Arthur Bryant, December 13th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is December 13, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit '67 Oral History Project and I am in Detroit, Michigan. I am sitting down with Mr. Arthur Bryant. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
AB: Thank you for having me.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when you were born?
AB: Yes. I was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1944, and I only lived there a short time.
WW: And when did you come to Detroit?
AB: Well actually, my folks always lived in Detroit, and I guess you could say I came here in 1944. But it was during the war, and my folks went out to Ames, Iowa, because my dad, who had gone back into the service in 1942, was assigned out there to the ROTC unit in Ames, Iowa, to be the yeoman for the captain who ran the ROTC branch. So I was born there, in 1944, and six months later my mother and I came back to Detroit. When my dad was— changed assignments and was shipped out to the Pacific, and he was on the USS New Orleans.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in, in Detroit?
AB: I grew up in the area— well, I'm not sure what they call it— today it's called English Village, I think, but I grew up at the corner of Drexel and Frankfort, on the Eastside of Detroit, which is, for purposes of identification, closer to Alter and Warren.
WW: What was that neighborhood like for you growing up?
AB: Well, we lived in half a duplex, so that's a very small home, when you look by today's standards. I once went back and looked and kind of estimated that the house size was probably about seven hundred and fifty to eight hundred square feet. That's really small. But as a kid I didn't really notice that at all. It was the house I lived in, and a fine size for me. The neighborhood was nice. There was kind of a lot of room around the homes, and our street, Frankfort, even thought it was a side street, was actually quite wide, and it was very nice. And down one direction was Chandler Park, so there was a lot of space there, although I didn't go there a lot, but a lot of space. Going the other direction there was a nice big park near Alter and Frankfort. So it was a nice place. Nice friends. It was a good way to grow up.
WW: Was the neighborhood integrated then?
AB: No. I'm very sure it wasn't. As a matter of fact, later on in my life I bought a home— a half a duplex— just about three or four blocks from that house I grew up in. And one of the things I noticed, at the closing, was that on this long list of deeds and old papers, there actually was a clause, very specifically, excluding people— well, I don't know how the words went, but excluding people of the Negro race from owning a home there. I mean, it was written right into the deed. Very interesting. Very disturbing.
WW: A restrictive covenant.
AB: Is that what it's called? Yeah. Okay.
WW: Growing up, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood, or did you venture around the city?
AB: No, I really stayed in my own neighborhood, and the elementary school that was there, until I moved at age ten, a little ways away, and between there and the fact that we went to St. Columba Episcopal Church, which was, I guess it would be about a mile and a half away, up at Jefferson and Alter, roughly— Jefferson and Manistique. And you know, it's kind of— my life revolved around those particular places. And you’ve probably heard this from people before, but there was another aspect of it and that is, you asked, did we move around or see other parts of the city. There was this, like, line that went up Woodward Avenue, and you were either an Eastsider or a Westsider and you didn't go to the other side. You had no need to go, and you didn't go. And I laugh about it today, and my friends do, because that's the way it was. We didn't go to the Westside. As a kid, the only times, for many years, the only thing that we ever went to the Westside for was to pass through it to head down south out of the state. My grandparents— my dad's folks— lived in Marion, Ohio. So other than passing through to go down into Ohio we never went to the Westside of Detroit. We did go to upper Michigan for vacations and stuff, but, you know. We just didn't go.
And I still remember that the people who lived next door to us, the Hopkins, and I still stay in touch with the woman now, at that time the kid who lived next door, Jan Hopkins, she was younger than my brother and I— but my folks were very good friends with Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins. And later they moved away, and they moved over to the Westside. And I still remember the street they lived on was Donald. And that is the only reason we went away from the Eastside of Detroit. At least in my mind, that's all I can remember going away for— away from the Eastside.
WW: What schools did you attend growing up?
AB: I went to Hamilton Elementary, named after Alexander Hamilton, and that was not more than about, I guess it would be five blocks away. It was at Lakewood and Southampton. And I went there 'til fifth grade, and then we moved to Buckingham— a block off of Mack. And that might have - I think that's probably three miles from there. And— a bigger home— and that was only a couple of blocks away from Clark School. Clark Elementary. And I went there for a couple years and then went on to Jackson Junior High School, which was near Alter and Waveney, and then from there, after junior high there, I went to Southeastern High School at Fairview and— Fairview and Mack, roughly. You want just the schools in Detroit? I mean, I went to college.
WW: Oh yeah. For now, yes. So when you're going to these schools, were any of the schools integrated?
AB: Yes. To be honest with you, I can't— first of all, Hamilton wasn't, and Clark was not. But Jackson, I honestly can't remember whether it was or wasn't. But Southeastern was. Probably about twenty-five percent black, seventy-five percent Caucasian. Pretty close to that.
WW: So growing up in the fifties, did you sense any tension, whether it be societal, or racial, or did the city seem to be—
AB: Honestly, it seemed okay to me. I did not sense that at all. And I had black friends as well as white friends at Southeastern. If there were any black kids going to Jackson, the junior high, I didn't realize it. Just didn't even think about it one way or the other. But I don't think there were— but I honestly don't know. I suppose if I could find a picture of a class from back then I could look through and see. But I don't remember that there were.
AB: And I don't— really, when I was going to school, if there were tensions amongst people at school, it sure didn't register with me. That's the word. It didn't register with me.
WW: Okay. So what year did you graduate? You graduated in?
AB: From Southeastern?
AB: In sixty-two.
AB: January, ‘62.
WW: And after that you joined the service?
AB: Well, no. I had a very unusual thing along that line, and let me cover the whole thing right now. I wanted to go to the Naval Academy and I wanted to go to the navy. There had been a lot of people— there had been people in our family that had been graduated from the Academy, and spent years in the navy— careers. My mother had two cousins who graduated in roughly— from the Naval Academy, in ‘33 and ‘34, or ‘32 and ‘33; I can't remember right now. And then one of them later became a captain and then a rear admiral when he retired. The other was a captain, very high ranking. So I wanted to go there, and knowing that it's hard to get in and you need, in most cases, you need a congressional or senatorial appointment, there was another way around that, and that was— which I knew about— if you joined the Naval Reserve, or the regular Navy, you could take a competitive exam, and if you scored high enough you could get an appointment without having to have the congressional appointment.
So although I tried those routes, and didn't get them— other people got those appointments— I did, when I was in the eleventh grade, about to go into the twelfth grade, I joined the Naval Reserve. And so I was actually in the Navy then, and I took the competitive exam, and passed, did very well— I think I was sixty-sixth in the nation, the way I remember. And so I got in. I got an appointment through the Naval Reserve, from belonging in the Naval Reserve.
Now what later happened was that I left, what I say, for some medical reasons, but the thing is, my girlfriend and I conceived a child and so I left. You can't be married and be at the Academy, and I felt it was right that I should get married. So I left the Academy to get married, and then just reverted back to my status in the Reserves. And also, when I left the Academy, I was told that the time I spent at the Academy, which was roughly two and a half years, counted for my active duty for my reserve obligation. So I went back home, rejoined my unit— my reserve unit— and spent the last years of my required time as a reservist going to Monday night meetings. And summer, two-week tours where I'd travel out.
WW: And when you left the Academy you came back to Detroit then?
AB: Yeah. Yeah, came right back to Detroit. Got married and got a job, which was with Chrysler, and started back at Wayne. And I say "back" because, being a January graduate from the Detroit system, where they had the half grades, when I graduated in January of ‘62 I wouldn't be leaving for the Academy until roughly July. You start in the summer— you have your plebe summer— so I wouldn't start until July, so I went to Wayne for half a year. For one semester.
AB: And so when I came back, when I came back here after my time at the Academy, I just came back down, re-enrolled at Wayne. Had already been accepted.
WW: And where did you live when you moved back to the city?
AB: For a very short period of time I lived on Wayburn in Grosse Pointe Park, but that's because my wife and I were living with her grandmother, just actually only long enough to find a place. And I think, it's hard for me to say, but maybe that was four months or maybe it was six months. I'm not even sure if it was that long.
And then we found a place and bought half a duplex, similar to the way I had grown up, in this half a duplex on Frankfort. And it was on Frankfort, but it was just about four blocks away from there. And a slightly larger duplex— the size of the individual unit.
So lived there fo— just to go over my history of where I lived— lived there for I believe it was two years, and then we moved from there to a home on a street called Lenmore, just outside of Belleville, Michigan. And at the time I had moved to Ford Motor Company, where I spent the rest of my career, actually. And it— I was as far from Ford on the East side of Detroit as I was eventually in Belleville, having to drive back.
But we spent about three years out there in the Belleville area, and then kind of realized that we just kept driving back to the Eastside of Detroit all the time 'cause both our families lived over here, and so why not be back here. So we moved back and moved into Grosse Pointe Park and lived there for about ten years, and then I moved to Grosse Pointe Woods. And that's where I live today.
WW: Grosse Pointe Park, if I have it right, was ‘67? You were there in ‘67?
AB: No no. In sixty-seven—
WW: Were you still in Belleville?
AB: Well, obviously in ‘67 I was in Detroit. I know that, because that's where all the— I lived here during the riots. So I guess it was maybe a year after— maybe somewhere around ’68— ‘69! I think, ‘68 or ‘69 I moved to Belleville.
WW: Oh, okay.
AB: Yeah, ’68 or ’69 I moved to Belleville. Was there maybe three years, and then we bought a home in Grosse Pointe Park.
WW: Okay. Got it. So in ‘67, then, you were living in English Village.
AB: Yeah. Yeah.
WW: Did you sense any— you said you didn't have any tension in high school, but did— going into ‘67, did you sense any growing tension in the city?
AB: No, I didn't. I may have heard of stuff, but other than hearing about it, I just didn't encounter it. I mean, I already was working in Dearborn, at Ford, and I had some black friends at that time, at work. I worked with people there. I can't remember how many, but I can remember some specific people. And I didn't— I didn't notice any tension.
WW: Do you have any memories of the Kercheval incident in ’66?
AB: Kercheval incident?
AB: No, I honestly, I don't know— I have some memories, I guess, in ‘67, the big riot, but I don't know what the Kercheval incident was. I'm sorry.
WW: No worries.
AB: Consider myself— where— that was Kercheval and what? Kercheval and—
WW: Do you remember how you first heard about what was going on in ‘67?
AB: I don't remember, other than I have to assume that it was a combination of— I suppose hearing it on the radio, reading it in the newspaper, and I think, probably, seeing it on TV. Yeah. I don't remember a specific thing where it was, oh my god, this is happening, you know, and it sticks in my mind. I don't have that recollection.
WW: Okay. Are there any stories you'd like to share from that week? Were there any specific instances you'd like to share?
AB: Well, the one thing— no, two— I guess I have two or three recollections. The first one is that one day I went outside my house and there was a couple— one or two, I think it was two— army vehicles— National Guard— driving down Frankfort. I was surprised. I thought that what was going on was further downtown – and it was— but I didn't know it at the time, because, here were these vehicles out front, well, I wonder what's going on.
But I didn't realize at that point in time what I'm going to tell you now, and that is the National Guard was camped out at Chandler Park, which was at one end of Frankfort. Frankfort dead-ended into Chandler Park. And at the other end of— well, not the other end of Frankfort. Frankfort went on further. But at Frankfort and Alter there was this large park, and— surrounded by chain-link fence. Typical. But across the street from that park was a fire station. And at some point in time, they evacuated all the firetrucks from the inner city areas and they parked them. They tore down the fences and parked them in this park across the street from that fire station. And that was then used as the dispatching point for them to go fight fires, 'cause that's when the fire trucks were being shot at on occasion. And the firehouses were being shot at. So they said, Well, let's evacuate them all, and let's put a whole bunch of these things here and the National Guard's nearby and they can watch them. So the one thing I remember is, for a number of days, every now and then, every four hours or something, a couple vehicles going up and down the street, exchanging the guards at the park. And they would be coming from Chandler Park, where the National Guard was stationed.
So that was one thing. The other thing, and it was close— right close on this time when these vehicles were coming along occasionally, and going down and changing the guard down at that park— there was a night when we had been out, several neighbors and stuff had been out, we'd been walking around and we saw smoke on the horizon, so to speak. Looking down, in the direction from where I lived, towards Connor and Warren. And at the time, our judgment as we looked at it— we thought, Oh my god, that's right at Connor and Warren. Well, turned out it wasn't. It was further downtown. Not a lot, but I later found out it was like near St. Jean and Kercheval. Somewhere further down like that. It just was our perception was wrong on where it was coming from.
But, so we saw that that night, and there was a curfew— I believe it was a nine o'clock curfew— and we all left and went back to our houses. And, you know, with this thought that we'd seen this smoke and fire and that night the— we started hearing alarms. I mean, car sirens. And we thought it was the police, probably, going up and down Warren, which was only a block away, and I was really quite concerned that maybe things were on fire around us, but we couldn't— other than looking out the window, and it was already dark, couldn't tell for sure. But it was very scary. All these sirens. Well, we found out later that what it was, was all the fire trucks being dispatched to go fight fires in other areas. But they were going up and down Warren with these sirens going all the time and we just had this feeling like, oh my god, is it burning down around us? We didn't know.
At that point in time, my folks were living at the house I'd grown up at, on Buckingham near Mack. And so I called and talked to my folks. I said, “Look, before I go to work tomorrow—.“ I said, “I don't know what's going on. And before I go to work tomorrow, I want to bring my wife and daughter over and have them stay with you, because I'm afraid that we're being burned down around here.”
Well, it wasn't true, but you get the— with a lack of information, you wonder what's going on. And so in the morning, probably before it was even light out, because I needed time to get to work and everything, I packed up my wife and daughter, took them over to my folks' house, and then went on to work. That's another interesting thing— there was all that trouble going on, but there was never a problem getting from the Eastside to the Westside on the expressway. If you're driving on the expressway, it's like you didn't even know there was a problem. Traffic was freely moving.
I guess the— another example— I had another story of something that went on.
WW: How was your family reacting to what was going on? You talked about how you were nervous. Were your parents nervous as well?
AB: Yeah. Yeah. They were, and it's partly because they didn't know what was going on any more than I did. For instance, when I called over and said, “Hey, you know, sirens up and down the street all night, I don't know what's going on, and maybe they're burning the area down, I'm not sure—.” And they kind of had the same feeling. Yeah, you better bring Sheree and run over here before you go to work. But other than that, I don't want to say there was somewhat— well, maybe I should say it. We were somewhat detached from it. I mean, it wasn't happening right around us. And we just knew there was this stuff going on, from what we heard on the news. But we didn't really— we didn't have a tremendous amount of involvement.
WW: You referred to it as a riot a couple times.
WW: Is that how you interpret what happened in ‘67?
AB: That's just the word that got attached to it.
AB: I never saw it. So I can't really say what the proper description would be. But to us it was the ‘67 Riot.
WW: Okay. And did it play a role in your decision to move your family to Belleville?
AB: No, really not at all. No. It's funny, a minute ago when I was telling you something and it almost occurred to me for the first time, I thought, Is that why we moved? And I thought, No, that wasn't it at all. It was— the real impetus— I mean, just to show you how strange things can happen. I was doing some work on the genealogy of my family at the time, and among other things, I knew that part of my wife's family had come from the area of Belleville, and there's another city down there— well, Brownstown Township, in that area, and we had talked about, should we— let's move out, let's get out in the farm country, wouldn't it be nice to be out there? Get a place with a little bit of land, and stuff.
So one time when I was heading to Chicago for work, I pulled off at the Belleville exit, just to look at this town of Belleville, and it was a nice little town and everything. I stopped in and looked around at a real estate place, what was for sale, what were the prices, and went home and talked to my wife. We went back and looked and we thought, this is not a bad place to live. So we ended up finding what we thought was a really nice house, and moved. So it was really unrelated to the riots.
WW: Okay. After you had spent three years in Belleville and you came back to move into Grosse Pointe—
WW: Park. Had you been— you said you'd been traveling to the city from Belleville during that time?
AB: Oh, through the city? Yeah.
WW: Did you notice any considerable changes in the city after ‘67?
AB: No, I really didn't. I mean, I hate to say that I was not involved, but I wasn't. And at the time, I was working, I was bringing up two kids, by that time, and involved in church stuff, and I just wasn't involved. I mean, we just— yeah, it went on, and there were repercussions, I guess, and you heard about this or that going on, but most of the time, was— this is our family and this is what we're doing and— there wasn't a lot going on on the Eastside, at least not— I'll call it the far Eastside.
WW: Are there any other memories you'd like to share?
AB: I guess I really don't have— well, the only thing that I can maybe comment on, and I don't know if this is what you want in there, but I continued to live in Grosse Pointe Park for about, I think it was nine years. Then I moved to Grosse Pointe Woods and I've been there forty— almost forty years, thirty-eight years. And I’ve continued to see the area that I grew up in diminish. For instance, that first home that I grew up in, on Frankfort at Drexel— it's gone. It was abandoned and then it was torn down. And I know that the other house I lived in is not in good shape. And the area doesn't look good. It's saddening. It's saddening. But I've come to terms with it, I guess. I think things are turning around in the city, and I'm happy about that. I think things will get better. We eventually had to close that church that I grew up in, just because the congregation moved away, and I was one of the last ones to be in charge there, and closed it down. I'm glad the building still exists, even though it's been bought by some people who are going to turn it into something else. But it's a beautiful building. For many, many years, up until 2004 when we closed it, it was the one constant, you might say, in my life, was the church— St. Columba Episcopal Church, because it was there, and I'd always gone there and such. I certainly hope, desperately, for the city to come back. I see good things on the horizon. Very happy with what's going on now.
WW: Those were my final two questions, actually.
AB: Oh, okay.
WW: That worked out very well. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today, I really appreciate it.
AB: All right, thank you.
Track 1 ends; track 2 begins.
AB: I wanted to add, as far as the city coming back, I've always been tied in, of course, with Wayne State, and I do a lot of stuff down here and I'm so happy to see Wayne State be the anchor for this Midtown growth, I mean, along with the hospitals that are here. And the fact there's almost a shortage of apartments and housing space. Things are just— they're like starting from this area and the downtown, and starting to move out. You can almost see it exploding out in waves, and it'll eventually totally, I think, encompass the whole city.
WW: Thank you so much.