David Stanislaw, December 28th, 2016
WW: Hello. Today is December 28th, 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 -
DS: David Stanislaw.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today, sir.
DS: It's my pleasure.
WW: Can you please start by telling me, where and when were you born?
DS: I was born in 1941, in the city of Detroit.
WW: Did you grow up in the city?
DS: Spent all of my childhood in the city.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
DS: Northeast area, near Schoenherr and Eight Mile Road.
WW: What was that neighborhood like for you growing up?
DS: It was a very working-class neighborhood. The local bus service was called the Schoenherr Shuttle. Men walked to the bus in the morning with their lunch pails, came back at the end of the workday with their lunch pails. Many did not have a car. They were people who worked primarily in the automotive factories.
WW: What was the makeup of your neighborhood? Was it integrated at the time?
DS: No. It was all white. It was - not much integrated even by way of religion. Primarily Polish, Italian Catholics.
WW: Are there any memories you'd like to share from growing up in that neighborhood?
DS: Well, it was a very pleasant neighborhood in many ways. I remember school being quite an enjoyable experience. Quite friendly, although, not being Catholic or Italian or Polish, we were definitely a minority.
WW: What schools did you go to growing up?
DS: Trix School, John Trix, Schoenherr and Bringard.
WW: As you were growing up in the Forties and Fifties, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood, or did you venture around the city?
DS: Well, it's kind of an interesting experience because I would have stayed in my neighborhood primarily, but two things took me out of the neighborhood. One was, I did my grandmother's lawn and yard work for many years, beginning when I was about 11, and she lived on the northwest side, near Redford, and so I would take three buses over there every Saturday in the spring, summer, and fall, do her yard work, have a lunch with her - she was a widow at that time - and return home by the same route.
The other was that I was recognized as having some artistic talent, so early on I was sent on a Tuesday afternoon, as I remember to a secondary school not too far from my neighborhood. In fact, as I recall, I walked; it was about a mile and a half. And a little later than that I was selected to go down to the Detroit Institute of Arts, adjacent to where we're sitting, on Saturday mornings, for art lessons.
And after a certain period of doing that, they invited me to come down for the afternoons, too. So, pretty much year-round, except for the summer, for two or three years, I came down to the Art Institute on Saturday, and took art lessons from a number of very interesting teachers.
WW: When you were coming down to the DIA and to Midtown, what was this area like then?
DS: Well, it really was considered quite a nice neighborhood. The Park Shelton, across the street, was a fairly elegant hotel. The Institute of Arts, the library, and the historical museum were relatively new compared to today - they were about 65 years newer - and it was a very upscale part of town, in the sense that it was kind of the culture center of the city at that point. Shopping, of course, the center was downtown. Hudson's was the feature store, with lots of other very, very nice shops and stores. So it was a very, very nice time in the city.
My personal background was I came from a fairly poor family and so I didn't go to Hudson's ever as a child. As a young adult I did and I appreciated some of the splendor it offered at that point in time.
WW: After you graduated from high school, did you decide to stay in the city?
DS: I did. I briefly moved out of the city because I moved away from my parents' home as I began my senior year in high school. So the year right after high school I moved in with some friends who lived in Roseville. I lived there for about a year and a half. I moved back to the city when I started college full-time at Wayne. And I continued through graduate school.
After graduate school, during which time, of course, the riots occurred, I, a year later, bought a house in northwest Detroit and lived in Detroit for nine years after that.
WW: Coming back to your time at Wayne State, what was the student makeup of Wayne State then? Was it a primarily white college then?
DS: Primarily. There were some other nationalities as well as African Americans but it was primarily white and very much a day school. There was only one resident dorm, Helen Newberry Joy, as I recall. And other than that, most people lived in their own homes. I moved down to campus - lived in an off-campus rooming house. That was one of the very old, large houses that had been subdivided. It was on Hancock, west of the John Lodge. And I lived there in a small apartment. It was a one-room apartment, bathroom was down the hall. I had what was considered to be a kitchenette. It was not much more than a hot plate and a sink and so I recall the rent being seven dollars a week - reasonable in today's market, but of course, incomes were not what they are today.
WW: While you were at Wayne State during the Sixties, were you around for Martin Luther King's march down Woodward, by chance?
WW: Do you have any memories you'd like to share from that?
DS: Yeah, I remember it very well, at least portions of it. At that time, my daughter was not yet born, and so my wife and I went down there and amongst the tens of thousands of people, listened to Dr. King. I don't recall much about his speech, and I wasn't very close to him at all, but it was a day of really celebration and excitement. It was a very uplifting moment.
WW: Your time at Wayne State, did you ever come in contact with radicals on campus? Or were you aware of radicals on campus during the civil rights movement?
DS: Well, it depends on what you mean by radicals because I was one of the students involved in civil rights, and in the peace movement at that time. I actually was a member of a very small group of people. We called ourselves the Ad Hoc Committee for University Housing and what we did, was we convinced the university to integrate the housing - off-campus housing - for non-whites. The university did not believe that housing was segregated, and we undertook a study to prove that it was segregated and then we put pressure on the university to refuse to list housing for homeowners and apartment owners who were not open to renting to anybody, regardless of color. So as I recall, that took us about a year and a half to accomplish.
WW: What drew you to civil rights activism?
DS: Well, there's a very strong part of me that's been part of me, I think, all my life, that values human life and values other people. And to me, that people should be discriminated against on a basis that's not rational, is totally inappropriate. It's really preposterous, and frankly it's an insult to everybody, not just to the people who are both being discriminated against and those who are doing the discriminating. I'm frankly embarrassed at some of those elements in our culture today. So it's kind of a personal autonomy, a sense of respect and love of my fellow man that drove me in that direction. Eventually helped me select a career in clinical social work. I'm a trained psychotherapist. I'm trained in psychoanalysis and in the last twenty years I've developed a business consulting practice where our focus is on people, leadership, conflict resolution, and really helping people be able to develop workplace patterns that promote happiness and integrate a great deal of pleasure for everyone.
WW: Were you involved in any other civil rights groups around the city at this time?
DS: Well, there were a number of marches, a number of campaigns that I was involved in. I was also involved in - I was a member of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. I also was involved in the peace movement. There was a group that I belonged to for a number of years called SANE, and they were advocating a sane nuclear policy for this country. During that time, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred which I remember very well. And so both of those were very high on my list.
Now, this is despite my putting myself through school, working two part-time jobs to do that. But the cost of college, relative to what I could earn, was such that I didn't have to take out any loans until graduate school. The tragedy today is that many students can't go to school like that. It's a shame because we're hurting our future.
WW: I agree. Going through the Sixties and while you're at Wayne State and while you're doing your activism, did you notice any growing tension in the city?
DS: Yes. There were riots occurring around the city, around the country, excuse me, in different cities, and I was certainly attuned to that. You know, there clearly was an attitude of oppression and hostility toward minorities and African Americans, or Negroes as they were called in those days. That was very palpable and, frankly, quite disgusting. So it was no surprise to me, as well as, I think, to most other people, that eventually, you know, the riots erupted in Detroit. As I recall, July 29 of 1967, it was a Sunday morning.
WW: July 23. Close.
DS: Okay. A few days off.
WW: Going into that summer, where were you living then?
DS: I was living on campus. I had just completed my graduate education and was living at - just south, or north of the corner of Third and Warren. It was a 14-unit apartment building owned by the university, and I'd been its caretaker for a number of years. So I had a keen responsibility, as I felt it, to my friends and fellow students and faculty in the building. And so when the riots broke out, it really moved me into a position of what I think of as kind of a desire to serve these people, because of the potential danger that existed around us.
WW: Do you remember how you first heard about what was going on?
DS: I remember very clearly. It was a Sunday. My wife and I had taken both our kids out to Stony Creek to have a day of picnicking and swimming and so on. We came back late in the afternoon and we were listening to the radio. There was nothing on the radio that told us anything, but as we came south, on the John Lodge, there were big black flakes of something floating in the air. Couldn't figure out what it was until some reached close to my car and I said, “That looks like tar paper that's been burning.” Then we could smell the burn - the fires, and the smoke - and couldn't put it together, because it obviously was a horror that part of my mind didn't want to believe. But it was later that afternoon, after we'd gotten home, I don't recall if somebody in the apartment building told us about it, if we heard it on the radio, or what - we didn't have a television at the time - I've never been a television watcher. But we learned of the riots at that point.
WW: Do you remember what your first reaction was?
DS: Well, it was fright and then concern for my family. I really wanted my wife to take our two children and go out to her parents' home in the western suburbs. She refused to do that, and I was very angry with her because I felt there was some danger, particularly to children who, you know, are quite defenseless. But my next step was then to really try to assess the situation in terms of the apartment building. We were isolated. There was an engineering building on one side of us. On the other side was a Sunoco gas station, which wasn't very exciting because the risk of fire was very prominent in my mind.
We had a first floor apartment in the building which allowed me to feel that we were somewhat vulnerable. So after doing whatever I did with the other tenants in the building, I recall the back part of our apartment is where our kids had their bedroom. My son was not quite one yet, my daughter had just turned three - she was about three and a half at that point - so one of the things I did, because of the fear of a Molotov cocktail or firebomb, was I grabbed a big pan, filled it with water, put some sheets in it with the idea that if there was that kind of threat, that the potential for putting out the fire would be much better with that kind of aid on hand. We had, as I recall, a fire extinguisher also. I don't recall what I slept like, but I don't think it was very good for the first few nights because this unstable situation went on for quite a while. It seemed quite unending for me.
WW: Did you stay hunkered down in the apartment, or did you go out to see what was going on at all?
DS: Well, we stayed pretty much in the apartment. There were - because we were right within the campus, and on the edge of it, at that point in time, there was some safety in going outside because the university had its police and they were patrolling. Additionally, the National Guard and police were patrolling, so we ventured out to go to the grocery store and the drugstore, which were one and two blocks away at the time. I did go up on the roof once, and I remember - I was trying to survey what was going on, it was a four-story building - and I recall somebody from a fire truck, dressed in a National Guard uniform, pointing a gun in my direction, saying, you know, "Get off the roof, I'm going to shoot you." And so I immediately got off the roof. But it was a very sobering moment.
WW: Was the area around you affected by fire, then or was your area spared?
DS: We were really spared. There was no - I don't recall any real event on the campus itself. It was summertime and I was a student year-round, because I wanted to complete my degree. I worked year-round and of course went to school year-round. This was the summer before my graduate education began - I'm sorry, after it ended and so I wasn't attending any classes at that point in time. So the campus was really fairly quiet from the standpoint of student activity but I don't recall there being any events occurring on the campus at all, and nothing terribly close either.
WW: Did you have any interaction with the police or the National Guard, aside from the one incident you already spoke of?
DS: I don't recall any. I know that there was a massive presence up and down Warren Avenue, and on Third also, but I recall having no interaction. Basically, I was wanting to avoid them. I'd been scared once; I didn't need it again.
WW: Did you go out after the week was over? Did you go out to inspect, or to see for yourself what had happened?
DS: To a very limited degree. I contained my curiosity quotient in that kind of way. I'm not a person who looks at auto accidents when I’m driving by them on the expressway or on the road. So we certainly did some looking around but not terribly significantly. Over the course of the next many weeks and months, of course, we traveled throughout the city for a variety of reasons and saw a lot of what had happened. Of course the real tragedy was that the neighborhoods most affected were the neighborhoods that blacks were living in. You know, the riots really hurt so many black residents in ways that - it was just really shameful.
WW: Before or after, did you think about taking your family out of the city?
DS: You know, I gave it some thought. No question about it. But I thought it was highly irrational to leave. I loved the city. I still do. I always have. I consider myself a native Detroiter. And, to the degree that a year after the riots, in August of '68, we closed on my first home in northwest Detroit, and I lived there through the next nine years, and left the city only because my children had had difficulties in the public school, and then in the two private schools I put them in, they were not fitting one of my children's needs, sequentially, so in late spring of sixty - sorry, '77, it was time to leave the city. I put my kids in new schools every two years and that was really unacceptable to me. So for stability reasons for my kids, we decided to leave the city and move to the suburbs.
WW: Did you continue your activism after '67?
DS: I did. And actually prior to '67, there was a fairly significant experience in my life. There were several encounters we had with a pretty right-wing group that really seemed to have Nazi-like qualities. I'm trying to think of the man's name who was the leader. He was -
WW: Donald -
DS: Lobsinger. I remember it well now, because among other things, there were several times when I and my friends encountered this man and his group. They were a small group, and fairly fringe, and, you know, fairly unusual. But I recall, I think it was we were in Ford Auditorium for an address of some kind, a meeting of some kind, and Donald Lobsinger and his crowd got up and created a huge distraction, lots of noise, and, you know, I'm a patient person, I'm a tolerant person, so I was sitting - I had an aisle seat watching the whole thing, and as the police arrested these men, one of the officers tapped me on the knee and said "Would you be willing to sign a complaint?" and I said absolutely. So I went with him and signed a complaint against this group for presumably disrupting an orderly meeting.
WW: Did you have any other encounters with him?
DS: Nothing noteworthy. I mean, they were present from time to time. I viewed them more as a nuisance and kind of a tragic group in the sense that, you know, they were fighting for a cause that really there's no winning, I mean, in the long run the human spirit's going to prevail over that kind of thing, and I feel very strongly that groups like that need to be tolerated. We do exist in a nation that prides itself on civil liberties and the ability to speak out. And hate speech, while it's deplorable, has a very limited audience for a limited period of time.
WW: Throughout this interview, you've referred to 1967 as a riot. Do you believe that's what it was?
DS: No, that really is an unfair characterization. It really was a rebellion, an angry rebellion on the part of people who were disenfranchised, were denied access to appropriate resources on a non-discriminatory basis, not unlike many of the people who voted in this last election who, through no fault of their own, lost their jobs, lost their houses, and then lost hope. And these are people who have been disenfranchised by a political system that has a lot of unfairness in it, a lot of discrimination, and it's unfortunate because most of the efforts on the part of the rebellers at that time, in the long run, hurt themselves. Of course the long-run gain, is of course, they gained a voice. They gained notice. They gained a visualness that they didn't have before. And for that I applaud the experience for all of the people in our country, particularly our city. But the short run was, you know, some young boys got indoctrinated into the idea of destroying property in ways that, you know, it's egregious. It's just not right.
And of course, you know, black neighborhoods became much more isolated, much more resource-poor, because many of the merchants who had stores didn't rebuild, left, and so services and goods were much more limited in their availability and the west Detroit neighborhoods, particularly along Twelfth Street and so on, where really there were thriving communities with a limited amount of integration, at least they had merchants they could go to and buy things. And after the rebellion, there just certainly were just scores and scores of blocks who didn't have anything like that anymore.
WW: Are there any stories from '67 that you'd like to share?
DS: Beyond the ones I've shared I can't think of any right now. It was a very sobering time in my life, and it's kind of interesting because in August, we took a vacation - a camping vacation - up in northern Ontario, and when - it was a small city and we stayed outside the city in a campsite, we had a tent and so on - and the local newspaper learned that I was from Detroit. And they came out and interviewed me, which was kind of interesting, so I had an opportunity to talk a little bit with a very rather isolated rural Canadian community about, you know, the big city and the events they heard about. So it was an interesting perspective at that moment in time for me.
WW: What do you feel about the state of the city today?
DS: I'm very excited. I've been involved in a few things that are going on in the city and been able to make a few contributions of a fairly minor nature, but my heart is really in it and I have been supporting, you know, a couple of non-profits that are active in the city, both personally and through my consulting business. Investment-wise, I've been able to participate in a real estate development that's bringing life into the central area between Midtown and downtown, an area that, you know, hopefully is going to be more of a bridge so we don't have just isolated pockets downtown and Midtown. And of course, I'm really troubled about the neighborhoods, the communities that aren't being touched. I celebrate Mayor Duggan's election and his causes that he's championing for the city. I'm a huge supporter of him and I'm very hopeful and I think the city's on its way back. The tipping point has been reached, as Malcolm Gladwell as talked about, relative to other kinds of events and crises. I'm very hopeful, very optimistic. I don't know that I'm going to live long enough to see the kind of city that I'd like to see, but I see it's on its way and I'm very hopeful.
WW: If you had any advice for Detroiters moving forward, what would it be?
DS: It's not the scary place it is rumored to be and one time really was. There are plenty of very, verysafe areas. I think even though I'm not a spectator sports guy, I'm pleased that there are a lot of people coming down to see sports events. I celebrate, of course, Orchestra Hall. I've been a Detroit Symphony subscriber for over 30 years. Also with the Michigan Opera Theater, the Fox and the Paradise Theater, other things are bringing people downtown. I think people need to understand that this is a fairly safe community and using good judgment and participating in many of the events, many of the shops that are open along Cass and Second, along Woodward, all the new restaurants that are opening. It's a vibrant time for the city. It's very, very lively.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I greatly appreciate it.
DS: It's been my pleasure. Thank you.