Diann Cousino, February 7th, 2017
WW: Hello. Today is February 7, 2017. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit 67 Oral History Project, and I am in Monroe, Michigan. I'm sitting down with—
DC: Sister Diann Cousino.
WW: Thank you for sitting down with me today. Would you like to share your story?
DC: I would. I have kind of forgotten it, but the impact of the experience just never leaves your mind. So I'm going back to Sunday, July 23, 1967, and my mother was a widow at that time, with nine children, and we were going to— she was picking me up at St. Martin's convent on the lake, and she had to drive through Jefferson to go to Newport, Michigan, where we were having a family reunion. And everything was normal. It was a sunny day, and we saw our cousins.
Then it was time to come home, so we left the family and came through Jefferson and I just couldn't believe my eyes. There were young men with bats and balls and rocks, and throwing them in the storefront windows, and others were running in the stores, just grabbing stuff. I didn't know what was going on, and I was trying to hope that my mom could remain peaceful and we didn't want to alarm the children in the car.
So then she took me all the way to St. Martin's and I was worried about her going home. But I didn't know— it just shocked me so much that this was happening in our own nation, in our own country, in our own city, and I taught in Detroit, at Jesu, and I just couldn't imagine, because we had good relationships there with people. I just couldn't understand what was going on there.
And in our journal it says because of the economic riots, they called it, there was no Bible School, because this was in the summer. But I was attending Wayne State, and we wanted to help out— the sisters in our convent. We called the police to see if we could help out at Deaconess Hospital. They said, No, Sisters, we don't want to jeopardize your safety. So they said, Just pray and just hope that this blows over.
But we were hearing gunshots, and machine guns, and we learned later that a policeman died at Jefferson and St. Jean.
Then on Wednesday, July 26, we decided to brave it out and go to Wayne State, which is where we were taking classes. And we had food and clothing and things, but this was terrible, to go down Jefferson. I can still see it, the— the army reserves were on top of the building with guns, to protect the city. And Belle Isle was protected. All the people they wanted to deter were sent to Belle Isle, and they had guards down the street of Belle Isle.
And then that wasn't enough. Then a tank came down the street. So going to class that day was really scary. We didn't know what was going to happen. We had heard there were problems in Detroit, and so— it was quite an experience. And when I taught at Jesu, it was pretty much an all-white school, and when I left, it was pretty much an all-black school. But we had a good principal and we had good education for the children, and so that went smooth, but those years were very stressful, not knowing for sure.
You know, we didn't even know what caused it. We just came upon it, so.
WW: Did it change the way you looked at the city?
DC: Yeah, I would have to say yes, because it had me asking questions, like, was there a different way of teaching? And I remember one of our— we had superintendents that were IHMs, and I remember when Sister Anna May came to— she brought a new series of books with us, to teach from, and— this shows you how naive I am, but she wanted us to present them to the children, so I did. And she didn't tell us anything, and she looked at the children and they didn't notice anything. Well, those books had more ethnic groups in them. They started having more black children and Spanish, and so on. So it was an introduction of changing some of our ways of things.
But we just— I guess, from the very beginning of our IHM community, we believed that every person was important. And the Sister brought this education system from Belgium, and it was like everyone was ready and everyone was important and you didn't have to get all As to be rewarded. It was your character. And I think we strived to do that in our teaching. But it did carry with me. I went on to Wayne State and I enjoyed all the ethnic people, but when I got to Marygrove later I got scared, because some of those people were— I wasn't sure. And I could feel the tension in some of the classrooms. But my teacher, Sister Jackie Conn, tried to— she wasn't supposed to do this, but she'd bring in a whole chest of food that we could cook there. You could make Taco Bells and tacos and you don't have to have a lot of— we just had a crockpot and that type of thing. But I noticed that really broke the ice. We all had to bring something to eat during our class. And there's something about food. And then we had to mix with different groups all the time, so it was pretty good.
But it did change my thinking about things, because I never knew. I grew up and I wasn't— I didn't know about race or anything. It didn't cross my mind. But that really— that was really scary, because you didn't know how safe you were. I guess that's the whole thing. We tried to make it safe for our children.
WW: Thank you so much.