Ann Crimmins, 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 —
AC: Ann Crimmins, IHM.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
AC: You're welcome.
WW: Would you like to share your story?
AC: Yes. It's been interesting, since the invitation that I'm finding things come back. In 1965, I went to St. Charles in Detroit to teach grades four, five, and six. St. Charles, still actually, the church is still located about three blocks east of Grand Boulevard, and between Lafayette and Kerchival.
We had probably, the student body was about 50 percent black, from right around the neighborhood, and a significant number of white families living in Indian Village, which is about six or seven blocks away. My sense - I enjoyed teaching. I enjoyed teaching there. I enjoyed the mix of students. I wasn't real aware of racial tension. Most of us wanted to be there and then we were very connected with the Church of the Messiah, which is over on Lafayette and the Boulevard. That's an Episcopal church, where we had like an ecumenical group that met around racial questions and concerns for the neighborhood.
We also had a small group of students from the Chaldean community, who owned a number of small stores on Kerchival. So, when it got to be the summer of 1967, I was at Marygrove for graduate studies, for teaching certification, and that was on the outside edge of what was going on, but we could go up to the fourth floor of the residence hall and look out and see the clouds of smoke coming up. And heard about it mostly through the news: radio, TV, some pictures. It was pretty startling to see the neighborhood where I'd spent the last two years really going up in flames. And being very aware of some of the people who owned those small stores, and how much they had sacrificed to make that business go.
I don't - there were all kinds of stories about how they didn't treat people well, and all that kind of thing, but it was - because we knew both sides, we knew both populations pretty well. It was really very disconcerting to watch all of this happening.
During the time - and I can't - I have no memory of when all this happened, or how - but once things began to settle down a little bit - of course the National Guard was around and driving up and down the streets. I don't think they were tanks, but they were big trucks and there was a curfew and of course there were a lot of curfew violators.
There was quite a group at Marygrove that summer - of people. We were all in our twenties at the time getting classes for our permanent teaching certificate. And so we were asked to go different places, and I can't remember exact - the thing that stays in my mind is Recorder's Court, which I don't think exists anymore, but we were to go down and meet people who were being brought in. Mostly the family members of people who had been arrested. So they were - they wanted some reassurance. Of course, we were dressed in our medieval garb at the time so we rather stood out in the crowd.
And I remember feeling that was a really good; it was a way where we could contribute positively. I remember talking to my mother on the phone. She lived in Port Huron and she did not like that I was anywhere near the place. I told her by mistake that I was going down to Recorder's Court. Well, she just about came down and got me. [laughter]
I said, Mom, I'm fine. I'm fine. I never had the feeling of being frightened. Of course, we went in groups and people were very glad we were there, so they were very careful that nothing too bad would happen. And I know different groups went different places. But at least my experience of it was the whole sense of being kind of a reassuring presence to people who were in really stressful situations.
I went back to St. Charles in August after summer school ended, and it was really - in fact, I was just there a couple weeks ago, for something else, and drove down Kercheval and around and back up Lafayette, and down Townsend, was where the school building is actually still there, it's all boarded up. Reminisced about where my classroom was, and all that good stuff, so it was kind of fun to reconnect.
But that third year, from '67 to '68, things were different, and part of it was back in the really old days each parish had a high school and a grade school. And at that time we had - the parish decided that they really couldn't keep all these high schools going. So we closed the high school, and the four high schools on the east side merged into East Catholic, which was open for a number of years. I can't remember – it’s closed some time in the last ten years. And so that was different, in that we had a lot more room in the building, and the big kids were gone. They were the ones that made all the noise. And so there was a feel, that way, that was different.
But the other - certainly a lot of the families from the Middle East, who had owned these stores, were gone. And the - so there was - and that wasn't a huge group, but there were several families that we knew, and certainly cared about. So they were gone. But the rest all came back, including a number of these families from Indian Village, and their attitude, as I can remember one of the mothers saying to me one day, "I really think we - I think we can get past this, and I want to be part of, and I want my kids to be part of, an integrated society."
So that next year - and then I left, at that point, was reassigned somewhere else in '68, so I didn't get beyond that first year. But it was a very challenging time, and a very - in a lot of ways, a good time. There was a lot of good energy in the Catholic community and the Episcopal Church around the corner. And there were other churches, too, in the area, that were - came together with the idea of supporting and developing the community, and working with racial challenges in the area. So, I think that may be enough. Anything I missed?
WW: No, I do believe you covered it.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
AC: You're welcome!