In this interview, Rashid discusses growing up in a changing neighborhood in Detroit. He discusses the businesses his family owned, and his experiences growing up around a time of social change. He also discusses some of the things he thinks will benefit Detroit.
Detroit Historical Society
Detroit Historical Society
Frank Rashid was born December 20th 1950 and grew up in Detroit, MI. He lived here during economic changes, racial movements, and the 1967 riots. He is currently an English Professor at Marygrove college and still lives in Detroit, MI.
AB: Okay my name is Alexis Berry I'm here with Frank Rashid and it is October 15th and we are at the Detroit Historical Museum okay but let's get started so where and when were you born? FR: I was born at Harper Hospital just a few blocks from where we are right now On December 20th 1950. AB: So what neighborhood did you grow up in? FR: I grew up in West Grand Boulevard Linwood area I went to school at Saint Agus school which is on 12th street or Rosa Parks and Bethune just a couple of blocks north of the Boulevard and Lothrop the street that I grew up on was one block north of the boulevard. AB: Okay so what was it like? FR: Detroit oh well that area was interesting because it was in the middle of two important social and racial movements of the time in 1948 restrictive covenants were declared illegal in all of the United States and so that area of Linwood and West Grand Boulevard was probably under a restrictive covenant at that point but it was between two areas that were increasingly becoming African-American one was the old west side which was the Tireman West Grand Boulevard area which had never been restricted and had been settled by fairley well to due African-American families and the other was the 12th Street area which was being settled by folks who were being displaced by the urban renewal in Paradise Valley and black bottom so that area was increasingly African-American and since restrictive covenant had been declared illegal and since there were lots of incentives for white folks to move out including subsidies for for mortgages by the FHA that kind of incentive that area was really in transition and Thomas a group points out that area was not made up of people who fought against integration it was made up of people who were saying well okay we've been here for a while we don't have any particular loyalty other than to our churches and our institutions but we have a good deal moving out further and further. And so they left and that area was increasingly African-American so that when I entered Saint Agnes School in the first grade I guess this is a memory not empirical but I think my class was probably 75% white by the time that class graduated from the 8th grade it was probably 75% African-American so it was a time that was the the mid-1950s from 1956 to 1962 or so that was our 63 that was that was the time of tremendous change and it was a great time for me to grow up because the area was very diverse we had we had obviously Caucasian families and we had African American families moving in but we also had Asians and Irish poles and a lot of Arabs like my family was it was a very diverse area and my particular time period It was it was a great time to grow up because it was there were all these different kinds of folks playing and running around and fighting and raising hell together and it was an exciting time later it became tougher for my brothers and sisters I think had a harder time. AB: Yeah that led to my next question, “was it an integrated neighborhood?” Which you answered so were going to go to the next question. What did you do for fun? FR: We played a lot of baseball and a lot of football and we made our own fun we ran around the neighborhood. We played baseball in the alley behind our house between Lothrop and West Grand Boulevard and I'm in the other alley as well and we would have to make a very narrow baseball field and because there were garages and things we have to do things like make right field out which made it even less more narrow to hit a ball in fair territory it was a bumpy cement alley way and our new baseballs whenever we got them would quickly lose their covers and we had to cover them with a cover them with friction tape so most of our baseballs were made up or covered with black friction tape we played a lot of baseball and we played a lot of just running around the neighborhood we made our own fun I have a few pictures of that time where where my guy friends and I are standing in front of the house with our baseball gloves that sort of thing. AB: That’s great, so next question where did your parents work? FR: My dad owned two stores one on Linwood and one on 14th he and his brothers owned those stores and one was a grocery store that one they had known since 1935 and that was between Linwood and Hogarth and which was about a block-and-a-half away from our house and then the other one he bought in 1954 we called it a party store but it was really a liquor store and that was on Lothrop and 14th and so that's how he made his money my mother had been an x-ray technician and the college student Wayne back they call it Wayne University back then and she had moved with a friend to an apartment on Linwood near Lothrop and the grocery store that they went to was Rashid’s Quality Market my dad’s store and that’s how they met.and she didn't know I don't think either of them knew that they would simply move to a house right on the in the next block. In fact there's a picture of our house and of our block from her apartment Window taken around 1948 or so and so it's she had no idea that she would spend the rest of her life right in that area AB: Okay so where did you go shopping? FR: we went shopping for groceries and things in the neighborhood we obviously we had our own store and so we got the the day and week old vegetables and the meat that was about ready to expire but we grew up healthy I had six there were six of us in the family six children and we were because of the stores we were we never were starving we were okay when we did when we went shopping for holidays or birthdays and things I went to the little Rexall the first the little Rexall Drug store which was at the corner of the Boulevard and Linwood and I would buy you know little $0.49 or things there we went to the new center where there was a Woolworths on the corner of the Boulevard and Woodward and then we took the bus down to Hudson's and we went to Hudson's and Kearns and all of the you know all of the Hughes and Hatcher all of the downtown businesses that were you know it was quite a place for retail and and then oh yeah and there was demeries which later became Crowley's also just this side just south of the boulevard at Woodward and that was a nice midsize department store later Crowley's moved into new center one before it closed operations entirely but there were there was a lot of retail around eventually I guess we would go out to Northland Samba and that's what caused the problem in Northland at all this free parking. And was so easy but we stayed pretty much in the area there with our shopping AB: Okay and I know you mentioned this earlier, but it says where did you go to school, and it says tell us a little bit about your school. FR: Yeah St. Agnes grade school but first I went to Thirkile which is still open it's the only school I ever went to that's still open until I got to college the Thirkile was is at 14th and LaSalle Gardens South and it was a it was much more much less racially diverse it was when I went to kindergarten there was more African-American larger percentage of African American kids then st. Agnes was it was but it was also very ethnically diverse I remember my kindergarten teacher from there Miss Randolph there was an institute woman my brothers and sisters had. Mrs. Heath who was an institution there she was forever the principal's name was (inaudible) and the kids always said roses are red violets are purple boy will I be glad when I get out of Thirkile and I remember the principal's name because later on I taught with his daughter and I became an English Professor at Marygrove College I probably would’ve remembered his name anyway but that was that was a connection we made then st. Agnes was a really it was a really interesting place it was a real mixture of not just racially diverse but it was economically diverse because we had LaSalle Boulevard where Reverend [FR]lin and Aretha [FR]lin lived right at the end of our block and the Kilpatrick's and then there were people like the associate conductor of the Detroit symphony Valter Pool was on Lasalle Boulevard and a lot of doctors Doctor may know a lot of well-to-do people were on the boulevard dr. Sly when the old war family they went to st. Agnes as well so they were fairly wealthy and then there were folks from both sides of 12th Street African American and Caucasian a lot of were white folks went to that school so it was it was very very very mixed and in terms of its economics as well as its ethnicity and it was largely Catholic but not entirely Catholic my good friend lived across the street from me was Greek Orthodox but also Lebanese like like I was but but we were a Catholic we were Lebanese Catholics melkites it's a it's a right of the Catholic Church. So it was very diverse it was very there was a lot of mixture there was a lot I I think those IHM nuns who taught at that school really were learning themselves even though the IHM’s I later discovered had a long history in Detroit and did teach at the first African-American Catholic School in Detroit in the 1830s and 40s and 50s sorry the 1850s and 60s. This was navigating this very these diverse cultures was quite a must have been quite a challenge for young teachers and most of them were fairly young IHM’s interesting job they were very progressive the IHM’s were very Progressive very feminist order very strong so they supported their young girls they said they encourage them to get careers to grow to go to college to do all of that and not simply to plan on marriage and you know becoming Housewives they really did it was a really interesting interesting group of students and an interesting group of teachers I particularly enjoyed one of my early memories was from the time I was 8 years old I served mass at Saint Agnes and the first mass in the morning was at 6:20 a.m. the second one was at 7 and the third was the student Mass cuz we all went to mass every day before school at 8 so the so so we there was a religious service every day and there were three masses in the morning that's how many Catholics there were in the area and they would go before work or they would go before the day. And I would serve at 6:20 mass and wake up like on a cold December or January or February morning and my folks had no problem with me walking at age 8 or 9 or 10 from our house on Lothrop about 4 or 5 blocks to 12th and Bethune to the st. Agnes to serve this mass and I remember just loving the quiet in a Winter morning just being cold with but walking through the quiet City in the morning sometimes it rained over the snow the crunch of the icicles hanging from the street lights was just beautiful and it was itself a religious kind of experience and I value those that memory as I do the memory of my my classmates who I've ever had reconnected with a lot of them trying to in a place together you know all of the students who were there and trying to figure out you know exactly who was who and what was the what was the ethnic and racial grouping that was in the school. AB:Okay so are there any stories from your childhood about your neighborhood that you would like to share? FR:I have told on another oral history here the story of 1967 and that's when I was 16 so it's a little later I think one of the one of the really great things was we didn't we had no organized sports that's one of the things about growing up in Detroit that I still think is true st. Agnes was a poor school and they did have they did get us occasionally into the into the Catholic of the CYO the Catholic youth leagues for baseball and but it wasn't consistent and they had a basketball team earlier the girls had basketball team for the high school cuz there was a high school there girls high school by then but Detroit did not have pal did not have Police Athletic League in there was no there were very few summer programs for most kids I think if you lived near a park maybe there were some parks so we wanted to have we wanted to form a baseball team some kids from St Agnes and kids from the neighborhood and we were typically a very diverse group of people one was Luther Keith who later became up Detroit News editorial writer by now is a leader of a kind of Detroit Arise it's a group trying to to strengthen Detroit since he's retired from the Detroit News he's also great Blues musician there was Mark Safiya who was the lebanese guy who lived across the street number of Michael Blackburn live down the street Jerry Thomas and we talked to Mr. Lorry who lived across the street to into coaching us and we wanted to play games at Northwestern field where we played which is at West Grand Boulevard and Grand River or Dexter right in there and we went skating there in the winter and we did you know it was a great field a lot of great baseball diamonds, but it was hard to play if you went there and you were a bunch of little kids you could get your gloves and bats ripped off and stuff so we want to be part of an organized League we talked to mr. Lorry into coaching us and we got this whole thing together my little brother but I was a catcher my little brother bought me catchers gear and we did this whole thing and I organized this whole thing then when we got into the league I was too young I couldn't play so I had to keep score while the rest of the guys played but it was Northwestern was a great place because you were paying with people like Willie Horton and John Mayberry great ball players we didn't know it at the time but people later went on to careers in the major leagues and I've made connections later I found out my next door neighbor when I moved to the University District which is where I live now was one of the guys that I would watch the older guys I would watch skating with racer blades on a Racer skates at Northwestern because we skated in the winter they flooded the the fields at Northwestern it was a great ice skating rink. AB: So did you feel comfortable in the city? FR: I always felt comfortable in the city until a certain point when I think at times of transition are times of high crime and high tension so and since my dad on the store we were held up and I was present for some of some of those there were things like that I was held up on the street on my way to the store but that was later that was when I was in my teens and and even when I was in college that became more of an issue when I was in high school I went to high school at Sacred Heart Seminary which was at West Chicago and Linwood and I stayed there until my junior year of college so I was I was in the neighborhood at at schools all along. AB: So i'm asking you about the decades that you grew up in and like what was Detroit like during the 60s? FR: Detroit in the 1960s was it was as I now know because I've made a study of Detroit. Detroit was Detroit was changing rapidly and not just racially but economically dramatically because the middle class was being subsidised to move out middle class white folks were being subsidised to move to the suburbs that those those 30-year low-interest mortgages were not available to African Americans they were not available. so that the people in on my block which was increasingly made up of African American Auto Workers and teachers and police officers and looks like that they got their homes pretty much on land contract in Detroit at that in that time and that began after World War II and after World War II the Auto industry decentralized and moved most of its jobs In factories and automated and move most of its jobs in factories out of out of the city so there was less employment for people African Americans though had the revenue and in the South new of the reputation of Detroit as a place to get a job and they kept moving to Detroit so they became an ever-larger proportion of Detroit's population in that was true throughout the 1950s and the 1960s Detroit population was well in decline throughout the 1950s and by 1965 or so it had declined from a height of 1.85 or 1.9 million and about 10 or 15% well before 1967 so people like to blame 1967 for Detroit's decline it was that was not it was the Federal housing policies and it was the Auto industries decentralizing and moving it's jobs away from the city of Detroit fewer jobs were there and there were more poor people because people were lured to Detroit for jobs and then when they were couldn't get those jobs or they were laid off they were stuck with nothing to do so we had a number of social problems that were the result of increasing poverty and I think that was the source of tension and a lot of the source of a lot of crime that was not it was not about you know it was that racial it was the economic and that's the that's what Detroit was like in the in the 1950s increasingly increasingly sense of increasing sense of tension I grew up with and that intensified in 1967 but it wasn't beginning 1967. And that and that continued as as the city became poorer, less diverse eventually we were the you know the one of the few and then the last remaining white family on that street. AB: So has your neighborhood changed over the years or has it stayed the same? FR: It's changed that neighborhood has changed my brother and sister still live on Lothrop in the house that I was born in the 1950 or came home to in 1950 and and next door when I married in 1980 im sorry 1975 my wife and I moved in next door to that house and we my family still owns that house my brother lives there now. So I was there until 1983 and increasingly that area It became probably 98 99% African-American but homeowners largely homeowners on that block all the way through so it was very stable in terms of its population folks were very devoted to their homes. It’s always a chore to keep up with the neighbors because they were always out there Mowing and edging and keeping things nice and clean and so living in that area through the 19 through the 1960s it was a time of of intense intense change and increasing tension. AB: So have you ever thought of moving away? And you said that you do live in the University District now. FR: I live in the University district now. I lived there through the 1970s so the 1970’s things became intensely you know an intense sense that not that we were being left behind that the money was going the stores along Linwood you know fewer businesses were open the there was just a setting in and homes in the population was the places you didn't notice it at first because where it would decline were like Linwood was made up of a lot of store fronts that were the head homes or apartments above them and those were the places that started the empty out and you didn't notice that there were fewer people fewer renters living up there but that's that was the source of a lot of the loss of population. Those folks left because when white folks moved out of homes that they own black folks would move into those homes and so on Lothrop it didn't look like there was declining population yet but through the 1970s and 80s and 90s fewer of the homes on Lothrop you know the upper flats started to be fewer folks were there and right now on Lothrop there are probably 30% of the homes are no longer are down but that area is starting to get a bit gentrified and it's we're no longer the only my brother and sister no longer the only white folks on the Block so it's an interesting period right now because because it's a great change, but a lot of the families that we grew up with on Lothrop are still there. A lot of the African American families that are there thats been a in that sense the homes that remain have been in the same hands for many of them for almost as long as our house has been. AB: So it says did you stay in the same neighborhood growing up or did you move to different neighborhoods and you stayed.. FR: We stayed there with one year in my 8th grade year unfortunately we moved up North for a year to Indian near Indian River in Petoskey up north in the in the tip of the upper peninsula where my folks bought a farm in 1950s and we would spend Summers up there and we still have that place but we decided one year up there was enough we returned my brothers and sisters return to st. Agnes and that's when I started going to high school to Sacred Heart Seminary. AB: Okay you guys returned to the same home? FR: We never gave up the house and that house has been in our family since 1950. AB: So what prompted you to move? FR: To move to? AB: Away from your neighborhood FR: We were living in the upper flat next door to my folks home at 2517 Lothrop and yeah 2517 Lothrop and we decided that that was I had two children it was a small flat and so it was in my wife had cancer and we decided we'd we always wanted to live in a big Detroit house so we had a house on on Parkside in the University District which is where we still where I still live my wife has since died but I’ve remarried and we live there now. AB: When someone says “the neighborhoods” what does that mean to you? FR:The neighborhood it's in Detroit neighborhoods are churches and often defined by Catholic churches especially if you grew up Catholic so you lived in St Agnes you lived in visitation you lived in Jay's of you lived in St Gregory there was this sense of the because those churches were the dominant structures in the neighborhood they were easily defined by they easily lent their names to the neighborhoods. So we didn’t call it West Grand Boulevard and Linwood we called it st. Agnes parish you know or maybe the high schools Northwestern you know I lived in Northwestern or I lived in Central you know that kind of thing, but I think my sense is that even folks who weren't catholic kind of Identified themselves by these by these big churches that were the the tallest buildings in the in the areas and so I think that was that was part of the way we defined the neighborhoods and what we called them and sorry I lost your question. AB: No you answered my question the neighborhoods you defined what that meant. FR:Yeah I think that was it and by the types of housing one of the really interesting things that I didn't realize growing up there that Lothrop was pretty much exclusively two family Flats the single family homes were on the LaSalle Boulevard and on the bigger streets but most of the homes on Lothrop LaSalle Gardens North and South and Euclid and Virginia Park and all of those streets many some of the streets were single family homes but a number of them were were two family Flats but they were on these Big Lots we had wonderful backyards which were great to play in I mean you know when you were until you were like 10 or 11 and you are pretty much confined to the immediate area they were wonderful you could put a sandbox back there or swing set and the kids you know hung around in those backyards and I still have pictures of my group of friends playing in the backyard so there were there were you know. There was it was a wonderful place to grow up because there was space to grow up the house I live in now in a large house on a fairly small lot we don't have the same size backyard it's not as it's not as nice for kids as the house I grew up in which was a two-family flat. AB:So how do you feel about the state of your neighborhood today? FR: The Lothrop West Grand Boulevard area Linwood area it is that area is. It's in transition it's still in transition I think it's going to happen for a while I wasn't sure it would survive because we were losing housing stock and the population was going and some of the home still are in disrepair but there is a new generation of detroiters moving into that area it is again diverse I think it's a lot depends on schools a lot depends on what's going to happen I want to make sure my particular Crusade and it's not just in that area but it's in my area now the Fitzgerald community near the University District the Bagley Community want to make sure the people who live there for a long time kept those neighborhoods going don't get displaced by gentrification I want to make sure that people who have been apart of the city for a long time. Are able to remain part of the city especially if it's if things are going to improve I think it's still a question mark whether the things will really improve. I don't I'm not completely thrilled with all of the directions that the city is going in but I want to make sure that the people who have been here for a long time are displaced and lose their homes and because of foreclosures the taxes going up and those kinds of things. I've seen too much of that in Detroit and I want to make sure that doesn't happen to the extent that you know one person can. AB: What would you like to see happen with your neighborhood? FR: I would like to see it become again a place where families can live. I would like to see it become I would like to see the people who've been there all these years have the freedom and the option to stay and not get pushed out. I would like to see new families move in like my family my parents family did in 1950 and I would like to see you know the commercial strips grow again I don't think that terribly likely because the population isn’t dense enough I know from my dad's businesses that what made the small grocery stores in the small businesses viable was the population density and the public transportation so that there was foot traffic public transportation is poor in Detroit. We don't have trolleys anymore we don't have you know the bus system is improving slightly but it's not great and so you know there's not parking for people for small businesses so Detroit's commercial strips were made lost their viability as the automobile took off so the very product that we were building was the sealed the fate of a lot of Detroit neighborhoods in a lot of Detroit commercial district and we built the freeways exactly parallel to our main commercial arteries so Grand River and Woodward and Jefferson and Gratiot in all of the the spokes on the wheel but used to be very very intensely commercial lost their viability cuz they lost the traffic and the absence of mass transit meant that those the commercial districts declined rapidly after the 1950s so I would like to see those that there's a real challenge for urban planners here in making this and making these neighborhoods viable and walkable and healthy Urban spaces we know that the healthy cities are walkable cities and they have good Transit and they have good schools in Detroit still has a long way to go before we have those kinds of things. AB: If you could get a project done in your neighborhood what would it be? FR: I would like to see us really care for our youth and that means not just improving schools but giving our youth things to do I know that even even in a fairly well to do area like the university District where my children have grown up there aren't you know there's no there are no organized sports leagues there. There aren't parks close by to play in there aren't and unless there's a pal league close by and you have to drive kids to get places. So that my kids could play soccer or to play baseball they went to Rosedale Park where there was a an organized where a group of parents had organized their own League or they went to Ferndale which is close where they organized soccer leagues because then suburbs they have organized activities but not in that area we need to do a much better job of decentralizing sports and recreation for kids, employment for children, employment for teenagers in the summers. There are a lot of things that kids could do that would keep them busy and constructive and teach them that we wouldn't just have you know it wouldn't just be about school which we have to improve dramatically, but we also have to take care of our kids. And too many kids in Detroit grow up with too little to do and end up you know in front of a television or computer or on the street getting into trouble and we don't care enough for them. AB: So this brings us our last question how do you feel about the state of the city today? FR: It's very mixed I think there are things that are very exciting I'm glad to see people move back in I hope that those people who move in to Detroit those young professionals knows young students respect the people who've been here all along and don't just say I've seen too many people who feel that they're pioneers and they are you know I'm coming in and are God's gift to Detroit without recognizing that there a lot of people who've been fighting this battle for a real long time with very little with very few resources to make it work and they know stuff and it's important for them to know stuff I want to stop us investing heavily in the Mike Elitch's and the Dan Gilbert's of the world I want us to spend over 600 million dollars public dollars building Mike Elitch baseball stadium and a hockey arena he’s no longer with us but his family and his empire have been the beneficiaries of tremendous public investment that public investment should be going into people not into stadiums and into you know businesses that really don't employ the people of Detroit or don't provide healthy employment that to the extent that that Sports employees people it's seasonal service sector jobs that that's not full employment that doesn't replace the manufacturing economy that we once had here other Drew people here so I'm not there's a lot that has to happen here in the political solutions that I'm seeing are in some ways very impressive there's I'm glad we're doing some investing in neighborhoods but in order to make that sustainable we have to provide employment and schools and we need not just a Detroit can't do that on its own we need Regional Solutions and we need the Federal government to step in because the federal government played a huge part in the decline of Detroit with its with this housing policies and it's and it's manufacturing probably it encouraged the Auto industry to decentralize. So Detroit has been the victim of a lot of bad federal policy and a lot of bad state state policy and including emergency managers and all of those kinds of things were the state is his tried to determine Detroit's fate in a in a very callous an uncaring an ineffective way they owe us something they owe us more the federal government and the state government owe this city that has been so ravaged by their bad decisions and they're bad policies they owe us a comprehensive Urban policy in a comprehensive way of dealing with cities and we are not going to make it on her own until that happens. AB: Okay so that's the end of the questions now have a couple personal questions of my own.
“Frank Rashid,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed May 7, 2021, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/719.