Shevon Fowler, April 28th, 2017
SF: Shevon Fowler.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
SF: Oh, you’re welcome.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when were you born?
SF: I was born here in Detroit in 1956 at Herman Kiefer Hospital.
WW: Did you grow up in the city?
SF: I did.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
SF: I grew up mainly in Virginia Park.
WW: What street did you grow up on?
SF: Virginia Park [laughter].
WW: Growing up in Virginia Park, what was it like?
SF: Actually, Virginia Park was a really lively, bucolic-type place. It felt like a safe neighborhood to me. I had lots of friends, there were lots of kids, I had teachers that were my neighbors. It was mainly a working class neighborhood.
WW: During this time, Virginia Park was integrated, right?
WW: Are there any stories you would like to share from growing up in Virginia Park? Like, did you play in the alleys with your friends, play in the streets? What were some typical things you did growing up?
SF: Well, the girls, you know, played hopscotch and jump rope and we played lots of games like “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” We rode our bikes. We would often leave Virginia Park, ride our bikes up to LaSalle Park and basically, that was it. You know, we went to school, we had friends after school and listened to music.
WW: What did your parents do for a living?
SF: Well, my father worked construction, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom.
WW: Growing up, and you rode your bike, did you go anywhere beside LaSalle Park? Did you take it around the city? You were still young then.
SF: No, I was only allowed to go from Fourteenth to Twelfth Street on my own. But in a group, you know, we went further.
WW: Going into the summer of ’67, do you remember how you first heard about what was going on?
SF: I do. They said it started, like, on a late Sunday night or something.
WW: Early Sunday morning, so Saturday night, Sunday morning.
SF: Right, right. Well, we weren't allowed to go outside in the summertime until after twelve o’clock. It was just kind of a family thing, and so at twelve o’clock, I got my bike out and I rode from one corner to the next corner, and I was coming down the street, I noticed there were crowds of people at the corner. So I wanted to know why they were there, so I rode my bike right into the crowd, and I sat there and watched the riot on my bike.
WW: So you went to the corner on Twelfth?
SF: I went to the corner on Twelfth, and there was just absolute chaos, but there were, you know, crowds of people just standing and watching, you know. I didn't feel any danger or anything, because, you know, there were lots of adults, there was some kids, and I was on my bike.
WW: Do you remember what you were thinking when you saw this?
SF: I didn't know what was going on and why this was happening. I remember as I sat on my bike, the cleaners was on fire, and you know, people were running, people were looting, and then suddenly, the cleaners just blew up. It was just a ball of fire, and that was the cleaners on Twelfth and Euclid, so I could see it from where I was.
WW: What did you do after that?
SF: Well, after that, I was in the crowd just looking, just sitting on my bike, and then suddenly my father tapped me on the shoulder, and turned around and said, “Turn around, let’s go home.”
WW: I was just about to ask you if you ever told your parents that you were there [laughter].
SF: No, they know that that was my route. I was only allowed to go to that corner, so I was well within my area.
WW: Do you remember on the way back to your house if your father said anything to you about what was going on?
SF: He didn’t, but he had a sense of urgency.
WW: So, after you got back home, what was the mood like in your house?
SF: There was nothing really different, you know. I remember him saying, “Oh, they're tearing up the city,” this kind of thing, but back down at that corner, you couldn't tell anything. Everything was happening at the end of the block where I was.
WW: Could you see a lot of smoke toward your house?
SF: I did see a lot of smoke when I sat on the porch, because Linwood was also burning.
WW: How did the rest of that week play out for you?
SF: Well, I remember that week we got the National Guard, and two of them were stationed right in front of our house. You know, they were on each corner, and I lived on the corner house. I remember my dad taking them chairs to sit in and my mother fixing them sandwiches, and then the block club brought them lemonade, because they just looked terrified. They were young, you know, well, to me then, of course, they were old people, because they were about twenty [laughter]. But they were young and they were white and they just looked terrified. Later in the week we did have a sniper that would, I guess, shoot at them, and so we had to take cover and all of this. I remember seeing tanks coming down the street, and I had never seen a tank before except on Combat!, the TV show. I was just amazed at how big they were. The lights went out that week, because of all the fires and you know, the wires being down. So, this church gave out ice so that people could save their food. I remember coming here to get food with my mother.
WW: Do you remember being afraid in seeing all this going on? Or was it like, above you?
SF: Well, I wasn't really that afraid, because, in fact I wasn't afraid at all, cause my father was the type of guy, I just felt like he could take care of anything, and I just wasn't afraid.
WW: So as this is wrapping up, do you remember if your parents talked about leaving the neighborhood?
SF: No, they did not.
WW: Did they continue to live in the city, then?
WW: Are there any other stories you’d like to share from either growing up in this time, or ’67?
SF: Well, it was a fun time, you know? Carefree. That’s about it, I didn't see anybody get hurt or anything like that. But I did see a lot of people, one of my girlfriend’s father, he had looted a whole can of popsicles and ice cream cones and he was just passing them out in the streets. I do remember that [laughter].
WW: Couple just follow-up questions. How do you refer to ’67? Do you see it as a riot, do you see it as a rebellion, uprising?
SF: All of the above. Because I remember what the police were like in our neighborhood.
WW: What were the police like?
SF: Well, they had a special squad, it was called the Big Four, and they were plain-clothed, they were in unmarked cars, and they would get out and beat people for absolutely nothing. You know, just walking down the street. I remember that.
WW: Thank you.
WW: Oh, just two more quick questions. How do you feel about the state of the city today?
SF: I’m really excited about the state of the city. It is coming back, I always felt that it would. I live downtown, but I have property other places, and the city is just really, really, it’s so lively. I didn't think that it would come back after Hudson’s left, you know, because being downtown when Hudson’s was here, it was like being in New York, and then after that, it became like being in a ghost town, and now it’s back. Midtown, I went to Cass, so I’ve seen the whole transition of the corridor, and I’m really excited about it.
WW: So you’re optimistic for the city moving forward?
SF: Oh, I am, I am.
WW: Thank you so much.