Margaret Sweeney, December 6th, 2016
MD: Good afternoon, it is Tuesday December 6, 2016. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society ’67 Project. I am Maddie Dietrich, and I am sitting down with Margaret Sweeney in Monroe, Michigan. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MS: You very welcome, Maddie.
MD: When and where were you born?
MS: I was born in August, August 9, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan.
MD: Okay, did you grow up in Detroit?
MS: I did, I went to— well, I lived in Detroit all my life until I went off to college, and then I came here to Monroe, Michigan, for my college. But I grew up and went to school in Detroit.
MD: Okay, what was your neighborhood like growing up?
MS: Our neighborhood was a blue collar, but totally white neighborhood in northwest Detroit.
MD: Okay, and how did you first hear about what was happening that week, July, 1967?
MS: Okay, at that time I had been assigned to teach and work in the city of Detroit at St. Cecilia’s school, which was located on Livernois, a few miles, like two or three miles, south of where the initial outbreak or— I don’t care to call it a riot, but the unrest happened. And I was, though I was assigned there, for the summer I was going to school at Wayne State University and so I was in another location because we were grouped together for transportation purposes. So, I was actually— that was a Sunday I believe that the unrest occurred, and I was very concerned knowing that I had so many of the people I served and worked with were right in the midst of the unrest, and that there was gunshots and violence breaking out in the street. So, I was near the city, not right at that location, but then we quickly came back to where we were living and teaching, because we wanted to be with the people and understand the struggle that they were going through at that point.
MD: So, what were the communities that you worked with? What did you do?
MS: I was a teacher, so I was teaching in an elementary school, and I was working with the parishioners and a parish, and our parish at that time was working very hard to become an integrated community. The Catholic Church traditionally was pretty white, so at that point the neighborhood was changing, and the leadership of the parish was working very hard to include and invite participation by the African American community that was moving and living in the parish grounds, or in the parish boundaries, but not feeling welcomed. Prior to that time they have not felt welcomed to be a part of the parish. So, our effort was to invite and include, and we were very concerned that this whole movement would somehow set us back from that goal.
MD: Okay. What was it like during the week of the unrest?
MS: It was scary. It was fearful for the families; children had to stay in the houses. At our particular church, we had a very bell tower, and some had gone up in order to kind of see what was going on in the city, and whether it was people who were part of the unrest or it was police who were thinking that these were snipers going up there, were a lot of shots at the church tower, which still are there.
MD: That’s scary.
MS: Yes, yeah.
MD: Do you think that what happened in ’67 still affects the city today?
MS: I would hope we’d moved passed that. I think there is still— because Detroit for a long time was so segregated, I see today a move towards more integration, which in some of the areas like Corktown and places that are coming back, Downtown areas, that there is more openness for people to be connected with each other. But I don’t know how much of that is part of the actual revolt of ‘67 that’s still influencing, or of its influencing. Certainly, in recent times with the unrest with the police department and all over the country, some of that obviously is still happening. And that was big part of what was behind the revolution at that time, as far as we I was concerned, or as we understood it, or interpreted what was going on, it was a lot of that.
MD: Okay, okay. What kind of terminology would you use to describe what happened, and if you don’t use a terminology, why?
MS: So, I think you’re getting at whether it was a riot or whether it was a rebellion. I guess I really don’t know why I would say it wasn’t a riot. It was certainly referred to by many people that way. So maybe it was, maybe we just were trying not to describe it quite so. But it certainly was revolting against the establishment and whatever way people knew how to do that. And that was unfortunate, in that it did set a lot of people back in terms of their businesses and trying to move forward. But, I guess I don’t really have an answer of why I would use one term over another.
MD: Okay. Do you have any other pieces about what happened in 1967 to add to the interview?
MS: I think it certainly put a lot of fear into people, and that was the unfortunate part. It gave a name to Detroit that wasn’t deserved, but it was somewhat understandable that people became fearful of coming into the city. Where people who lived and worked there, as I did, and so many of the people I worked with at that time. We were not fearful of living in the city, or on the same streets where all this had happened, because we knew the people we were working with, and we knew we were trusted and accepted as a community by that community. And so, I think it made for— looking back it’s like could we had moved faster, if this hadn’t happened? Maybe, and maybe some of the things that were changed wouldn’t have changed if they hadn’t been getting everybody’s attention, by those violent acts. I would not want to ever think that that’s the only way we can achieve a goal. But I think it did bring about some changes that needed to be changed, and it would have been better to do it a different way, but that’s not what happened.
MD: Okay, all right, is there anything else?
MS: I don’t think so.
MD: Okay, thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MS: You’re very welcome, and thank you for bringing attention to our city.
,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed August 12, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/531.