Monica Stuhlwier, December 6th, 2016
CG: Hello. Today is December 6, 2016. This Celeste Goedert with the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. Today I’m in Monroe, Michigan, and I’m sitting down with --
MS: Sister Monica Stuhlwier.
CG: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MS: You’re welcome.
CG: So if you could just begin by telling me where and when you were born.
MS: I was born in 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio. But I went to college in Detroit at Marygrove, 1957-61. Then I entered the Congregation, the IHM [Immaculate Heart of Mary] congregation in Monroe, Michigan. In 1967, I was studying in Detroit at Calvert and LaSalle at the Pious XII Religious Education Institute. We were taking classes at Central High School.
The night that the riots started I was visiting a Sister at Marygrove, Six Mile and Wyoming, and somebody told us that we’d better not try to cross Livernois at Six Mile or Five Mile because the riots were beginning. So, they took me up to Seven Mile, and I crossed over. I was staying at St. Gregory Convent, which was at Fenkell, Five Mile two blocks north of Livernois, a block down maybe.
Anyway, when I got home that day and the next few days we had to stay in and we were observing a lot of the rioting that was going on in the small shops on Livernois. There was a furniture store so we saw people coming down the street with TVs and lamps and there was a Honeybaked Ham Store on Fenkell, so boy, they were having a great time with the Honeybaked hams, coming down the street with the Honeybaked hams. I just remember there were a lot of helicopters above and one Sister got the idea, “Let’s go up on the roof so maybe we can see better.” Well, another Sister said, “You better get down there, the police have said they’re looking for–
MS: –snipers up there so get down because they might shoot you.” [Laughter.] So anyway, it was just quite a time the few days. We couldn’t go to class yet, and in the meantime I think after they said that down at Central High School there were tanks
MS: And soldiers and stuff like that. Then, one of our Sisters was very active in social justice, and she asked any of us that wanted to go down to the jails because a lot of the young people were taken off the streets because they had a curfew.
MS: And they didn’t realize, I suppose, that there was a curfew so they were out. The girls were taken to one jail, and the boys were taken to another, and she took us to the girls’ jail. We were to interview these girls–a few of these girls each of us–to get their names, get their parents’ names, and their phone number, and we were to go home and call their parents and tell them that they’d be home within a day, not to worry.
CG: Oh, okay.
MS: So that’s what I remember mostly.
CG: Do you remember any of the interviews?
MS: No. I mean it’s been 50 years, honey.
CG: Yeah, a long time ago.
MS: 49 maybe, it’ll be 50 in the summer. It was just young kids, 13–
CG: They were all young kids who had just been arrested?
MS: Yeah, they were just out, they weren’t supposed to be out past eight o’clock or something, I don’t know what it was. I don’t remember that part.
CG: Do you remember where they were keeping them?
MS: They were in the jail, I don’t know, some jail downtown.
MS: Yeah. And Sister Mary Gerald, Shirley Alice, was the one that standing at our convent too, there was a bunch of us. We were studying, as I said at the Pious XII Center, and there were older sisters. When Sister Mary Agnes asked me, “You know, who else was there?” I said most of them either are dead or left to community [laughter]. The Superior I know she was dead, she was wonderful. And I remember the other gal, she’s 100 now, and she was all scared, better sit down, get down to get out of the windows, you know, get into the corridors so nobody shoots you. Well there was no shooting, we didn’t have any shooting, no. I mean we could hear shots, and there was the smell of burning.
CG: Oh yeah? Did you see any smoke?
MS: Yeah, we saw smoke because we were only two blocks from Livernois and there was a lot of stuff going on on Livernois.
I do remember that as a result of the riots, that there were people–white people–who got together like out in Southfield I remember we had a big meeting, “What can we do? What can we do to try to help in some way or another?” Because I think most people were not aware probably of the effects of racism and all of that. I do remember that meeting in a home, I think it was one of our convents–
CG: That was after the riots?
MS: –in Southfield, yeah, yeah, after the riots to try with some laypeople and men, businessmen who wanted to know what they could do. That was a very interesting time.
I remember coming home and wanting to call my parents and tell them I was okay. Well, they were up at the Expo ’67 or something in Canada, was up in Montreal or something, they didn’t even know there was a problem.
Basically that’s what I remember. Of course, a lot of fire and stuff down where it was actually happening around the seminary. I remember they painted the face of Jesus black.
CG: What did you think about that?
MS: I thought that was neat. And then they tried to take it off, and then they painted it black again, so they just left it black. The Church was slow on the draw, but we were trying anyway. I think the Sisters were more aware, and then of course our Sister Jane Mary, who was a temporary President of Marygrove, wanted to take 68 African American students for 1968. 68 for ’68.
CG: And did that happen?
MS: Yeah, it did.
CG: Do you feel like that was kind of some of the response that at least the Sisters had to the riots?
MS: Right, oh absolutely, absolutely. I think we were very much made aware of it. Because you know, Marygrove is right in the middle. As times have gone on, a lot of people moved out of the area: white people move out, they were frightened or whatever. Some tried to stay; I know that in the Gesu area, the University District area, a lot of the people were very open to being caring and so forth and so on, but sometimes it got really tough and some of the black kids from further in would come out and they’d cause problems with children walking home from school and stuff like that, so some moved out. Now, I have a friend, however, who raised all her kids there, and is still there in the University District, and she just loves her neighbors and Gesu Perish has worked to be open to everybody.
CG: Yeah, I’ve heard that they do a lot of social justice work.
MS: Mmhmm. Yeah.
CG: What year did you leave Detroit?
MS: Leave Detroit? Well, let’s see. After we studied, I taught at Immaculata which was right on the campus there at Marygrove which is a–what do you call it?–preparing you for college, you know. These girls were very bright, ’68-’70. In ’70 I got a job because I’d been in this religious education program which was a new program, and I was invited to go to a parish, had no school, so we had to do the religious education programs, so I moved out to Birmingham, and then I was there for four years. Then I moved to Chicago, and I went to school for a year, but then I worked at an inner city parish in Chicago. Then I moved back to Detroit in ’77-’78, ’78-’82. Lived on the Marygrove campus actually, then. And then our community decided not to leave that area, to keep the college and it went co-ed and now many, many students are African American, they’re open to anybody, but urban leadership is one of the things that they are trying to offer to the city of Detroit.
CG: Definitely. So earlier I heard you use the term ‘riot,’ and this is often a question that comes up. Do you think of it in terms of a ‘riot,’ or others use the term ‘rebellion’ or ‘uprising’?
MS: Well we just heard that’s what they called it: the ’67 riots.
MS: So, I mean I can certainly see why it was an uprising: because they weren’t being treated well.
CG: Had you heard of a lot of incidences of police violence?
CG: Or sort of tension?
MS: Before that? No, not before that. But you know, it was just, we were in a culture that didn’t pay attention to it, I guess. This is what caused us to pay attention to it. But you know they had the riots out in Los Angeles right before that, and then this just blew up.
It’s a difficult thing, isn’t it, really we’re still in it. Really, when you look at what’s happening now, these crazy things and that election, really. But lots of people are trying to be sensitive; I just read that book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, it was a wonderful book. It’s amazing though how racist a whole state–I couldn’t believe it. Alabama I think it was, or Mississippi, I forget which one, Alabama, wasn’t it?
CG: I think.
MS: And as somebody said who was working in one of our Sisters is working in Alabama, she said that Sessions that is now appointed to be whatever he’s appointed to be, is so racist, she said, “I can’t believe that he was picked.”
Yeah, it is.
CG: I know you have to go, so I have just one last question to wrap it up.
MS: Yeah, sure.
CG: I would just be interested in hearing your thoughts on the future of Detroit and maybe how you see 1967 affecting what’s going on now, or just your general feelings about the city right now.
MS: Well, you know, I love to read the Free Press. I always like to keep up on what’s going on in Detroit. I have to say this one thing: I went to visit my sister–and you don’t think this is connected but it is–my sister lived for a couple years in New Orleans and this was in the Nineties, probably early Nineties. I noticed that the black people in New Orleans were so different than the black people in Detroit. In Detroit, “Black is beautiful, you got to pay attention to me, you know we’re important!” They were assertive, and down there they were like meek and mosey. You know? It was just to me very amazing, and I think that’s what the ’67 riots and everything that’s happened since then has done for the city of Detroit –I guess Motown and all the rest of it. But black people, Black is beautiful, you know, and so forth and so on. I was amazed the difference in the culture. I was only there, it was a couple of weeks or maybe even just a week, but I just noticed what a difference in the culture of the black people, of the African Americans, how they were not assertive. Isn’t that interesting?
MS: Really. And so really when you say, “What is the hope of the Detroit?” I think it’s that black people have come a long way, and they have a long way to go too because of the prejudice and the racists and the probably unconscious racism of a lot of people. That’s what we keep trying to work on in ourselves: the unconscious racism.
But we have a community, our sisters were founded by a black woman, she was partially black, she was not really recognizable. She was Haitian and English–her father was an English soldier, and her mother was from Haiti. The priest that brought her to Monroe was looking to make some Sisters because he felt there was no education for young girls here in 1845. So she came, and she could pass. So I think we have gotten back to, she came from a black community that she thought was going to dissolve because they didn’t get very good rapport with the Archdiocese of Boston–not Boston, Baltimore, the Diocese of Baltimore. So she though the community was going to fall apart, so she went with this Father Gillet who came here. We have now reconnected with that community, the Oblates of Providence, it’s a black community, and we have gone for retreats with them, and there’s two other branches of our community. We came together and showed us this movie which–ah, gee, I wish I could think of the name of it–but I couldn’t believe the racism of the policemen toward the black people, even well-off black people. What was it called? It was a few years ago, and it won an academy award.
CG: I know there’s been quite a few documentaries about this.
MS: It wasn’t a documentary.
CG: It wasn’t a documentary?
MS: No. I can’t think of the name of it.
CG: Oh, was it Fruitvale Station?
MS: No, no, no, it was just one word. I can’t think of the name of it. See when you get old you forget names. Anyway, it struck me more powerfully than almost anything I’ve seen–Psycho, it wasn’t Psycho. I don’t know the name of it, but I’ll try to find out and get back to you.
CG: Yeah. Did you have any other thoughts that you wanted to share, or experiences, memories of ’67?
MS: No, it was just, you know, kind of a shock. But, it was a good shock to us. I guess my own, I know I’m sure I’m racist unconsciously, but I remember when I was working in Chicago in that inner city, I came to really expect–I mean the whole school was black except the principal and a couple of teachers, the other teachers were black too. I just really, when I moved back to Detroit, I did live and work in Detroit, so I saw a lot of black people. Then the other experience I had was where there was no black people, and I just really missed them. You know? It was kind of funny.
So much is part of the culture in which you grow up in. You know? Really.
So I love Detroit. I have a very good feeling about Detroit and, like I say, I think that the Free Press is one of the best papers. When I go to other cities, I go, “Oh, not as good as the Free Press.”
MS: But, it costs money, so I try to get deals. So that’s about it. That’s all I have I think that I can share with you.
CG: Well thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MS: You’re welcome, Celeste.