Rosemary Konwerski, July 17th, 2015

Title

Rosemary Konwerski, July 17th, 2015

Subject

1967 riot—Detroit—Michigan
Hamtramck—Michigan
Lafayette Clinic—Detroit—Michigan
Luby, Elliott MD—Psychiatrist—Detroit—Michigan
Michigan Department of Mental Health
National Institute of Mental Health
Polish American community—Detroit—Michigan

Description

In this interview, Konwerski discusses working at the Lafayette Clinic in Detroit during and after the 1967 civil disturbance. She also discusses her family’s move from Hamtramck to Warren, Michigan in April 1967. Following the disturbance in July 1967, Konwerski worked on a research project financed by the National Institute of Mental Health and lead by Elliot Luby, MD, staff psychiatrist at the Lafayette Clinic, about the people arrested during the 1967 civil disturbance. The report was published in 1969. Here, Konwerski discusses the findings of the report and how it was executed. Konwerski also discusses the closing of the Lafayette Clinic in 1992 and her work at other mental health facilities in Metro Detroit throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Rosemary Konwerski

Brief Biography

Rosemary Konwerski was born October 7, 1947 in Hamtramck, Michigan where she was also raised. Konwerski graduated from St. Ladislaus High School in Hamtramck 1965. In April 1967, her family relocated to Warren, Michigan just three months before the civil disturbance in July 1967. Konwerski worked for the Lafayette Clinic in Detroit Michigan from 1965-1992 and went on to work as an administrator at other mental health facilities in Metro Detroit throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. She identifies as Polish-American.

Interviewer's Name

Lillian Wilson

Interview Place

The Polish Mission, Orchard Lake, Michigan

Date

07/17/2015

Interview Length

00:54:34

Transcriptionist

Lillian Wilson

Transcription

LW: Today is July 17, 2015. This is the interview of Rosemary Konwerski by Lily Wilson. We are at the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit historical Society and the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. Rosemary, can you start by telling me where and when you were born?

RK: I was born in Hamtramck, Michigan at St. Francis Hospital October 7, 1947.

LW: And who were your parents and what did they do for a living?

RK: My parents were Roman Joseph Konwerski and he was a quality management specialist and instructor for the Army Tank Automotive Command in Warren and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. Her name was Dorothy Josephine Szafran Konwerski.

LW: And when did they come to Michigan?

RK: Both of my parents were born here in the Detroit area, both on the east side of Detroit. My dad, his parents were Joseph and Mary Konwerski, my mother’s parents were John and Josephine Szafran.

LW: How do you spell Szafran?

RK: S-Z-A-F-R-A-N

LW: Both sets of grandparents were from Poland?

RK: My paternal grandparents were born in Poland. My maternal grandfather was born here and I am not sure where my grandmother was born—that’s the stuff I’m looking for here.

LW: I see. Tell me about where you were living in July of 1967.

RK: July of 1967 my family—we moved—for the first 18 years of my life—’66, ’67—we lived in Hamtramck on Oliver Street. Half of the street was in Detroit, half was in Hamtramck. In April of ’67—the previous year, in 1966, my dad bought a house in Warren, in Eleven Mile and Hoover area. And so our family moved out of Hamtramck in April of 1967 and when the riots occurred three months later we were living in Warren already.

LW: And where were you going to school at that time?

RK: I was working. I graduated from St. Ladislaus High School in 1965 and started working at the Lafayette Clinic in Detour t in July of 1965 so I was, again, when the riots broke out I was already working at the Lafayette Clinic which is located at Lafayette and the Chrysler Freeway downtown Detroit.

LW: And what was your job there?

RK: At that time I was a typist in the Steno Pool, Medical Records Department.

LW: So what do you remember about July ’67 and the riots in particular?

RK: I was only 18 years old and it was an emotional time because I left Hamtramck, that was where our family was born and raised, we lived in a two-family flat that belonged to my grandmother and my dad’s younger brother and his two children lived upstairs and our family lived downstairs; there were four girls and two boys lived upstairs. So it was like leaving my two brothers behind. It was different moving out to the suburbs. It was new. I remember the ride downtown was longer for me before I would jump on the freeway and I was at work in five, ten minutes. This way coming from Eleven Mile and Hoover, I dropped my sister off in Hamtramck to finish her high school education and then drive downtown.

LW: Okay. So why did your dad decide to buy a house in Warren?

RK: My mom and dad never owned a home. They were always living in my grandparent’s—my grandparents owned the two-family flat. And my dad worked at Eleven-and-a-half Mile and Van Dyck—that was the Army Tank Automotive Command.

LW: I see.

RK: And so he finally he promised my mom that we were going to get a home and that was it. We didn’t move for any racial reasons.

LW: Okay.

RK: Hamtramck at that time was still very Polish predominately. So it was just that my dad promised my mother that one day she would own a home of her own because she lived in an orphanage when she was little—her mother died when she was only nine years old. So it was a happy move in that my dad was doing something better for his family. 

LW: I see. So what do you remember about having to go downtown?

RK: The riots broke out early on a Sunday morning, my dad would not let me go to work on Monday. I was only 18 years old, just purchased a new car after working for two years—well, it was a year old but to me it was new but my dad was still very concerned about me driving downtown by myself. I didn’t go to work until Thursday of that week.

LW: Wow.

RK: So I was home Monday, Tuesday Wednesday. When I did finally drive downtown, I used to take Van Dyck to Gratiot and then Gratiot over, once I crossed and got south of Eight Mile Road and got closer to the downtown area, there was a high school there called Borroughs High, and the National Guard was set up with camp there and what struck me most of all was that they were standing all around a playground, sort of, with guns in their hand. And that was when it first hit me that this was something very, very serious. I remember seeing on TV, but we always thought it was so localized in one area, but to see the National Guard with machine guns and tanks and this was a school I had driven past hundreds of times, I used to walk there from my old neighborhood and to see it become a military base was upsetting and I was only 18 years old.

LW: Sure. So you brought some papers with you today. Can you explain what these are?

RK: At the time, when the riots started, there was money made available from the National Institute of Mental Health and researchers were clamoring to get applications—grant applications—to study the civil disturbance. So Dr. Elliott Luby, who was the author of this article that ended up in the William & Mary Law Review—Dr. Luby was chief psychiatrist on the adult inpatient service and he also was a lawyer and he had a practice and he was on staff at the law school at Wayne State University. Mrs. Hicks who was the supervisor at the time, they asked her to pick one person to be the secretary on the grant. They had one social worker who was going to be the coordinator, Dr. Luby was the initial administrator, there was another psychologist I think his name was Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, he was on staff at U[niversity] of M[ichigan] also and my supervisor picked me. She asked me, “Would you be the secretary on this research study?” It was exciting because I hated typing and I had the chance to do something different. So I was the secretary on the grant, Jackie Giering who was the social worker on the adult inpatient service, she was the coordinator so she and I were coordinating and I was responsible for doing all of the clerical things. Years ago when I was moving I threw out the actual report but when I went up online Dr. Luby did take as the basis for this publication in the [William & Mary] Law Review all of the data he collected from the Lafayette Clinic study. The only thing different in this report than from the original report is that he studied controls also. In the study that we did we had a year, and I think in about a year-and-a-half we published it. It probably went just to Lansing to the Department of Mental Health and I don’t remember there being a lot written about controls. It was simply what he found in interviews. We interviewed prisoners, we interviewed store owners, people in the neighborhoods that were affected by it one way or the other. Interestingly enough we interviewed prostitutes who were arrested at that time. And I remember going to the Detroit House of Correction and there was—but they don’t mention the prostitutes in this report for some reason—

LW: Interesting.

RK: But I remember going to the Detroit House of Correction with another psychologist who was—and I can’t remember her name and I don’t know if she wrote a report based on that. It was a hectic time. I remember I was being called in a lot on weekends because just to get the grant in, to get it written, and everyone was applying and all of the major universities in Michigan and really anyone that was affected by it was really trying to get a piece of the pie. I remember probably that following week my dad said, “No, I don’t want you going down there on a weekend because there are not—” As the week went on more and more of the businesses started to open and there were more people down there but like early on a Saturday morning and I didn’t feel that comfortable so I didn’t wanna argue. I put in a lot of overtime. We had questionnaires that were done over and over again, lists of arrestees. So it was a pretty hectic time but it was very, very interesting.

LW: When you would go to the Department of Corrections, when you would talk to people who had been arrested, prostitutes, what was being—what was the type of question that they were being asked?

RK: Well, I didn’t do the actual interviewing.

LW: Right. Dr. Luby was doing the interviewing?

RK: Well he had—they hired interviewers. There were staff members from the clinic that volunteer, some of the social workers but they also had people—I highlighted some of the things in there [Dr. Luby’s report] that were interesting.

LW: Okay. Thank you.

RK: I just can’t remember what the actual questionnaires were about. “Where were you when the riot started? Did you live in the area? Did you come from outside of the area?” And family demographics and so a lot of that is in there as far as the demographics that has to do with the individuals who were arrested.

LW: There were 233 subjects in this study?

RK: Right, for the purposes of this particular paper. What they did is we had a whole list of names of people who were arrested and we randomly selected so it was like— I can’t remember if it was every tenth or fifteenth person—until we had the number that he wanted. He didn’t take say like the first hundred so it was a random selection and I can’t remember—I can’t remember the number of—somewhere in here they list the number of people who were actually arrested and that was very high.

LW:  Oh yeah.

RK: So for the purposes of this paper he had 233 subjects.

LW: Randomly selected.

RK: From a total of—there was 7,200 arrested.

LW: So when you heard these interviews taking place, because you were—

RK: I didn’t hear so much the interviews. I saw the interview questionnaires because I would type them up.

LW: Okay. I see.

RK: The only place that I went to was the Detroit House of Corrections where the prostitutes were. I did not go to the jails because they were in Wayne County Jail. Some that were arrested were kept in Burroughs High School and they were you know just kept in there. I did not go to any of the jails except Detroit House of Corrections.

LW: I see. So this was in late July, early August of 1967.

RK: August, September.

LW: So immediately following, while these people were still in jail. Waiting on some sort of hearing or sentencing or something?

RK: Mm-hmm.

LW: So what was the conclusion or the gist of what Dr. Luby found out about all of this.

RK: It’s in the paper here.

LW: Okay. Based on what you remember. It doesn’t necessarily have to be—

RK: Well, in the paper, and maybe it was me being young and naïve and in the area that I lived in, I didn’t see a lot of unrest around me. But Hamtramck at that time was Polish and white. And there were pockets of the area that there were black people living, some small amount of Chinese people or different—

LW: Okay.

RK: But I didn’t see that kind of animosity. Hamtramck High School, which was just down the street from where I went, St. Lads, had a large black population there.  We used to play basketball against them sometimes, the schools, and I don’t remember there being fighting going on after that. I knew there were parts of Detroit that you just didn’t go into because certain areas, like Hastings Street and that, the buildings were run down and that’s in Dr. Luby’s paper that that disparity between what the white people had and what the black people had at that time was one of the major underlying causes for the riot. Again, being 18 years old  I, you know, things didn’t bother me. And I wasn’t aware of the economic differences. Even in the paper it says that Detroit was looked at as almost a model city for racial balance. We had a very liberal mayor, Mayor Cavanagh, at the time and this really came almost like as a shock but as things started to unfold then you realized that that difference in economics, availability of jobs—even when I was reading this now—how many years later?

LW: Fifty.

RK: Fifty years later. Oh my gosh I’ll be 68. It just shocks me it really—it was very eye-opening reading this 50 years later. And again if I was at a point where—when I was still in high school I interviewed for two jobs, I got hired and I started the day after high school at Blue Cross Blue Shield I worked for six weeks and then the second job I passed the civil service test and I was hired at Lafayette Clinic. So I never had the problem of getting a job. And then you read that—I mean I was hired before I even graduated.

LW: Wow.

RK: I was overwhelmed by the amount of animosity from the black people at the clinic. That we worked with.

LW: Yeah.

RK: And these were some very, very educated people, some psychologists. And I guess that’s one of the things that—I’ve always worked with educated people. So there are educated blacks there are educated everything so I—to me, I’ve always grown up in my work environment where I was surrounded, working in the medical field, medical situations—Lafayette Clinic and then the VA then I was an account manager—the people that I dealt with mostly were very educated people. But some of the clerical staff were very, very upset that we were doing this research.

LW: Okay.

RK: And I remember when Dr. Luby presented the findings almost a year-and-a-half after the grant was closed and we had a formal report and we held it in the auditorium to release the findings to the rest of the staff.

LW: Yeah.

RK: And one of the chief accountants, a young black lady, got up and she just started crying and said, “I don’t know why you did this, it was a waste of time and I am tired of people putting black people under a microscope and analyzing us.”

LW: Now—

RK: That came to me as a real—because I was real proud of the work we did. But I’m a Polish, white lady—or young lady at that time—and to me it was a research study.

LW: So what types of findings in Dr. Luby’s study that you were a part of do you think would have upset her or somebody else who had a more similar perspective?

RK: One of the interesting things—and I wrote over here—most of the rioters came from outside the riot area. And the riot happened in an area, at a blind pig in downtown Detroit and we had arrestees that came almost from the Grosse Pointe area and same from the Dearborn area. And it’s much like when you have on a college campus today when they think somebody’s playing for a championship—

LW: Yeah.

RK:  Say like Michigan State, it’s not the kids who riot from Michigan State and party and burn, but it’s the people that come there.

LW: I see.

RK: And that to me, I thought that was really significant.

LW: Sure.

RK: And even when you see riots on the television today, the people in that area—like in Ferguson, they had signs, the owners said “Please keep out.” I don’t think it’s the people that lived there that wanted that part of Detroit destroyed.

LW: I see.

RK: Interestingly enough at that time, my cousin Ed, who lived upstairs from us and he was like my brother, he was in Vietnam. And the news that was filtered back to Vietnam was that the city of Detroit—the city of Detroit was burnt to the ground. And my cousin Eddie—at that time there was no social media there was nothing it was whatever little bits and pieces of information were filtered there. So he had no idea what happened to his mother, his father his brother or us or any of his friends.

LW: That must have been difficult.

RK: I just wrote some notes here, it said here how the samples were collected. First we selected the eleventh, the twenty-first and the thirty-first so that was randomly.

LW: From the 7,000 arrestees?

RK: Right. There was a median age of 18 to 24. And you take a look at some of the areas—and there were older people were living in those areas.

LW: So it wasn’t people in those areas necessarily—

RK: It was the arrestees were younger ones that came in and started burning. The only thing, it must have been so ripe and ready to go and that’s what I was surprised at, just being me, was the little sheltered area that I lived in.

LW: So it looks like here most of the arrestees were married? Or most were single?

RK: 46 [percent] were single, 39 [percent] were married, and then divorced, separated or widowed. On here most of the arrestees were employed—which was very surprising. 16 percent unemployed and 13 percent—almost 14—were students. All of the arrestees were unskilled or semi-skilled workers. So they may have been young ones that worked in the factory.

LW: Okay.

RK: For whatever reason. That’s it, right here—“A large percentage of whom were working in the automobile factory and making on the average $115 a week.”

LW: Okay.

RK: As far as socialization—and that was one of the things that—most of them came, 61 percent, were from a large city. The arrestees, also were more likely to have spent their early developmental years in Detroit. I was very surprised, it still happens today, though, that you would want to burn down your own neighborhood. But then again if it’s not you, it’s going to be someone that comes from someplace else. Most were born in Detroit or came under the age of 11.

LW: I see.

RK: And then 36 percent migrated before the age of 11. So again the higher percentage of arrestees were actually born and raised in the Detroit area. So I don’t know if for so long they felt depressed and kept down.

LW: Did Dr. Luby ask the subjects of this study about that?

RK: It might be more in here.

LW: Why do you think he did this study?

RK: He was such  a brilliant man, he’s still alive but he’s probably close to his nineties and his wife, unfortunately—I saw him a couple years ago at a funeral service for someone that we worked with whose wife passed away. Dr. Luby’s wife just passed away two weeks ago. And I went up to him, I said, “Dr. Luby it’s Rosemary Konwerski” and he goes, “Oh, I remember you.” I mean a smart man. And just—why did he do it? I think to bring—he was just such a smart and intelligent man and I really think that he did it not to offend anyone but really—because he worked with some really high level people and had an excellent reputation in the city of Detroit, still does, but the money was available and it also brought some prestige to the Lafayette Clinic. We were the only agency in the Michigan Department of Mental Health that got the grant. At that time Lafayette Clinic was a research facility, a state psychiatric hospital, and we were also the Department of Psychiatry for Wayne State University. So when [Gov. John] Engler shut the place down—I was there the day state troopers shut the place down, I was director of medical records at the time.

LW: What was that like?

RK: Very traumatic. Our acting director, Dr. Sullivan, who was my boss at the time was in New York visiting his daughter and that’s when Engler sent the state troopers in because he knew that Dr. Sullivan—we had a two-and-a-half -year court battle going on with the Department of Mental Health. And so he knew our leader was gone. And I was sitting in a meeting and they announced over the PA system it was two o’clock, it was a Friday afternoon, “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon the Lafayette Clinic is closing.” And you had patients, children, adolescents and adults and they had staff from Northville and a couple of other state hospitals and went up to the wards and they told our staff to leave and they had state troopers up and down the hallway. Now you have psychiatric patients who are very attached to their attendants, we had adolescents who—that’s their home, the average length of stay is six months and for children they stayed there for more than a year because you deal with family dynamics. And—I know—I was allowed to come back on Monday, you had to make an appointment to come get your—all you could do was take your purse out that day. And I was at the front desk and Cheryl Chodun was out in the lobby and she wanted to interview me and I said, “No Cheryl, I don’t want to go on TV.”

LW: Sure, sure.

RK: But I came back—you had to make an appointment to come back and get your personal belongings. I was allowed to come back on Monday morning because I was director of medical records. I could bring two staff with me. And I went up on the wards and the medical records were thrown around, patients were taken to Northville, they had no idea what medications they had.

LW: Wow.

RK: They had to wait in the back of the clinic for buses. Patients were lined up there for at least two hours with nothing to eat and we had appointments because I was also patient affairs officer and I was the court liaison and I supervised admissions—I was there for 27 years so I grew up there. We had medical appointments for patients and they were never kept. I took pictures of what the ward looked like and I gave them to the recipient’s rights officer but Engler had a couple of judges in his hip pocket. That stuff went nowhere, it went nowhere.

LW: How do you think that has impacted the City of Detroit today?

RK: The entire State of Michigan. We have no place for psych patients, not just Detroit. Engler came from—I tried to, I worked on his recall campaign—but he came from the Grand Rapids area, an area that is a very affluent area. When you take a look at Lafayette Clinic we had two adolescent units, male and female and we had a total of 40 beds I think, 20 and 20. The only family that most of those children knew were the attendants because they did not have a strong family structure; that’s why they were in there. And we had adult patients there, their average length of stay was usually three months. And some of their families would dump them there and never pick them up. A lot of them were sent to Clinton Valley, Northville and Ypsilanti Regional for long-term care and then when they would start closing the larger state hospitals down I testified before the Senate and House hearings because, not as an employee, I had family members, I had a cousin who was in there. And I had an uncle who had psych problems. So I told them, I said, I’m not here as an employee but I said I have relatives and unless you have someone who has mental illness in your family—it’s terrible. And the adolescents were just traumatized because these attendants—as clinics started closing down and there were threats of that, the staff members who were leaving always had to sign out in medical records so I had to clear them, I would sign out attendants that had 30 years seniority, 40, 25. Every day I would see over 100 years of experience going out the door. When I left there I had almost 28 years. So the clinic at the time that this study was going on was the jewel in the Michigan Department of Mental Health. The other hospitals did not have research and they were not the Department of Psychiatry—they were state psychiatric hospitals.

LW: In the sixties, when you were working there in the late sixties, and early sevenites, well, basically until it was shut down—what was the year that it was shut down?

RK: 1992. October of ’92.

LW: So before 1992, while you were there, what was the racial makeup of the patients.

RK: I think at beginning it may have been equal, maybe more white. But then being located in downtown Detroit, we serviced all of Macomb, Oakland or—it didn’t have real boundaries.

LW: I see.

RK: If there was an opening and unless you needed long time care for like a year or two then you would go to the larger state hospitals. But we had two adult wards, one was an admitting ward which was—all of our wards were locked but it was more severe, it was four south, and then as the patients progressed they were transferred to—it was still a locked ward but it three north which was preparing them to go home or into a halfway house.

LW: I see.

RK: And we had two adolescent units, we had a children’s unit that had 22 beds, we had 40 adolescent beds I mentioned and at one time we had two neurology units, one was adult and the other one when it was open was patients who were probably under the age of five years old that had such severe epilepsy that they couldn’t even sit up. And this is what Engler shut down. And what he kept reporting was that the census was so low, but he refused to let us admit. And so the things that you saw in the paper or news was that it was too expensive to keep Lafayette Clinic open, you told us we could not admit anymore. As I said we had a two-and-a-half year court battle going on and we were doing real well until he had a couple judges in his pocket for some—for whatever reason. And when you get into more affluent areas from where he came, people on the west side of the state don’t want to pay for someone to stay in a hospital. It was based on your ability to pay. We would bill insurance if we could but if you didn’t have any insurance, your liability to pay was zero and the state picked up the bill. But it wasn’t a freebie, I mean these patients—the Lafayette Clinic had just an unbelievable staff, such a dedicated—and if it didn’t close I would have retired from there.

LW: Do you visit Detroit today?

RK: Oh yeah, I love downtown Detroit.

LW: So having this perspective with a large sort of institution closing that would maybe have helped a lot more people had it stayed open, and then you go to Detroit today or we think about things that happened to Detroit from the nineties and the 2000s, do you think that the lack of mental health care has impacted the city negatively at all?

RK: I think it’s impacted the entire state not just Detroit. When I started working at the VA hospital in 1996, the Allen Park VA Hospital closed in June of ’96 and I interviewed in November of ’96 at the new hospital—I interviewed in September and I was hired in November. And when we had surveyors come to, you know, it was joint commission surveyors and then Council on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities who did our homeless programs and the surveyor said to us, she said, “You know your patients are so lucky, your veterans, because there is no inpatient psych anyplace anymore.” And when I started at the VA in’96 the average length of stay was probably close to two to two-and-a-half weeks, when I retired two years ago it was four to seven days. They get patients in they stabilize them on medication and they go out the door.  And you had this revolving door syndrome. It’s not just the mental health—after the riots, as I said I used to take Gratiot, I used to take Van Dyck down to Gratiot, and when I was small my mom and I used to take the Gratiot bus downtown shopping. I saw the businesses on Gratiot close one after another and it was like driving through a ghost town, year after year it got worse and worse.

LW: This was in the sixties and seventies? Late sixties?

RK: Yeah, the seventies, right after the riots and I personally believe that Coleman Young buried the city for 20 years. When he told everyone to hit Eight Mile, people hit Eight Mile. He drove out businesses, there was no tax base in the city and where were people who had no education or transportation to get a job anyplace? I think Dennis Archer really tried, he was driven out and then we had Kwame Kilpatrick. I remember because I’m a big sports fan, and the fact that I said Detroit even to this day is like any other big city. You have to know where you can go and where not to go, you use common sense.

LW: Sure.

RK: But I’ve always worked downtown so I go to Tiger games, Red Wing games, football games. I still shop at Eastern Market, stuff like that. But I could see if after a sporting events even in the eighties and nineties you could shoot a canon down Woodward Avenue, you wouldn’t even hit anyone. And it is so nice to see that this stuff is starting to get so much better. One of my sisters—I have three sisters, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m the only one that will go downtown. I worked most of my life downtown. For two-and-a-half years I had a job in Troy, Michigan.

LW: Okay.

RK: I couldn’t stand it. I was on the road a lot, too, but that was our base, Troy. Sixteen Mile and Crooks and I was an account manager so I had eight hospitals in the Detroit area, downtown Detroit at Receiving Hospital, the Rehab Institute, then I had two in Pontiac, two in Grand Rapids, two in Muskegon. I didn’t like Troy.

LW: You liked the city more.

RK: And to this day, when I go down to baseball games I know enough to cut through Hamtramck so I don’t have to get on the freeway.

LW: So you know all the local secrets.

RK: You could really see after the riots the city just darkened. It just got—it lost its aura.

LW: Yeah.

RK: And I would go on vacation and people would say, “Well, where are you from” “I’m from Detroit” “Oh my god!” I go, “Well, where are you from?” “Milwaukee” I said,  “I don’t consider that the garden spot of the world.” [Laughter] You know I was never ashamed to say I was from Detroit. And they would say, “Well, you carry a gun?” No, I don’t. And maybe it’s because I’ve always worked down there, the good portion, except for the two, three years I worked as an account manager. I was so happy to get back at the new VA hospital downtown and then it was in the early 2000s—you know, beginning in 1999 to 2000—you could just see the city just starting to wake up a little bit. 

LW: So when you were at the Lafayette Clinic in the late sixties, seventies, and right during the time of the riots how did the riots impact the type of patients coming into the Lafayette Clinic—did it at all?

RK: No. Referrals were made from private psychiatrists from other hospitals. It really didn’t impact the type of patients. The patient care, I’m very proud to say, was not affected by that. We had a very, very dedicated staff of individuals. Again, I was in the administration part of it, I was a clerical staff, I didn’t have much to do with admitting at that at the time but I don’t remember patients suffering at all. The staff was very protective of the patients we had there. We were like a big family. And people have 35, 40 years of seniority and there was enough autonomy within the metal health system and even in civil service in Michigan you could go anyplace in the state. In fact I still keep in touch with Jackie Giering who was the coordinator and I was her secretary and a couple of the doctors I worked at Lafayette Clinic with. We’re all much older now but I have been very lucky that I had two jobs that I loved. I loved working at Lafayette Clinic. I grew up there professionally, chronologically, emotionally and the ties I had there for 27 years were unbelievable. Working at the VA hospital, I loved it. In fact when I went to the VA I was hired because of my mental health background. They were looking for a quality management coordinator for the mental health services.  And Dr. [John] Grabowski who did his residency at Lafayette Clinic was the chief psychiatrist at the VA, so I was hired to work with him. And when I went on the wards half of the nursing staff was from Lafayette Clinic, four of the psychologists were from Lafayette Clinic, the chief psychologist was. When Lafayette clinic graduated at least 90 percent of the doctors or the professionals stayed in Michigan at the time. So I stayed and I worked at the VA, there were two—I just loved both—I was very, very lucky in my lifetime for 48 years to have two jobs that I loved.

LW: Thinking back to, you mentioned reading Dr. Luby’s report that you, you know, played a role in, you said that it sort of surprised you to go back and read it today. What do you think the most surprising thing about reading this report is for you today?

RK: That some of these things still exist.

LW: Like what types of things?

RK: I said to Ceil [Jensen] that there’s been some areas when I was reading this and some of the types of problems there are—some people still have a hard time getting a job, some people still have a hard time getting into school. When you take a look at some of the areas that are just what they called Black Bottom before, there are still pockets. When I worked at Southwest Detroit Community Mental Health, I was there right after Lafayette Clinic closed. I was hired there for three days, to work three days a week, they bumped it up to four, and then Engler cut the community mental health budget so they cut me back down to three. And I was teaching part time at Schoolcraft College at night. I was teaching Introduction to  Allied Health and Quality Management and then I interviewed at the VA and I was hired a couple months later but it was just that there was the Mexican pockets, the Spanish down in Southwest Detroit and the only thing that down there—I saw so much that the areas in Southwest Detroit, even though it was very poor, you could see there was not a lot of money but the people took really pride in what their neighborhoods looked like. And you’d go to some of the areas for the African-Americans or blacks, whatever, and houses are burned down and stuff like that and that to me was such a big difference and I go, “Wow. These people in Southwest Detroit don’t have a heck of a lot of money either.” Some of these things that probably—that were the basis for the riot or the inequalities—a lot of them still exist 50 years today.

LW: I see.

RK: I can even see it in some of my family and friends.  I mean it’s the prejudices. And I don’t know why. And like I said I worked with a lot of highly educated black people, Chinese people. I mean at one time we had so many foreign graduate residents at Lafayette Clinic, we had one English speaking one. We had so many foreigners one year when I was director of medical records somebody typed, dictated, that the patient—it was in the record that the patient said her husband had two heads. And the typist brought it up to me and she goes, “You know, Rosemary this doesn’t look right.” So we called the doctor and I called one of the supervisors down and said “You know this doesn’t sound right,” and I said, “Is the patient hallucinating you know, what is it? Because the typist was typing it.” And the patient said to the foreign doctor, “My husband is a two-faced son of a bitch.” While the foreign doctor thought her husband had two heads.

LW: Lost in translation.

RK: Right. And they had no idea when the adolescents would throw them the finger or somebody was throwing salt over their shoulder or the patients talked about where they came from. So we—Dr. Valerie Kling, she was a staff psychologist and I, we took the clinic bus, we put the foreign residents, doctors, on the bus and we took them around the Cass Corridor to show them where the patients came from. Because during the seventies—and then they finally put a limit on the number of foreign medical graduate students who could come into the country. But we had doctors that patients couldn’t relate to. I don’t even know what the question was.

LW: Well, I’m wondering, you know, looking back at this report today, how you mentioned it was eye-opening to read this again and I wondered what about it—

RK: Well, even here, back: the arrestees, zero completed college, zero had some college, 39 percent completed high school, 43 percent had some high school. These numbers have gone up. I think—

LW: I see.

RK: But today, these individuals who are more educated, these people still feel they’re being depressed and that they don’t have equal opportunities where the rest of us do. The other thing that was real important was talk about affiliation.

LW: I see.

RK: If some people, like the arrestees, were affiliated with a church or some kind of racial group, PTA or a block club. And if you take a look at the controls, most of the controls were—they felt if you belonged to some kind of a group it was important. And I think that sort of shows where if you think you’re a rebel, I don’t belong anywhere today, and today this is where you see the shootings. People don’t belong—feel like they don’t belong anyplace and so they’re going to take it out on someone. And that’s what happened at the blind pig and this thing snowballed—it really, really did. 

LW: So this—what we’re looking at here, 39 percent of arrestees had a church affiliation.

RK: They did. But if you take a look at the control group, controls who—

LW: 42 percent.

RK: 42 percent and--

LW: What is a race group?

RK: Probably some kind of affiliation from either maybe NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] or something like that.

LW: I see. So eight percent of the arrestees belonged to a race group, but 27 percent of the controls belonged to a similar group

RK: Right.

LW: So the sense of not belonging or being an outsider—

RK: To me it’s you have so much in you that you want to get out.

LW: So Dr. Luby’s study, it would seem, supports the idea that people that are—feel isolated that feel like outsiders are more prone to civil disturbance or—

RK: Act out.

LW: Or acting out.

RK: Right. And I think you see that today in individuals more and more. You know, was this person a loner? And you know I guess even back when I was in high school, not everyone could be a cheerleader, not everyone could be—I mean I was a cheerleader in grade school but I didn’t make it in high school. But you know we were still at the games and things like that. But I belonged—there was a Future Business Leaders of America, you know, the library club, and as you go on more and more there are different groups. And it’s still very, very important to belong somewhere. After I retired I took a year off and I started volunteering here. I felt like, yeah, okay, I had enough to myself. I just want to go someplace. And I can’t imagine somebody not wanting to be that.

LW: To contribute.

RK: To belong to something.

LW: So the sense of belonging—

RK: It gives you a purpose.

LW: So the sense of belonging and you think that in the city today that one of the problems is that people feel like they don’t belong.

RK: No. Honestly, I think, to me—and I don’t want this taken the wrong way—it’s just the pendulum swings from one way to another and it’s going so far from the left to the right, and this sense of entitlement and not just by race but I think of groups. Young children, I can see it in some family members where, “What are you gonna give me.” You know, you work for it. I started working when I was 17 I had to go get working papers. I didn’t think anything of it. I started the day after I graduated. And “What are you gonna give me now?” And the sense of entitlement, it’s not there for the taking, you got to work for it. So I get a little upset, not with ethnic groups or whatever but anybody. And I think that is more and more in our society. I can’t see wiping out history—

LW: Okay.

RK: Of any kind. I mean, it was there,  slavery was there, the labor camps were there in Poland and that and it’s part of history that we need to learn from, but not to say that “I think I’m entitled for you to give me something now.” And I don’t know, I just see that more and more today. And our government just gives stuff away to me—just gives things away. Instead of making people say, “Hey, it’s there, if you wanna work for it.” I always worked for it. Nobody ever gave me anything.

LW: Did you feel that same sense of entitlement or people feeling like they deserved something when you worked at the Lafayette Clinic?

RK: No. No, I didn’t. And again, I guess it’s because the people that I worked with were so professional. You know, not all the attendants were high schooled but they were dedicated people that really had a purpose in life. And it was like we had at one time close to a thousand employees in different shifts, you know, because we ran—I think it was on average 800 employees but we were like a family and we took care of each other. And I was there for 27 years. And I didn’t—when I got over to the VA in the late nineties I could see more of a divide in race groups. We had a group of black nurses who were very, very powerful in the hospital. Very powerful. 

LW: So it was an incredibly diverse place to work.

RK: Yeah. Lafayette Clinic was just—it was just so different, it was just different. And during and after the riots patients did not suffer at all. They suffered when Engler closed it, they really suffered then. And I think they’re still suffering today because your homeless population is up.

LW: Well, thank you for sharing all of this with me. Is there anything else you want to add to the record?

RK: No, no. It’s just—I was surprised like, I said, when we presented our findings to the staff that there was so much animosity toward those of us that did work on it.

LW: Interesting.

RK: I just remember her first name was Alice and she just got up on stage and really tore into us. And I was like, “Woah.” But I never looked at is as if you were putting black people under a microscope and dissecting them. And again I was 18 years old, I was brought up in a nice Polish community and I was very sheltered. As time went on, like I said, when I started working at the VA I could really—it’s almost like things got worse over the years instead of better. And now I hope that with the things that are happening in downtown Detroit and in Detroit proper is that more people will start working together with groups and organizations and businesses that you don’t have that—I think you always will—you will always have—and for someone to say “I’m not prejudice,” that’s a lie. Because you are. In some form or another. I wish I could have gotten Dr. Luby to talk on it. But—that’s yours.

LW: Thank you so much.

RK: Thank you for the interview.

 

 

**

People

Luby, Elliot MD

Search Terms

Hamtramck, , Lafayette Clinic, Michigan Department of Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, Polish-American community

Files

Konwerski.Rosemary.JPG

Collection

Citation

“Rosemary Konwerski, July 17th, 2015,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed July 21, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/64.

Output Formats