Sue Wabeke


Sue Wabeke


Sue Wabeke describes traveling within Detroit to and from work in July, 1967.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Written Story


Midtown Detroit, Michigan


One Saturday night in July, 1967 my husband and I and another couple had stopped at the Traffic Jam and Snug, then a small bar. We left about 12:30 a.m. and walked out to find people sitting on multiple porches on Second throwing glass bottles into the middle of the street. Confused I asked if “they always did this?” perhaps as a celebration of Saturday night? The next day my husband and I drove across the city to look at our new home in Dearborn. I believe we took Warren Avenue, and we noticed nothing. When we arrived back at our apartment, located just east of Six Mile on Woodward facing Palmer Park, the news of the unrest started coming in. That night or the next as I stood looking out the big front window on the landing of our building I watched a glow move silently north as the stores on Livernois burned. I was terrified and wanted to run but we had no idea in which direction we should run so we stayed put.

That Monday I did not go downtown to work – no buses. By Tuesday Judge Feikens, a determined Dutchman and the boss, said we would car pool and work. Al, my boss, would pick me up for work along with another woman and drop us off after work. Downtown the restaurants were closed and our whole office would move en mass to the Sheriton Cadillac Hotel for lunch, as they still had employees.

By about 4 p.m. we would call various contacts in offices along Woodward and Second Avenue, listen to the radio broadcasts and determine if we would use Second Ave., the Lodge or Woodward to get home. One day we were in a long train of outbound traffic on Second when traffic abruptly sped up, an unprecedented event. Next there was the sound of rapid gunfire overhead and we realized people were shooting from the building on one side of the street to one on the other side. Of the three of us in the car I had been the most nervous and was the first to hit the floor, being in the back seat. I felt better though when I looked toward the front and noticed Al crouched looking through the steering wheel and the other woman on the floor.

Our apartment on Woodward was the tallest for several blocks around so its roof was regularly swept by a fleet of eight helicopters looking for snipers. I never found out why they needed eight. When they flew over you could not hear anything and I had to pause any phone conversation. We watched one day as a parade of tanks swept down Woodward, headed from the State Fairgrounds probably to Southeastern High, my old school on the east side, a staging area. I felt like I was living in a bad movie and everything was upside down.

After the first week things got better but we were impatient with the curfew as it curtailed our weekend social events so we took to creeping along side streets to Eight Mile and then suburbia, friends’ houses and freedom.

After the riot the head of the firm where I worked, Judge Feikens, became co-chair, along with Damon Keith, of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, newly created to help race relations. Our first black employee was hired – a secretary. I usually was the one who took new secretaries under my wing and out to lunch, so one day I suggested Greenfield’s Caffeteria, one of that chain being located in the basement near or in the David Stott Building. You took an escalator down to the basement. As we slowly descended I looked around and realized that she was the only black person in the entire place – including the help. I felt fear then but was too stubborn to suggest we leave. It became very quiet. We both ate, pretending nothing was wrong and left – never to discuss the entire episode or to return.

That Christmas we happened to draw each other’s names for a $4.00 gift exchange. I bought her a nice blouse for $4.00 at Alberts, but she spent quite a bit more on a two piece lace and silk pajama outfit for me. Not long after that she did not show up for work and a month or so later, with bandaged wrists, she came back to pick up her things. I did not know what to say to her and could only imagine the strain she had been under. I stood by dumbly as she left the office. Later I was in charge of the student employment program for the office and I made a point of hiring from the new Kettering High School and hiring black students. It didn’t seem like much but it was all I could think to do to somehow help someone like her.

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Submitter's Name

Sue Wabeke

Submission Date


Search Terms

arson, Dearborn, Warren Road, Palmer Park, Livernois, Southeastern High School, National Guard, Army, Sheriton Cadillac


Sue Wabeke Final.jpg


“Sue Wabeke,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed September 19, 2021,

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