: How did you first hear about what was going on on that Sunday?
JM: News. And it was scary and made your stomach kind of bubble up and we didn’t know exactly what was going on.
WW: From where you were living at the time could you see any of the fires on Sunday?
JM: No, because I grew up in the Seebaldt, Grand Boulevard, Tireman area, near Northwestern, but we had moved within a few months before that, maybe a year before that, we had moved to Cloverlawn and that was near Livernois and Finkel area. So we weren’t in the central city. My parents had just purchased their first home where they weren’t renting and that’s where we had moved just before maybe a year or so before the riots.
WW: What was the mood in your household as the riot unfolded?
JM: We were nervous because we knew that my brother was going to be a police officer and then we could see, when we heard about the riots then we could hear about the National Guard and then, we didn’t see it in our neighborhood that we were living in then, but we would go out and ride around and then we realized that in our old neighborhood, they were up and down Grand River because we were right off Grand River. So we noticed the National Guard at that time.
WW: For your family, was it a relief when the National Guard came in or was it an extra stress?
JM: It was a relief because I didn’t think they were going to do anything to escalate it and I didn’t want people to get hurt so I figured maybe that would be a way to deter it so it was a relief.
WW: Because you were a teenager then, you weren’t expecting anything like you said. Were you shocked by how expansive the riot was?
JM: Like, how much damage?
WW: Yeah, how much damage, the switch from arson to sniping?
JM: Yes, I was. That’s when I got nervous because we would normally where we had moved to, we would take a bus to get downtown and everywhere we rode to, which was the 12th, 14th Street, that bus couldn’t go through there because everything had been torn down and burned up. So it was a whole different atmosphere.
WW: Afterwards did you see the city differently?
JM: I think I did. I think I grew a little bit more conscious of the racial divide. Not that I wasn’t aware of it before but I became more conscious of it and started being observant of, to me, the different things, the institutional racism that was taking place. I became more sophisticated because I was getting older and I could see where things weren’t right.
WW: Did your folks ever entertain the idea of living the city because of this?
JM: No, they had already left. The city, the only reason why we the area that we moved from was because we didn’t own a home there.
WW: And the house at Livernois and Finkel, did they think about moving out of the city from there?
JM: No, no they didn’t.
WW: Did you?
WW: Do you think that the shadow of ‘67 still hangs over the metro area today?
JM: Yes. Because some of those places that were messed up, they took a long time. I remember that. Took a very long time. It was almost like, here, we want you to look at this. This is what you did to this city and therefore we want you to look at this. I felt like it was like, you deserve this so this is how we’re going to keep it for a while and you won’t do it again. But the problem was not being addressed. But like a lot of my colleagues and everything, they rose above it. They still went on to excel and try to do positive things but it was already that in your eye, in your face kind of thing.
WW: Do you continue to live in the city today?
JM: No, I live I Southfield now.
WW: And what year did you move out?
WW: May I ask why?
JM: Because I’m waiting on it to get better and kept waiting and kept waiting. It’s getting there little by little but every time there’s a step forward, it’s ten back. So I still come to Detroit. I still got friends and family in Detroit and my church is in Detroit but I don’t feel the safety.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city to move forward? You did just say one step forward, ten back.
JM: Ten back. I’m always optimistic that it’s going to move forward. I really feel it now. I feel the energy. And I feel that the powers that be, somebody with some money somewhere has faith in it and the good-hearted people that live in the metro and the Detroit area will make it work. It’s going to take more than money to bring it back. It’s got to be the hearts and minds and souls of the people.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
JM: No, I think that’s it.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me. I greatly appreciate it.
JM: Okay, thank you.