Wanda Black discuss the neighborhoods she has lived in across Detroit.
Detroit Historical Society
Detroit Historical Society
Wanda Black is a lifelong Detroiter.
WW: Hello today is December 10th 2019. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit Neighborhoods Oral History Project: Neighborhoods Where Detroit Lives. I'm in Detroit Michigan and I'm sitting down with. WB: Wanda Black. WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. WB: My pleasure. WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when were you born? WB: I was born in Detroit at Grace Hospital. Which was in downtown Detroit at the time over near where the Greektown is now. And I was born in 1949. WW: Did you grow up in the city of Detroit. WB: I did. WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in? WB: Well, I was born on the east side. In what would they eventually call Black Bottom on MacDougal and Elmwood. And then from there we moved to a street called, moved onto 12th which is now Rosa Parks Boulevard and then from there we moved to a street called Dundee and Nardin. Then from there we moved to the Webb and Lawton, between Lawton and Wildemere which is where we all grew up. That was the last move before college. WW: So we can walk through that again. So how long did you stay in the Black Bottom neighborhood? WB: You know William I really don't know how long but I can tell you that it had to be, I was still in elementary school when we moved. So I remember I went to Duffield Elementary, was still in elementary before we moved. I went to Duffield elementary and at the time it was in a very progressive African-American part of the city and it was right across from AD Wright's funeral home. I only mentioned that because if my mom was running a little late or something, I'd go over to the funeral home and I'd stay and she and my dad would pick me up from there. And so after that my dad and mom worked at Chrysler. And then when Mom started having children my dad started working for Park Davison company. He retired from there. And my mom retired from doing some counselling with Wayne Community College when it first got started. That's how that went. Though we kept moving I think because the neighborhoods were changing quickly then. An urban renewal was coming into the city of Detroit. They had always wanted, we didn't always have, we didn't have a car at first. And I remember the day to he got a car, he got a little Chevrolet. Must have been like those old kind you see in the old movies. And it was blue and it had the roughest interior I ever felt in my life. But he put all five of us in, four of was got in the back and the baby would stay in my mom's lap in the front and we would go to Belle Isle every Sunday after church. And we would go down the boulevard and then there was a tunnel that took you to Belle Isle and so you would go down under the end you'd come up out of the tunnel and then you'd go over the bridge and then you could hear everybody honking their horns and stuff like that. So that was that was pretty fun. But as we, I understand and know that for a fact education was very important to my family as it was to all families at that time. Education was was prima. You got a good education and get into college. So we kept moving to better schools. I graduated from Central High School in 1967 my brother graduated Central High School in 67. My sister and the baby brother graduated from Cass Tech and the middle brother graduated from Central High School. So they were, I was the oldest of five. Three of us graduated from Central and two of us graduated from Cass Tech. And those were two of the best schools in Detroit. And they were also diverse. They had, they offered diversity in terms of culture. WW: After your family moves out of Black Bottom and moves to 12th Street, do you remember any, you have any memories of growing up on 12th street? WB: Yeah, we stayed there the longest. That's where we ended up. We didn't live on 12th Street, we lived down Webb and Lawton but 12th Street wasn't far from that. OK so you had 12th Street, you had 12th Street, 14th Street, Linwood, Joy Road that area over there. And that was the area that was great. One of the areas that was greatly affected by the riot was that area. Also, that was an area like where in that whole group, like from Joy Road all the way back to Davidson, and over in that area by that time in the 60s, a lot of this superstars kind of live in that area that whole area like Aretha they had had a house there. They had a house there. Diana Ross' mom had a house there and so Motown was there too because it started on the boulevard. So all of that was right there and it was a very wonderful place to grow up. There were a lot of programs going on for the students. The campus that we went to had an elementary schools and then had Roosevelt Elementary. It had Durfee Junior High in its head Central High all on one campus. We had tennis courts, we had swimming pools, we had a track. And we had theatre and all the other form of classes like shop, Glee club, things like that. So that was a very progressive neighborhood to grow up in, one of the progressive ones. The further west you went, back in those days, the more progressive and diverse the neighborhoods got because urban renewal was coming in on the east side. So things were changing. And the projects had already been built. And so Detroit was one of the first that Mrs. Roosevelt established. She did them in Chicago, I know for sure, and she did them in Detroit. And that was the first multi family units and but you also you didn't have to qualify in the beginning by income. It was just support ability and they were pricey back in those days. They weren't like people imagine in the day, they were pricey. People who worked in the factories and places like that, that made the top salaries, whether they were African-American or not, it was diverse. You didn't have to be black to live there, but they were the change in the city of Detroit from tenement housing. On the east side, where I was born, many of it was wooden tenement housing that was old and had become dilapidated. So to move into the projects was quite a venture and those families who able to move did so. My parents always found housing that, we either lived in a two family flat or we lived in a single home, but it was all rental property, but very nice. So I enjoyed being wherever we moved until I moved out. WW: Do you remember what it was like walking up and down 12th Street before and after the uprising? WB: Before the uprising, 12th Street was a shopping area. It had all kinds of stores like bakeries, it had small dress shops. It had candy stores, stationery stores, confectionery stores we could go in and stuff like that. So walking down 12th Street was just like you walk in a mall only it wasn't a mall. It was like walking down Woodward back in the day too you go in Hudson's or you go, but they weren't those kind of stores. They were smaller independent merchants. And so that was really cool. You speak to people, they'd speak to you, get the 12th street bus. 12th Street bus had all the major lines going east and west. So it was okay, it was great. WW: Were you in the city on that Saturday when the uprising broke out? WB: Yes. WW: On a Sunday. My apologies. WB: It's OK. WW: Do you remember how you first heard about what was going on? WB: Yeah, from someone coming. People running down the hall-down the street, not down the hall, but down the street and they were talking about and shouting about it. But when it first happened it was just that there was some rumor about what happened the night before and it wasn't full blown then. Okay so it was like what happened the night before. And that was the talk about what had happened at the motel. That was what the talk was, but. WW: The Algiers was a couple of days later. WB: Oh,what had happened before, sorry about that, what had happened before at an after hour joint, I heard, after hour joint up Joy Road near the expressway across from Herman Kiefer Hospital. That's what I heard, you know where that is? OK. That it was an after hour joint. And that was what people were talking about. That was the scuttlebutt of the gossip about what happened here. Who was in it and what was going on. I don't remember who they said was in it. And why that it happened and it was a disturbance where the police were called and people got, that didn't go over very well. And so that was what I heard at first and then on Sunday it was kind of like. We just got up Sunday like we normally got up. It wasn't like TV today, Billy, where your news came into you within the time, it wasn't reality, it was whatever station was doing it. Maybe you got the news station. It was at the Fisher Building there was one there that would give minute to minute news, but nobody else did. So you'd catch up. Unless you listen to the news station, which as a 16 year old I didn't listen to the news station. Now we're trying to listen to the radio. And so you know the top DJs then, like Mojo and people like that they were on the radio. And on Sunday of course we listen to C.L. Franklin and those religious programs that's what we listen to. It was still conversation it wasn't on the phone at that age. We weren't calling anybody saying Oh God did you hear there was a riot and whatever but when it got serious then you started seeing the visual results of what had happened to our city. Do you know what I mean when I say that? OK, so then you realize under martial law what that meant. And there was things that as a young person, I never thought that I would see driving down my street. You know you would see that David Brinkley as somebody did that on the TV in another country, but you never thought you'd see it on your street. WW: How long did your family live in the neighborhood? WB: My family lived in that neighborhood, I was 13 and when I left I was 21. So you do the math. [laughs] I was 21 when I'd left. WW: Because of the uprising, was that one of the reasons why your family switched neighborhoods? WB: No my family didn't switch neighborhoods to move out of that neighborhood for that reason. We were all grown. My mother had five kids and we were really in college at Michigan, or U of M, or working like myself and my two other brothers, one went to the service. So there was no one home there. Then a couple years after when my mother needed extensive medical care, she and my dad moved to Ann Arbor where her doctors were, where the best doctors were to deal with her condition. So that's why they moved and the neighborhood it got, it wasn't the kind of neighborhood that when they move that it was when they moved there. Daddy knew all the people and the people knew him. But the older families, or the family lived there longest, they had died out and their kids had gone and moved on too. So you only found a few of them that were still there. So the block club wasn't the same the way it was. And my parents had their kids late, so they were getting up in age. So we wanted them to be in a place that we felt was more conducive to senior living. So that's why they moved. WW: And where did you move to after that neighborhood? WB: I moved to Lafayette Park. So I moved downtown, I had a good job. So I moved to Lafayette. Nope, my first apartment was on Seward and the near the boulevard. It was my first apartment with a roommate and then my second apartment was at a place called the Jeffersonian Indian village. I get them mixed up, but it's hard to go back, think that far at my age. And I'd moved to better apartments as I made more money. I moved to better apartments and that's the end of that story. I just kept moving to better apartments. But I stayed in the downtown Detroit area. I didn't move to a place because I worked downtown so I stayed near my job. If I stayed another place it was just temporary, like hanging out with a friend or something like that. WW: Do you see any noticeable differences between community in the neighborhoods and the community downtown or community in apartment buildings? WB: No I don't. When you live in a multifamily dwelling it's always going to be different because you have so many people living around you and they have different lifestyles and you're close enough to them to actually be affected by that sometime. Or it affects what you do. Like you have, we always had our own washer and dryer. When you move to an apartment you don't always have your own washer and dryer. In fact most of the time back in the day you didn't have your own washer and dryer. So that's one of the things. And then you're on the elevator and there's more than one person on the elevator with you. When you're living in a family dwelling either flat or a house, even if it's a four family, the way those were built, you had your own entrance. You had your own back door. You may have shared the basement but sometimes not. So it was more private for a family or whoever lived there than it is when you live in like a projects or public housing or even when you live in a multifamily dwelling like what's happening right now in Detroit with the buildings that are being built. You share a lot, you don't have your own backyard. If you have a swimming pool you share the swimming pool, you share the tennis court. So there is a difference. I think primarily and the influence that the community can have on you versus when you live you and your family the main influence is your family and and the authority is your parents or you and how you deal with your family and your kids. That make sense what I'm saying? So that's what I saw as the difference. Also when you live in a community where there's actually a desire for one family or two family three families the schools are closer usually and the schools, your kids didn't always have to take the bus unless you went to one of the schools that were very influential and powerful and well known in the curriculum that they offer. Like Cass Tech that was one of those. Schools that had a great curriculum you didn't get that in every school. So kids would go there and then you take the bus. But now you see kids take the bus a lot. But we didn't have a bus that came to pick us up before busing. I mean right after bussing so you took the bus to school or your parents dropped you off and picked you up. That's how that went. So it's still it was more. The family had a stronger influence than any other factor in the community. That's the way I grew up because I grew up in neighborhoods. In a multi unit, it's not just you, it's you and everybody else. So you have less independence. That's what I see as the difference. You have less exclusivity and less independence because what if the elevator's down. It's down. You know you can't go in a back door or walk up your steps especially up in a high rise, the elevator is down. If the washers are out on the laundry room floors, they're out. So the way we grew up, if our washer or dryer was out, my dad and mom took the clothes to the laundromat which is still a different experience. WW: When you hear "neighborhood" what do you think? WB: When I hear neighborhood I think, this is going to sound corny like Mr. Roberts. OK, let me tell you why I think that. A neighborhood is a place where you know the people that live around you and-you know how people of color, African-Americans, the word hood is a powerful word in our lives because it means the collective, everybody. So with neighbors all together in a collective, that was your neighborhood. And so everybody knew everybody else. People would speak, if you needed your-in the neighborhood, if you need it, your snow removed and you couldn't do it, then Mr. Harrell would send his kids over, his sons over and they do your grass. Your snow removal, cut your grass. I think that Detroit is coming back to neighborhoods now. There are a lot of good ones. Like I live in a senior building but it's a senior building but it's a neighborhood. We do collective things together. You know the people that live down the hall from you, they know you. Not everybody in your building, but it's not exclusive. We have a place where we gather and have outside functions. So that's I think the difference in the neighborhood. A neighborhood is a collective that's tighter than a community. A community can be more political and less involved, in a community. But I think a neighborhood- and a community is much larger to me than a neighborhood. A neighborhood, even if it's like a four block radius and there might be one little store, like Sam's market, one little store. But Sam sells something for everybody there, so you could go in here and get a loaf of bread, you could go in there and get if he had a deli in there you could get some corned beef or something. In the places where I grew up, we had a neighborhood store when we live on Linwood, on Webb between Linwood and Lawton, that was in the area of the riot. And he was called Sam's and he sold everything from penny candy in their store to bacon, eggs and bacon. And you could go, mom would send us down to the stores just like two blocks down to the store and you go down here and get what you wanted. And then, as I said, as we started moving from a neighborhood more to a community, then a market came in, a supermarket came in. Which was twice as big as Sam's store and had much more merchandise. And much different kinds of people came in there. They served beer and wine and whatever they, wine and stuff. They had a deli. They had the little baskets that you rolled around but we had the bags that you carry in your hands, you see what I'm saying? And the manager of the store wasn't necessarily the owner but he was in a protective booth, I guess, so you didn't really get to see him. You just saw the stock people, but in the neighborhood store where there was a neighborhood bakery, neighborhood drug store, the neighborhood supermarket, the neighborhood hairdresser, the neighborhood barber shop. You actually met the owner. You met the people who actually ran the business and I think that's very positive because you have some influence. You know where a community, it's like everybody's there and it tends to be about what everybody else is about and what the majority of people are about. Like I said it's like politics as a community. So that's what that's about. WW: Are there any stories from the neighborhood you grew up in or just living in the city in general that I didn't ask you that you'd like to share? WB: Yeah I'd like to share one I thought was pretty- it's not a funny story, does it have to be a funny story? WW: No WB: Ok. Having lived in Detroit most of, all my life, I've never lived in another, and lived in Michigan. I thought it was sensational when Detroit had its bicentennial, I think. Is that one hundred years? I get that right? WW: It was a tricentennial. WB: That was one hundred years- three hundred years. OK, three hundred years. Help me out here. You can edit it. Three hundred years and I had the opportunity to be one of the volunteer hostesses selected by the committee of which Joyce Garrett and Mayor Young had selected to give that event. And there was a group called New Detroit and they gave it at the Renaissance Center, at the top of the Renaissance Center. A lot of people have never been to the top of the Renaissance Center, but back in the day it actually revolved. So it was at the top of the Renaissance Center and the view was phenomenal. I mean it was, breathtaking is just the word for it, it was breathtaking. But going up on the elevator some of the construction was still going on and that was scary. But I remember seeing a commercial on TV once right after that and Mayor Young said, he would look like he was sitting on top of the Renaissance Center, I heard they had a helicopter landing strip up there. And he said, "From where I sit, Detroit looks great." And I think that that was more than just a statement, it was a vision because Detroit is looking great. It had been in a slump, but that comes in evolving. When you evolve, you have to make some changes, cast off some stuff and keep on other stuff. So I think that that was really one of the things that impressed me a lot. And then I think the People Mover is sensational because a little track and it was supposed to go all the way up to Pontiac and it just got stopped but it's still right now. It really, the M Rail doesn't have the impact that the People Mover had when it was completed and just went around the downtown area. So I guess the last thing I think is really cool about having lived here so long is, as I said, I remember Belle Isle when they had ponies and merry go rounds and slides and playgrounds and the aquarium and the terrarium. The aquarium is one of the oldest in the country and now all that's coming back for young people and children. Young people will take their children to or for me to take my grandchildren to. And that's important because that's history and that to me that the city is bringing all that back, says that we're moving in the right direction. In terms of ecology, in terms of community, and in terms of bringing back the neighborhood collective idea of diversity can be a good thing when you create an environment where whatever is happening, happens good for everybody. Does that makes sense, see what I'm saying?. WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. WB: Oh thank you for having me and I've enjoyed it. Thanks for listening. WW: Oh my pleasure.
Black Bottom, East-Side, Jefferson Avenue, Indian Village
“Wanda Black,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed October 30, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/708.