Glendly Thompson, August 23rd, 2016
WW: Hello, today is August 23, 2016. My name is William Winkel. I am in Detroit, MI. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with –
GT: Glendy Thompson.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
GT: Thank you.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when were you born?
GT: I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, June 1949.
WW: And what’s the story of your family coming to Detroit?
GT: Well, my father and mother they were both raised in Montgomery, Alabama and he married my mother in ‘43. And he wanted a better life for my mother and this is the story that my parents told me. So he came to Detroit just before I was born. So he came here to see the city because what brought him here, his aunt told him that he could get a job here in the factory and so he decided that he wanted Detroit to be his home because he could provide a living. So they came here to Detroit, they lived with his aunt, which was my great-aunt, for a while. They moved out of her home into a rooming house because most people when they came to Detroit was told that there wasn’t places that blacks could live in the area so they had rooming houses and they brought me here when I was a baby.
WW: Did your parents find a neighborhood to settle in after the rooming house?
GT: Yes, they always lived on – well, they moved after the rooming house they moved on the west side and eventually they moved to the east side. So, really, my siblings we grew up on the east side and we finally settled to what some people know as the north end of Detroit. I went to school, graduated from Northern High School in June of ‘67. I’m the oldest out of six and so we all – they settled in a home down the street from this great-aunt eventually because she told them there was a home being emptied so my father bought it. And we moved this particular home in 1964 because it was before I graduated from high school.
WW: The neighborhood that you moved into, was it integrated?
GT: Yes, it was somewhat integrated back then. It was a Catholic school in the area so it was still a majority of whites still going to the Catholic school. And then Hamtramck was across the railroad tracks so that’s where we practically shopped sometimes when we couldn’t find what we needed on a street called Westminster which is on the north end. Because they had everything there because a lot of Jewish people had businesses there and so that’s where I was raised. I can’t say that it was heavily populated with white people but it was a melting pot. Yes.
WW: Did you feel welcome in that neighborhood when you moved in?
GT: Yeah, the thing about it, we met people by visiting the neighborhood. My parents, they used to take us for walks in the neighborhood and everything. We’d see some white people. They would wave and speak to us so they were basically friendly. And where we shopped at on Westminster, because there were two markets and there were clothing stores, there was a five and ten cent store so in that area right there we never had to travel out of the north end to get what we wanted. There was a fish market and it was basically owned by Jews so we would go up there and shop. The thing about it, my father didn’t really have a car at the time so we walked up there to go to the grocery store and things like that.
WW: What work did you father and your mother do?
GT: My father worked at Chrysler. My mother was a teacher at Northern High School. Yes.
WW: You were going to Northern High School in ‘66, then, correct?
WW: Were you involved in any way in the student walk-out?
GT: Yes, I walked out and I supported, as far as the school, because we had a principle and it was a police officer. His name was Black Diamond. He wasn’t very nice and we wanted a better education and so those were values that my mother and my father stressed to us to always want for better. So I supported it and then my mother didn’t know that I had walked out, but I did and I went to, what’s the name of the church? St. Joseph? St. Matthew’s?
GT: That’s where we went for school and we called it Freedom School back then. Eventually they were like okay. We got what we wanted because that’s the first time I got involved in being political and standing my ground for what’s right and everything. Believe it or not, one of my teachers at Freedom School was Ken Cockrel Sr. Yes.
WW: Do you remember any of your other teachers?
GT: That were there in the Freedom School? I can’t remember. He stood out. He stood out.
WW: I bet.
GT: He stood out and I was, you know, it was an honor to have him as the years -- and I said, you know, he was my teacher when I walked out for Freedom School. Because my other brothers and sisters, they went, but see, I was the oldest so I took the chance.
WW: As you were growing up in Detroit throughout the 1960s, did you notice any growing tension in the city?
GT: Well, not really because I was just really focused on – they used to call me a bookworm. I didn’t have good social skills because when other kids were playing, I was on the front porch reading a book and so I didn’t see that. I just seen it was tension between my brothers and sisters because they wouldn’t listen to me being the oldest when my parents would leave to go to church or whatever. That was the tension that I felt but any racial tension, I didn’t feel it at all.
WW: Okay. Going into 1967, given the mood across the country, were you anticipating any violence in Detroit that summer?
WW: Okay, how did you first hear what was going on July of 1967?
GT: I believe it was July the 23. It was on a Sunday. My father, he was a minister and we got up for church early to go to Sunday School and he told us that we weren’t going to church. So, you know, we were happy as kids not to be going to church on a Sunday. And he told us that something happened that was bad and it wouldn’t be a good idea – I can hear his voice right now telling us that he wanted us to stay at home. Their thing was don’t let nobody in. He told us that something happened on the west side and there was fire burning and whatever and for some strange reason, we went out of the front porch and I could look towards the west and I could see smoke. So he said – and my mother was going to church – children, young adults, we went outside to see. So we went down to the corner and we was looking up and down the street and it was real quiet. It was like a cloud over the street. Nobody was really out so we went back to the house and I think my brother, he turned on the radio and we could hear what was going on and that’s when the fear factor came that we better stay in the house. We better stay in the house.
WW: Did any of you venture out after that or did you hunker down?
GT: We hunkered down until our parents came back from church and my father told us that he could see fire and so he said we got to hook up the water hose and everything and he told us it was bad. He said he heard it was a blind pig. Of course, we didn’t know what a blind pig was. I was always the curious one, What is a blind pig? What is it? He said, “A after-hours joint,” as I recall. And he said they raided it. And I said, “Raid?” So he kind of broke it down that it was illegal gambling or whatever going on there so but after that, he told us to stay away from the doors and don’t go outside. And it was hot. It was very hot as I recall.
WW: You mentioned seeing the fires from your front porch. Was that a normal occurrence for the rest of that week then, seeing the smoke from your porch?
GT: Yeah, we could see the fire because it came on the north end, the rioting. We had a corner store about five houses down from us on the opposite side of the street. I recall that the man that owned the store, his name was Sharkey and he would give people credit in this store. You’d pay him when you’d get paid if you needed groceries or whatever. And he had just got a delivery that Saturday. I remember it because it was a delivery truck out there because I was in the store getting some candy or whatever and his storeroom was down in the basement. We actually seen people looting. We seen people having a bunch of groceries and there was a furniture store on Oakland Avenue and people were carrying couches and chairs and furniture, you know. But with my father being a minister, we had to get on our knees and start praying. We had prayer all the time for the city. And then later, here come the National Guard. We were very fearful then because they were coming down in the tanks with their guns like this. You see that was very frightening because that’s something we were never exposed to. I saw a lot of fire and a lot of looting as they say. On our block, where we lived, our neighbors we were close knit neighborhood on our block where no one let their children go out. We basically stayed in the house. We didn’t go out.
WW: Did you go around the city after that and see the damage that had been done?
GT: It was a long time before my father drove around. I know he ventured out. It was a long time before he took us around to see the damage that was done because the neighborhood that I was telling you about, that area was like one block over. But it was a long block because my sisters still live in the house that we grew up in. And everything was gone. It was destroyed. I mean, nothing. All the stores, I mean everything that you needed back then was on Westminster or on Oakland Avenue. They had restaurants. They had clubs. There was a club on Oakland, Phelps’ Lounge, and there was a club on Owen Avenue. It was Lee’s Sensation. So the north end was a hub. You had everything that you needed. But if you didn’t have it you would always go – because we even had a movie theater on Holbrooke but it blew up. It wasn’t because of the riot but we had everything we really needed and really if my parents wanted something, they would go to Federal’s Department Store in Hamtramck. But had everything right there. More or less. We didn’t have to venture.
WW: Given how afraid you were and the violence that went across the city, did you ever think about moving away?
GT: That particular year?
WW: Or afterwards? When you had the ability to move away, did you think about moving away?
GT: No, because in August of ‘67 I married my children’s father and he went to Vietnam so I was still living in my parents’ home and I didn’t actually move until he came home from Vietnam in ‘68. So he went off to the army but I never really wanted to move until I got older because my family was here. My parents was around and I thought about moving in ‘74 but I was going to move to Atlanta and I thought about it and it was selfish on me to move and take my children with me when all my family was here.
WW: How do you refer to what happened in July of 1967?
GT: Detroit Riot.
GT: And I guess, because my father informed me that there was a riot here in –
GT: Yeah, ‘43. So when he told me that story, my father would always tell, since I was the oldest, my father would always give me history about what he did, where they stayed, lived, and all of this. And he said there was a riot here. I’m like, a riot? And he said in ‘43. And he said it was a race riot. It was a race riot. I didn’t really consider Detroit Riot a race riot because somebody was really – they were breaking the law.
WW: So you just see ‘67 as a riot and not racial?
GT: You know, what I heard that was going on the other cities as I recall, to me it was not a race riot. People were doing what they wanted to do but as I got older, I began to understand that the division between black and white in this city, I understood that the whites would get more and we would get the leftovers. As I got older cause, you know, I was married. Still young but as I got older, I began to understand a lot of things about race and I experienced some things about race myself when I went to Alabama when they had the boycott in Alabama because we would go down South every year. Rosa Parks. We would always visit my grandmother in Alabama and my aunt, she was a maid for this hotel. So I went to work with her. We’d get on the bus, I stopped up front and she’d go into the back and she turned around and she saw me sitting there and of course she snatched me and she said you can’t sit up there. And she said you can’t sit up there and I’m like – I remember it just because it was downtown and then found out there was a bus boycott and later on, because we were down there and that’s when they started really boycotting the buses because she had to get rides downtown to go to work. I can go backwards; sometimes I can’t remember what’s going on today but I can remember back there. [WW laughs]
WW: A couple of final questions: How do you feel about the state of the city today?
GT: I feel good about what’s going on with the development of downtown but I wish I could see more when they come into the inner city and develop. And I know that you have to bring people into the city for work or whatever to bring revenue but what about the inner city? I see that they might throw up some housing here, some housing there, but people need jobs. I wish that we had more police presence in the neighborhoods in the inner city because I see so many things and I made a few calls and I never got a return call for the issue that I see right here on my street. I hope I live long enough to see that things are being done in the inner city. It’s not about downtown all the time. You’ve got to develop and put things in place in the inner city and I don’t see that happening. I mean, it may take I don’t know how many years but that’s what people want to see. I volunteer in the spring and the fall when they need to clean up around the city. I volunteer for that because even though I live over here and I have family and friends in the neighborhood I volunteer for, I just want to see something better for all people. Not just blacks; for all people. I mean, the car companies, people made their living working in the factory and I’m a stickler for education. We need better schools because at one time I taught remedial reading for Detroit Public Schools and we had the kids that come from the Catholic school that was a boys’ home on Finkel, I forgot the name of the school. They were bussing these kids in for this reading program that the Detroit Board of Education offered and some kids right now, they can’t read. I know technology has, it’s all about technology now but get back to the basics.
WW: Do you think the shadow of ‘67 still hangs over the city today?
GT: Yes, because the area that I was talking about not too far from where I grew up, that area never developed back. Never, never. They build a few little homes down there but to build up the north end, that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen, so yes.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?
GT: Yes. Change is good. I’m one for change but educate, jobs if that comes into play, maybe this city can move forward. Above all have good leadership for this city.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me. I greatly appreciate it.
GT: Well, thank you for having me.
WW: Thank you.