Sharon Holland, December 6th, 2016
MD: Good afternoon, today is Tuesday, December 6, 2016. I am in Monroe, Michigan, and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's '67 Oral History Project. And I am sitting down with—
SH: Sister Sharon Holland.
MD: Yes. And where were you—when and where were you born, Sharon?
SH: I was born in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1939.
MD: Okay. And what was your neighborhood like growing up in Pontiac?
SH: It was a nice neighborhood. Residential. Every street had an Indian name. We knew some of the neighbors – not everybody. There were people, some in the neighborhood I went to school with, but—wasn't overly involved with people in the neighborhood, but we knew the immediate neighbors.
MD: Okay. Was it integrated?
SH: I would say that the neighborhood was not integrated. Progressively, the school was. The high school more because there was just one public high school. The grade school, probably not, because the African Americans pretty much lived in another area of the city, so their schooling would have been according to where they lived.
MD: Okay. And moving forward a little bit, how did you first hear about what was happening in 1967?
SH: During the summer, or part of the summer at least, of 1967, I was living in Detroit—I think at St. Gregory's convent—going to summer school in the city. And I don't remember the first moment I knew it was going on, but suddenly everything was going on around us and we knew that—gradually found out things had started, I think down around St. Agnes. But it was just, when it was happening.
MD: What did it feel like during that week? What did the community around you feel like?
SH: I - I think it must have felt pretty insecure. I know we didn't have school. They had army vehicles and that parked around in the parking area around the school where we usually went—or in the area where we usually went to school. I remember there were requests for different kinds of help, and I think that I was about ready to go help—I think at the jail, they needed help typing up stuff, and I could do that—but it didn't happen. I think some people went, but I don't think I ended up going, so it may have been later, when they didn't need as many people. But I was going to do that.
I think the thing that sticks in my mind most is—well, there was a certain anxiety about shooting in the neighborhood around the convent, and whether shots could come through the windows. They had police, if I remember correctly, on the roof of the building across from the school. They were afraid of snipers being on the school roof, or some of those places around, so there were police—watch kind of activity, all around in the neighborhood.
I guess the other thing that really sticks in my mind was seeing the fires that were down around Livernois, and the looting. They were things completely out of my experience, to see people looting stores and carrying off TVs and whatever. I'd never heard of such a thing, so it was—an impression has lasted.
MD: Do you remember if there was a change in how the students were feeling?
SH: You know, I don't. I don't remember how soon we went back to school. Almost everybody that I was studying with were sisters, and some had been, I suppose, involved in—somebody else said some were asked to go and help out with processing juveniles who had been arrested and whose families didn't know—Monica was telling me that, I don't remember that, but—I’m sure we must have talked about it after we started school again, but I just—I don't remember.
MD: Okay. Some people refer to it as riots, or rebellions, or—singular—or any other terminology. Do you have any say in what it should be called?
SH: Well, there probably should be another word. I recall that the word most frequently used at the time was "riots." The whole disorder kind of thing. But reflecting back on it, we begin to learn a lot about the city that we didn't know about the city, and the—the situation of African Americans in the city that I was ignorant of. I lived first in Pontiac and then I came to the convent and lived in Monroe, and there was not an awareness of the kind of thing that would make the city boil over. So—
MD: How do you think what happened in 1967 affected the city then, and possibly also today?
SH: Well, I'm sure—you know, I didn't stay in the city, so I didn't live with—I didn't live with the results, but I have a feeling it probably engendered additional fear and anxiety, probably on the part of everybody, in different ways. I don't think I would have known it at the time, but I think now, probably there was never enough done to try to heal relationships, to build better relationships, between the various ethnic and cultural groups in the city.
You know, that's a thought after a long time, and looking back, I still haven't lived in Detroit, so I don't have the same first-hand experience of what the relationships are. But more and more, as we learn about racism, the more I become aware that probably the things that—it’s hard to know what should have been done, but we haven't healed relationships, we haven't built relationships as well. Haven't learned enough about other cultures. And had the kind of encounters where you come to know people and it overcomes fear.
Realize a lot depends on people's background and what their experience of another race has been. If it's been positive, you're easy. If it's been—you've been programmed to something negative— I'd say at home I wasn't programmed in any negative way, but you don't reflect on everything in the same way when you're young. I was thinking back. We had a woman who did, once a week, did some housekeeping. My mother wasn't well and she came in once a week and helped with the cleaning and that. Lovely person. We'd come home from school and have lunch at the same time with her. My dad was from the south, and if he was home, which was rare, he didn't eat with us that day.
Now I never asked about it, but my guess is that maybe he wasn't comfortable. Or maybe he knew she wouldn't be comfortable. I don't know. But it sticks in my mind as another thing. But he would go down to where she lived and deliver things at Christmas time, and he belonged to the—I don't know if it was the— what's the name— NAACP. I don't know if he would have belonged to it, or collaborated with it—
MD: As an ally?
SH: Yeah. He was in public life, and he was associated with—with trying to do things right, I think, so. That's sort of a far ramble from Detroit, but you're affected by what you grow up with. But we had black students in high school, and that was good. I mean, it didn't appear to me to be a problem. But very few at Marygrove when I went there. Now the Hispanics and African Americans would be the majority there, so things change.
But I realize there's a long way to go in race relations that I was less conscious of then than I would be now, as we study more about racism, and the structural aspects of it, and how it's all related, so that housing and education and health care and all of those things are impacted, together.
MD: What lessons can we learn from the city of Detroit around what happened in 1967? This is our final question.
SH: What can we learn. Whatever it is, I don't think we've learned it. Well, of course, Detroit hasn't exploded like some other cities, and, please God, won't, but I think there have been a lot of efforts. There are efforts in the city to build the relationships. But the things that we're seeing in some of the police things, of black/white, and shootings, and that kind of thing, and the rising up, in other cities, and the states, make me wonder if we don't have a lot, as a nation, to do, of trying to deepen our understanding of racism, of racial tensions, of prejudices. All sorts of things. But did we learn? I'm sure we learned some. And again, I was removed from the city. There was a whole big report published, wasn't there? After the—I think. That was supposed to, maybe, bring out some of the learnings, but I don't remember when it came out, or the name of it. But that probably tried to bring out some of it. I guess I'm— in a way, been too far removed from the city to really have the pulse of it.
MD: That's fair. Well, thank you so much for sitting down with us today.
SH: You're very welcome.
MD: And once again, just to be clear, this is Maddie Dietrich interviewing, also with—
CG: Celeste Geddert.