Paula Cooney, 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—
PC: Sister Paula Cooney.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
PC: You're very welcome.
WW: Would you like to share your story?
PC: Yes. Well, during the summer of 1967, I think it was, I was taking classes at Wayne State University. We always go to school in the summertime—we did then, anyway—and I was staying at the convent at St. Boniface, which is no longer in existence, but it used to be right next to Tiger Stadium.
At the time, 75 [interstate I 75], which is now a full-fledged interstate, was just being dug, so there was this huge hole beside us. What I remember of the events of the riots at that time—of course, we were not in the riot area, we were right on the edge—so we could see the flames and the fire in the distance from us.
But I think the thing that I remember the most, besides just watching it on TV, was the imposition of—I want to say martial law. I don't know what they call it, but the National Guard was everywhere. And the complete and total silence of the night. that we could see the tanks going around us and we felt secure. It wasn't that we were frightened. It was more a sadness in the sisters. I can't remember how many of us were there at the time but I don't think we were afraid as much as we were so saddened by the whole event that was taking place around us as dawn came after the fires had stopped and things had kind of settled down.
The other piece that we were directly involved with was feeding the people that had been displaced. So I can remember very, very, distinctly—the men especially—coming for the bags of groceries, and going through what we were giving them. I guess I want to say, I wasn't directly involved but it was just a sense of being in a very sad place.
And the fact that we as a country, that we as a city, had to be under that kind of oversight by armed men, you know, with the National Guard, which is something that I don't think I'll ever forget. I remember, you know, the sisters calling from Marygrove and other places, and that they were locked down, and you know, couldn't get out and so on.
So, it's a very short story. That's the part I remember about it. That's basically it, just very, very simple.
WW: Do you remember if it changed the way you looked at the city?
PC: Did it change the way—I think I have always loved Detroit. Actually I'm from Dearborn, I was born and raised there, but if anybody asks me where I'm from, it's Detroit. Period. You know, I'm a sports fan for the people of Detroit—the teams of Detroit. It's my home in many ways. Did it change? No. I think it really wanted—I wanted it to be better. I knew it wasn't everybody. It was a very small amount of people involved in this. It wasn't the story of the whole city, and I minded when people kind of generalized that. So, in terms of my own personal, no, it really didn't. Not really. Uh uh.
WW: Thank you so much.
PC: You're welcome!