Roger Manilla, October 17th, 2016


Roger Manilla, October 17th, 2016


In this interview, Roger Manilla shares his experience of growing up in Detroit and the suburbs, his association with radical left-wing groups, and his memories of ‘67.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit MI






Oral History


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Roger Manilla

Brief Biography

Roger Manilla was born in Detroit in 1942 and grew up in both the city and the suburbs. He graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and later worked as a social worker for several community service organizations in Detroit.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Julia Moss

Transcription Date



WW: Hello, today is October 17, 2016, my name is William Winkel, this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project, and I am sitting down with Mr. Roger Manilla. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.

RM: Sure, my pleasure.

WW: Could you please start by telling me where and when were you born?

RM: I was born in Detroit in 1942, November 16th, and I grew up in Detroit—a couple different neighborhoods.

WW: What neighborhoods were they?

RM: Well, my earliest memories were living in the Dexter-Davison neighborhood, which was a Jewish neighborhood at that time. I lived on Elmhurst and attended Winterhalter School, although my parents told me that before that we lived on Sturtevant, which is in the same neighborhood. So that was a very rich community and time, you know, in my childhood. I lived there until I was seven. I then moved to Northwest Detroit, so I lived on a tree-hurst, Elmhurst, we moved to Pinehurst, another tree-hurst, and we were basically around the corner from Schulze Elementary School and a couple blocks away from the newly-constructed Mumford High School, so those were the schools I went to at that time.

WW: Growing up in the Dexter-Davison and Northwest, were those areas integrated, or were they all white still?

RM: Well, integrated. The Dexter-Davison area in my childhood up to around the age of seven was integrating. It was still a largely Jewish neighborhood and a lot of black people were moving in. In fact, my grandfather died, my father inherited a block of stores on Dexter, and he rented a couple of them out and later sold them to an African American guy who was quite radical. Not sure if he was a Muslim, but he was certainly radical, and a lot of people of the day who were askance at that. Many years later I saw him distributing political leaflets. I can’t remember his name, but he was kind of running as an off-party candidate for mayor, and I introduced myself and he gave me a big hug and a big kiss on both cheeks, and he said that my father was the only one at that time way back then that would rent to him, and that his politics didn’t matter, his race didn’t matter, and my father was willing to sell him the building later on. He thought that was, you know, amazing.

My parents were always liberal, radical, union supporters. My mother organized the first union of welfare workers for the welfare department in Detroit. Before they were married they hitchhiked to Boston to protest the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. They made sandwiches and went up to Flint and passed them into the sit-down workers. So it was that kind of an environment that I grew up in.

BW: Wow.

RM: Wow. It’s continued to today, that kind of political involvement.

WW: Growing up in Detroit, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhoods or did you venture around the city?

RM: Well, it depends on at what age. When I was young and we lived in the Dexter neighborhood, probably up unto my teens, I would go places with my parents. We would go downtown. There was an automat—I think it was called Greenfield’s or something—my mother liked to go there, you know, take me there for lunch. She worked for the Jewish Family Agency, she was a social worker as well, and they were located right here on Woodward at one time, so we would come down and sit in the front office window and look out and watch the Thanksgiving Parade from her office. So I had a feeling for downtown Detroit, but mostly the Westside. Detroit seems to be an East-West split city. You grow up on the Westside, or Northwest, you know the Westside but you are not really familiar— that familiar with the Eastside. It always seemed like another city to me as a kid. And we would go to Hudson’s, we’d go to Crowley’s, shopping. I remember getting my first haircut at Hudson’s. They had a, like, a chair that looked like an animal, sort of like you would ride on a merry-go-round, for the kids, and that was interesting. Detroit had a very sort of rich mercantile life at that time—downtown Detroit did. And my family took me around there. And later when I was in high school and was living out in Northwest Detroit, so sort of near Curtis and Meyer’s, I would come into Detroit and go—there was a jazz club that didn’t serve alcohol but brought really great headline acts—Miles Davis, Cozy Cole, top local people like Youssef Lateef, and really good jazz. It was sometimes so packed that people would line up around the block to get in. You could only get in when somebody left. And they weren’t an alcohol-serving place so the music would go on until two in the morning, so in high school I used to go down there a lot and come into town.

WW: Do you remember what the name of the bar was, or the venue was?

RM: Yeah, the Minor Key, it was on Dexter. And there were a group of us that were kind of hip, you know, followers of jazz music, writers, artists, you know, at least we thought of ourselves as that at the time. So we would come into the city for that. And I found that, you know, cross-racial stuff was very friendly about that. There wasn’t a lot of hostility. You know, these white teenagers coming in from the suburbs. People would talk to us, we got invited up to some after-hours gigs at people’s apartments, there was no fear about going anywhere. You know, people treated us very well. Plus, I started to get involved with kind of a left-wing group of people, and that was very integrated, you know, black and white and talking about revolutionary things. That had some implications for what happened in ‘67 also, so it’s a background.

WW: Was it just a loose formation of people, or did you have a name?

RM: No, later on I got involved with Students for a Democratic Society and anti-Vietnam War protest and, in fact, I dropped out of school for a while and became a community organizer for them in Roxbury, Boston, and would go around and speak on different campuses. And was involved with people like Tom Hayden. And some of my close friends were involved in SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. A woman that I met in Ann Arbor, who’s actually grown up to be a fairly well-known historian, Martha Prescott. She was a major people in SNCC, major figure in Mississippi voter registration in the summer. But that was later, that was when I was in college. We were really good friends, and we’ve remained friends—not close now, because of distance, but over the years whenever we see each other it’s like old-home week, we hug and, “What have you been doing.” Some of her family are buried in Ann Arbor in a cemetery that’s around the corner from a house I own in Ann Arbor, so, you know, there’s a lot of connections there. One of her sons is a doctor and she comes back to Michigan to see him. So that’s interesting.

WW: So being at the Minor Key and meeting these left-wing people, did you—

RM: Well, I knew them before, I didn’t just meet them at the Minor Key. I met some pretty famous musicians through the Minor Key, but.

WW: And when you went to U of M Ann Arbor to go to school, it amplified?

RM: Well, here’s how my education went. I got admitted to U of M late, okay, like the end of October. But before then I accepted a place at Michigan State, so I spent my freshman year at Michigan State, and given my family background I kind of gravitated towards sort of leftish-leaning groups, philosophical discussion groups and stuff. Then, I had always had my eye set on U of M, so for my sophomore year I transferred to U of M, and I met some people. We used to hang out in coffee shops and discuss—there was a guy from England who had gone to the London School of Economics, he got a first, he had come to Ann Arbor because a fairly famous economist, Kenneth Wilding from England, was teaching in Ann Arbor, and his name was Jim Arrowsmith. And I was majoring in philosophy at the time and there was a woman I knew who had applied to go to London for her junior year, and I thought, what the hell. So I talked to Jim, I sent away to London School of Economics. It was almost impossible to get into, it’s like getting into Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge, it was one of the top schools in the world. And I got admitted. So I left and went to the London School of Economics for my junior year and studied political philosophy and political theory.

WW: And what year was that?

RM: Let’s see—so—

WW: Sixty-three?

RM: Sixty-two and sixty-three.

WW: Okay.

RM: Yeah. The school year.

Here’s an aside, okay? I went to high school with a guy named Richard Wishnetsky. Have you heard of him? Richard Wishnetsky was a straight-A, brilliant student in high school and a straight-A student at U of M. He was also nuts. He ended up assassinating a rabbi—what’s his name—I don’t remember his name, but a famous, famous, famous case. He went onstage and blew his head out, and then committed suicide in front of the congregation. He was very upset.

But we were close friends, and when I went to Europe I met a French woman, and then when I came back here I told him about her, and then he went over there for some reason—some internship or something—and looked her up, and then years later I went back and saw her and she said that he had been such a nice guy. And then I told her what he had done, and she was appalled. And then some years after that I was sitting in a coffee shop in Ann Arbor and I was talking to this girl and I said I was from Detroit and that I’d gone to Mumford, and she asked if I knew her brother. And that she had changed her name and had a completely different identity, and I said yes, that I had known him, and then she sort of broke down and talked about what a disaster it had been for the surviving members of the family, you know, based on what he had done.

So there were a lot of tumultuous—you know—I mean, it’s a life, you know, you go through life and stuff happens. But he was absolutely brilliant, never got anything other than an A or an A plus. Got admitted to Harvard to study, you know, philosophy, but instead—Jewish kid—he took a position for graduate school at the University of Detroit. You know, Catholic school. And, you know, he was very troubled about religion and its role in people’s lives and God and morality, and then, you know, he ended up committing one of the most immoral acts one could imagine.

WW: Yeah.

RM: So that was another thread of people I knew. I was also sort of a budding artist and sculptor at the time, so I hung out with people in high school who were under the tutelage of our art teacher at Mumford, his name was Raymond ________ (??). And he was a member of the Scarab Club down here, so sometimes he would bring his students on sketching trips into Detroit, and we would go to the Scarab Club and he got us into exhibits that were there and stuff. So that again brought us out of the suburbs into the city and stuff.

WW: Once you returned from London, did you continue your community activism?

RM: Well, that’s interesting, because when I got back here, one of the first people that I sort of saw was an old friend of mine—in fact, our parents had been friends forever—named Peter Werbe. You know who Peter is? Peter Werbe is the publisher—the editor of The Fifth Estate. He also has a radio show in Detroit. In fact, he would be a great person to interview, because he was all involved in all of this stuff. So through Peter—he was going up to Ann Arbor. Tom Hayden and a guy named Todd Gitlen(??) and I think somebody else were living in a house on Arch Street in Ann Arbor, and had, you know, a big radical poster, you know, on the door—in fact it was glued on the door, it stayed on the door forever. I ended up buying that house later on, just to preserve the door. Later I sold it, they painted over the door, they took the door away. But I got involved with a group of them who were the sort of core of SDS, Students for Democratic Society, and through them I met Al Haber, who started SDS, and his father later became Dean of the Lit School in Ann Arbor. And who I’m still very close with, who’s moved back to Ann Arbor from living in San Francisco, in Oakland for a while, California. And at that time there was a debate within SDS about whether we should be involved in community organizing, or whether we should be mobilizing against the war in Vietnam. I didn’t see it as an either or, but people lined up on both sides of that issue. And I had family in Boston, I had an aunt who had become a Dean of Social Work at Simmons, I had an uncle who teaching at Harvard, and I used to visit them as a child. I used to visit them in the summers. And—not the whole summer, a few weeks here, a few weeks there. So I had an affinity for Boston and they started a community organizing project in Roxbury. So I actually went—you know, I got into social work school and after my first year I took time off and went to Boston, and worked as a community organizer in Roxbury. And it was pretty much through this contact with these SDS people. You know about SDS, right? It started in Ann Arbor.

So during that time also was my undergraduate years. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World], and the Wobblies. So that also got me involved in doing labor history and labor research, and very interested in the songs of the time, you know, Joe Hill and, you know, the organizers. And years, years later, the IWW still has a little hip pocket office in Chicago, and I went there. There on the shelf of all the books that had been written about the Wobblies was my undergraduate honors thesis. I thought, where the hell did you get that. They said, we got every word that’s ever been written about the IWW. So they had—I used to hang out at that office and just reminisce with them and read through stuff.

At the time that I was writing my undergraduate honors thesis, I was also working part-time at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. In fact, Al Haber worked there too, we would edit _______ (??) of articles for a journal about labor economics. And there was a woman who was also affiliated with the institute named Joyce Kornbluh, and she wrote the sort of definitive history of the IWW at the same time that I was writing mine. And so we would exchange notes and talk and stuff, and she was a noted labor historian.

So this is all kind of preamble, you know. This is my background. These are things that I was doing. I came back from Boston, got my masters in social work, was in a doctoral program, so I found myself working for UCS with these kids in Detroit.

WW: And what does UCS stand for?

RM: United Community Services. It’s a—there was a subdivision of it but I don’t remember what it was called. But it was located right over here on—I think on Warren. Was it Warren or Forest? Anyways, it was right near Wayne. And I think they still have that same building. But it was basically, you know, the red feather agency, it was an umbrella of a number of different agencies, community agencies.

WW: And what was your work here? Oh, I should say, when did you first arrive here to do this work?

RM: Well it isn’t a question of arriving, I mean, I’ve just—I’ve always sort of been here. My parents continued to live in Detroit until, you know, a few years after this, when they moved to Ann Arbor to be closer to me, I guess.

WW: When did you start working for United Community Services, then?

RM: In the summer of ‘67.

WW: Okay.

RM: Yeah. And the people I hung out with at that time in Detroit—Peter Werbe, Frank Joyce, you know who he is? Okay. Really? So I was just at this conference, they had—the Sound Conservancy had a conference, and—so I’m talking to this woman, her name was Marsha and she has a radio program, you know, music program. And so we’re talking about—you know, and she asked me a little bit, like you did, about your background, so I mentioned some of the people I know. So I said that I used to hang out with Frank when he lived over here on Prentis and stuff, and she said, “Oh my god, I was married to Frank. And we have a 40 year old son.” And that was pretty funny.

So Frank Joyce was living over here on Prentis, Peter Werbe and his wife Marilyn was living over there, it was an apartment building where everybody lived in. And when I would come into the city—and I was working down here, so I would see them. And they were involved with some pretty radical people. Especially some very revolutionary black people, you know. And they were far out, even for me, I mean, they were out there, they were armed, and they really expected insurrection to take place.

So a little aside, when the riots broke out—not that that they started them, but a couple of them piled all their guns into the trunk of their car, and they were stopped by the police—if I got it right, they were stopped by the police, and they found all these guns, and I think a couple of them ended up in jail. There was a guy I liked very much, good-looking guy, very nice, his name was Will McClendon. I think—you know him?

WW: Yep, he was with ACME [Adult Community Movement for Equality].

RM: Yeah. Well, he was involved with these guys. Another offshoot that I had was through my working at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, I met a guy named Dennis DuChez(??), who worked at Chrysler at the time. And he was—he was an inside employee of Chrysler, but he was a big supporter of DRUM, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. So I met some of those people. So it’s—you know, it’s like loose associations, you know. The only group I was ever really—ever formally part of was SDS. But Frank organized the Northern Student Movement, that was his organization. I can’t—I was at a party with him and some woman, I can’t remember her name, but she was—she’d been drinking a little bit, but she’d pushed me up against the wall and, you know, was like right in my face and was asking me all these questions about how radical was I really, or was I just a white dilatant down here from the suburbs that was slumming, and what had I ever done for her people. And you know [laughs], it was very confrontational. That’s the only time I think that anybody ever, you know—all my time in Roxbury, and other times in Detroit. But times were changing, you know, people were now much more openly angry, and—

WW: And what was the work you did with United Community Services?

 RM: Like I said, I rounded up these kids, recruited them, got them involved with the police, took them around the precincts, taught them about how the police department worked. And sort of took them into the neighborhoods, staked them out in a two or three block area and let them do basically an inventory of the neighborhood. Abandoned houses, abandoned cars. You know, just to get a general—and they would write up a few paragraphs about the neighborhood, and list these things, and they would get paid. They got paid pretty well, you know, for then. I think they might have gotten 7 dollars an hour, and they were late middle and early high school age kids. So that was pretty good money for them back then.

WW: How did working for the Detroit Police Department impact your friendships with these left-wing activists?

RM: Well, I wasn’t really working for the Detroit Police Department, I was working with the Detroit police. I was working for United Community Services. But I’ve always been sort of circulating in different worlds. I’m a sociologist, you know? In fact, one of the country’s top social scientists—sociologists of police, Albert Reese, wrote a couple books about police—was one of my professor’s at U of M. And then later when he got to be chairman of sociology at Yale I went and visited him. I think it’s important to just understand all the institutions of society. My own political beliefs and feelings—you know, I don’t have a lot of animosity towards the police. I think that there’s a—the police in function in society is, by its nature, sort of oppressive. I mean, you’re basically looking for things that people are doing, and some of the things they’re doing, and telling them they can’t do it, and if they continue to do it you arrest them, that’s not very nice. I remember when I was a kid, I was driving down Linwood with my father—I must have been about 12, 13—and a couple young black kids—15, 16—were walking down the street. And a police car was driving by, and it pulls over, drives up on the sidewalk, and pushes these kids up against the wall and starts frisking them, and just hassling them. And my father’s driving by, he slams on the breaks, jumps out of the car, and goes up to these cops, writes down their badge numbers and starts shouting at them, and saying, “What are you doing to these young men? What have they done? I saw them just walking down the street, and you basically have assaulted them, and I’m going to report you, not only to the police department but to the newspapers. What are your names?” You know, these are big cops, white cops, and my father—five foot six, little Jewish man, screaming at them. And they were intimidated. They were really intimidated by him. And they kind of apologized to him, and he said, “Don’t apologize to me, apologize to them and let them go on their way.” And the cops did. And man, I was so, so proud of my dad, and also scared for him. So that, you know—stuff like that in Detroit.

WW: So as your working that summer, do you sense—is there like a feeling in the air that there’s something that’s going to happen in the summer?

RM: Well, you know, I was involved with people that are talking about revolution, insurrection, this that and the other. But it was like—I didn’t think it was—they thought—a lot of them thought it was real. I didn’t think it was real. I mean, I’d go back to my parents’ house in the evening, I didn’t live in the city and I didn’t have my finger on the pulse of what the inner city was going through. And I was aware of the economic gulf, I was aware of the people in DRUM being dissatisfied with the union and with their contracts. But I was always sort of on the edges of things watching stuff go on, rather than being in the center of things, as, you know—

Later when the Vietnam War was happening I got more involved. I organized about eight busloads of people to go to Washington, and I recruited a guy who became my life-long friend, Carl Ogalsbee?,  recruited him to SDS. He was a technical writer for Bendix at the time, basically working for the military-industrial complex, and I confronted him about his principles and his life and how they were out of sync, and he actually quit his job. He had two little kids—three little kids at the time, his little boy was a baby, and he walked out of a good-paying job to work for SDS.

WW: So going into that week, how did you first hear about what was going on, on Twelfth Street and Clairmount?

RM: Well, our kids were out there. Inventorying cars, and it was on the news and we got a call to get the kids off the streets. They were wearing T-shirts that said Detroit Police Department, they were wearing bright yellow helmets. And there wasn’t really anybody else there. I was at the office, and they said, “Take our station wagon and go get those kids.” So I drove in and started rounding up the kids, okay? So I’ve got these black kids that I’m picking up off the street, with their T-shirts saying Detroit Police Department and their bright yellow helmets, and the buildings around us are on fire, and people are breaking in the front windows and walking out with TVs, and burning the files, so if they owe any money that stuff will be destroyed. And it was like—well, it was like Mardi Gras, it was like a street party. Nobody was stopping them, there weren’t any police on the street, and some people had guns but nobody was shooting anybody. It’s just—it was kind of pandemonium. So I’m driving and then people are in front of me on the street, so I stop. I’ve got these kids in the back, you know. I’m white, they’re black. And a guy comes up to me and says, “Roll down your window.” So I roll down my window, he says, “Are you fucking crazy? What the hell are you doing here?” I say, “Well, I’ve got to get these kids off the street, I’m with this program blah, blah, blah.” He said, “Get in the back, get down, don’t let anybody see you. I’ll drive you out of the neighborhood.” So he gets in, I get in the back, get down. He drives the car out of the neighborhood, and gets away from what’s happening on Twelfth Street.

And—so we take the kids back to the office and they’re waiting for their parents to pick them up, and then I kind of turn to him and say, “Well, where do you want to be?” He said, “Well, I certainly don’t want to be here. This ain’t no place for a black man to be.” And I said, “Well.” He said, “I’ll tell you, take me as close to back where I met you as it’s safe for you to be, and then, you know, you’ll go your way and I’ll go mine.” And, you know, we never saw each other or talked to each other again. But that’s my most vivid memory, the buildings burning—oh, I was taking pictures, too. He said, “Are you crazy, taking pictures of these folks walking out of those stores with those TVs?” And it was—it was an interesting experience. I wasn’t really afraid, but I had never—I had never been encountered around racial issues or about being white or anything, in a way that would make me afraid. And I had really amicable relationships with everybody, so it just, it wasn’t on my radar. Looking back on it, it was probably fairly dangerous, at that time, to be taking pictures of people robbing stores. But it didn’t seem to me to be at the time.

WW: Did you have any other experiences during that week? Or did you hunker down?

RM: Well, I wrote up all my thoughts and reflections for a report to the agency I was working for. And they wrapped it around a description of the program and its goals and then, you know, a sort of an evaluation of the program at the end, and brought it out as a kind of, like a white paper, you know. Bob Potts wrote a piece, and the director of the agency, his name at that time was Emerick Curtagh(??)The assistant director of the agency was a guy named Harold Johnson, who later became dean of social work at U of M. So, you know, these were people that were—you know, became significant in their field.

I had another friend that worked there, a black guy named Madison Foster, and he was an interesting character. When I first met Madison, let’s see—I was in graduate school in social work, and so was he, and he wore, like, a tweed jacket and smoked a pipe and was affecting an east coast accent. And then a year or so later he was involved in the Black Student Movement in Ann Arbor. And then a year or so after that he was selling marijuana. And then a year or so after that he and a couple partners had started a really great soul food restaurant in Ann Arbor. And then the restaurant failed. And a year or two after that he was a professor at Morgan State. And then a year or two after that he was at another college. So my thoughts about him and the transition he went through—you know, the different lives he led, and then the different people I met through him who were his friends at different stages of my friendship with him. It’s sort of a fascinating chronicle of the kind of evolution of a black person’s experience and self-concept and, you know, and all of that.

The other thing I was involved with, I was really peripherally involved in the drug culture in Ann Arbor. My roommate, lovely guy named Ned Shore, was probably one of the biggest marijuana dealers in the United States. And he did it for years, out of the apartment I was living in. So when he got arrested and they were investigating him, just like this only it was the FBI sitting across the table from me—but what happened was the last—and he owned Ned’s Bookstore, first in Ann Arbor and then it was a major off-campus bookstore in Ypsilanti. So he had a viable business. And his brother was also involved. His brother was absolutely brilliant, I think he got his PhD at nineteen in nuclear engineering. So, you know, I mean, they were very unique people. Good businessmen. So they had farms and planes and fleets of cars and everything. But they had a big ship that they filled up with bales of marijuana wrapped in plastic, and I think that it was some kind of hurricane or typhoon—maybe it was the perfect storm that they made the movie of, the Perfect Storm. But the ship was destroyed. Broke up. It was coming up from South American and it broke up, and bales of marijuana washed up on the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Florida. And people were driving out on the beaches with Dune Buggies and jeeps, just picking these things up, just collecting them off the beaches. And so the federal government said, we’ve got to find out who’s at the root of this. And they found out, and I think he spent seven years in jail.

WW: Coming back to Detroit, how did you interpret what happened in Detroit? Did you see it as a riot? Did you see it as a rebellion? An uprising?

RM: Well, you know, for the people that were politically involved, it was an uprising. I don’t think it was a rebellion because it didn’t really have, like, a set of concrete sort of goals and a program, you know, demands. It didn’t—I didn’t see it—now, maybe it was, but I didn’t see it as a group that was, you know— used it as a stepping stone of the halls of power, that would bring about any kind of major changes in this city. I think some things happened in the wake of it. But I think that the thing that attracted most of the attention was the part of it that was a riot. The looting, the burning. I mean, it wasn’t—that part wasn’t organized. It didn’t take the form some of the protests of police shootings of black people today. It didn’t take the form of people in the streets or shutting the city down, or a movement like Black Lives Matter coming out of it. So I think that the notoriety and the fear that was engendered by it was more by people who saw it as a riot. I saw it as a riot, I didn’t see it as programmatic. I could be wrong, Frank might have a completely different idea than I do. Maybe that’s my liberal rather than radical leanings. But it didn’t seem unified, it didn’t seem programmatic, and it didn’t seem to lead to something that would be ongoing. Taking over a wing of, say, city government or the Democratic Party, or a third party, you know, or something that would have a lasting—be a lasting political force. Even DRUM, for the time that it existed, had some influence at Chrysler, but it never could take the next step. Never. And the fact that they were really left-wing—they didn’t use their leverage to really influence the UAW [United Auto Workers]. So it—a lot of that stuff didn’t have any ongoing political consequence. I mean, it might have had social consequences, you know, in terms of the quiescent liberal white community being woken up. It probably had some consequences in terms of speeding up white flight from the city, although that had pretty much happened already.

WW: Do you think that the events of ‘67 still hang over the metro area?

RM: Yeah, in a way, in a way. I think that—I think that a lot of the things that people were dissatisfied about then, they’re dissatisfied about now. The wage gap, you know. Even though we have black people in political power, and we did have—we had Archer and Young and black mayors and stuff, I don’t think that the left wing had much influence. It’s the builders and the developers and the people who bided their time until now and then can pick up—they can buy Detroit for pennies. I don’t really see any kind of major economic developments. I mean, you know, the jobs were starting to leave and then they accelerated. You know, they went down south and then they went to Mexico and they went overseas. So the drain of good-paying job just left people more economically troubled, economically depressed.

WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?

RM: Now I am, because it’s sort of hit bottom. People were talking about a new industry for Detroit being urban farming. It’s such a radical, radical shift from manufacturing industries that could employ ten, twenty, thirty thousand people, you know, and give them good paying, 40, 50, 60,000 dollar-a-year jobs. Well, where’s that economic base going to come? Growing eggplants? I don’t think so. It’s going to be a whole cultural shift. Detroit’s never going to be a manufacturing powerhouse again. The people that are buying up the factories are converting them to condos. They’re not turning them into manufacturing plants. And the new economy—Google, where did they locate? Ann Arbor. Six thousand new jobs in Ann Arbor, not Detroit.

I’ve seen Pittsburgh. One of my daughters got her master’s degree in Pittsburgh, and I saw the sort of transformation of the steel industry, so now there are computers and medical research and education. And that seems to be a viable rebirth of Pittsburgh. Waiting to see what the configuration for Detroit is.

I’m working for a construction management company now, where I’m doing strategic planning and project management—I worked for the Detroit Public Schools for twenty-four years as a school social worker. I got an award, top school social worker in the state of Michigan, blah, blah, blah. I retired, you know, a year ago—well, June. And I’d been a consultant to this company, and as soon as they found out that I was retired, they asked me if I wanted to come and work for them part-time. So I’m involved, I’m involved in sort of overseeing the DuCharme Project. You know what that is? And we’re involved with Sachse, they’re the general contractor there, we’re involved with Monaghan, some of the top builders around here. We just bid on doing a few buildings on Bagley and Trumbull.

So I see that kind of thing. But these are—these are residential and small store buildings. They’re not going to be major employers. I’m involved in trying to raise the money to restore the Grande Ballroom right now. We just did a tour of the Grande and we have the 50th anniversary concert for the Grande, so I’m involved with a guy named Leo Early, who wrote a book about the Grande. So I’m sort of spearheading the fundraising to try to at least stabilize the Grande so it doesn’t deteriorate anymore, and to try to raise the money to put it together. Still involved, seventy-four, still try to stay active, you know.

WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today, I really appreciate it.

RM: Sure. I mean—was it interesting?

WW: Oh, it was good.

Original Format



50min 30sec




“Roger Manilla, October 17th, 2016
,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 13, 2021,

Output Formats