Dwight Stackhouse

Title

Dwight Stackhouse

Description

In this interview, Stackhouse discusses growing up in the city, in both the Corktown and Boston-Edison neighborhoods. He discusses his life and what it was like living in Detroit. Stackhouse talks about how he thinks the neighborhood has changed since he first moved there.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

10/4/2018

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Language

en-US

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Dwight Stackhouse

Brief Biography

Dwight Stackhouse was born in February of 1948 in Richmond, Virginia. His family moved to the Detroit neighborhood Corktown in 1948. Stackhouse grew up both in Corktown and later in the Boston-Edison neighborhood. He left the city for a time, but has since returned and currently resides near the Boston-Edison neighborhood. Stackhouse is a poet.

Interviewer's Name

Cassidy Capoferri

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

10/4/2018

Transcriptionist

Cassidy Capoferri

Transcription

Cassidy Capoferri: Okay, so can you state your name for the?
Dwight Stackhouse: My name is Dwight Gerard Stackhouse.
CC: Okay. Um, okay, so where you born and when were you born?
DS: I was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1947.
CC: Okay. So when did you first come to Detroit?
DS: Um, February, 1948.
CC: Okay. Um.
DS: I was only three months old.
CC: Okay, so do you know why your family moved to Detroit?
DS: Yes, I do. Um, racism and opportunity. Um, and it’s, it’s interesting this is an aside, but it’s useful. Um, I’m a poet, and I don’t know if that’s known to you. And I think all of my life I’ve been looking for a man my age from the south who’s a poet, and I found one. and he and I are in the same class. Poetry class outside of academia just means old folks who have no one else to listen to their poetry. That’s what it means. But he’s a real fine poet and he’s sensitive to the reason my parents left the South. And conversely, why his parents loved the South. They were slave owners and racists and at some point in his life, the lights came on. And this makes no sense, “Why are we like this? Why do we treat other people this way?” And he writes very eloquently, very poetically about that period as, as do I. And so, more to the point of your question, why my parents left, uh, on one hand we could say opportunity, employment, but it is difficult to be someplace—anyplace—where no one wants you to be there, except to be a servant. Your humanity cannot be respected, and my parents did not want that for their children, and so they came to Detroit hoping for something more.
CC: Um, did your parents—did they hear something about Detroit before moving to the city?
DS: Well, in 1947, I mean you have to remember that Detroit was, it was, at that time, if not the fastest growing city in the world, it was one of them. Um, the automobile companies were surging, although neither of my parents ended up working for the automobile companies. They were both chefs. Um, but there were higher order chefs, you know? They were very very skilled at it. Um, see that was the, the impetus, but not housing. And interestingly they came here until 1965, Detroit was redlined. And where I live now, for example, I would not have been legally permitted to live there in 1948. It’s weird, I mean it’s at your age, it’s got to be something that’s incomprehensible.
CC: Right.
DS: There it was. There it was. Yeah.
CC: Um, well I mean obviously you were very young when you first came here, but what’s your first memorable impression of Detroit?
DS: Did you get a chance to see my love story—the video story—I told about my love for my city of Detroit?
CC: No, I didn’t.
DS: Well I should send it to you. If you give me an email, and I’ll forward this story—I’m a storyteller in addition to a poet, and one of these stories I told, for which I won an award, um, it was a Valentine’s Day Celebration, and those of us who were telling stories were supposed to be telling love stories. And I chose to personify the city of Detroit as if she was my lover, and express my love to the city.
CC: Mm hm.
DS: So, my memories are, um, endless. And detailed. And nostalgic and mushy. And wonderful and [inaudible] I love this, this city. Now, we were raised in a very modest neighborhood. Interestingly, I’ll be talking to Sally about Corktown.
CC: Mm hm.
DS: Core city, that area. Because that’s where I was raised the formative years. But for me it was simply paradise. It was a uniquely eclectic neighborhood racially and ethnically speaking. I did not know that at the time. I thought the whole world was like this. The neighborhood was equally parts Slavic and white up from the South despite blacks up from the South. But Hispanics, at the time we thought every Hispanic of course was Mexican. We didn’t know. And there was a large Asian contingency and other uh, Slavic ethnicities. And we all lived within this enclave. And while it is true, the parents were um, isolated. Language barriers, culture barriers, and so on. Not so for the children, we simply played together, and had no sense of the great differences between us. You know, we, we shot marbles, we climbed trees, and it was a time of innocence. Um, I, I don’t know that you, and forgive me for being so ageist, but you cannot imagine the fun, um the joy, the kindness, the courtesy, the goodness. You can’t imagine it, because it’s so far removed from where we are now. But yeah, my earliest memories about uh, well I was more from one of those families where the library was the recreation. I mean every Saturday we were in the library reading, drawing, and so on. And my father was um, an intellectual, and uh. And he was not highly educated because he wasn’t allowed to be. He was a great, great reader—spoke four langauges fluently by the time he was twenty. So he was very insistent on proper everything. And so we had to read the classics and then he would quiz us on them, and so on. And, uh, so family life was part of it. It’s interesting—my mother became a hyper-religious, joined a sect, known as Jehovah’s Witnesses and joined that group and so a lot of their peculiarities that they don’t celebrate Christmas. Now, understand I’m in a family of kids. I’m the fourth of five. And I suppose we had celebrated Christmas until she became this, this a member of the sect. But I don’t remember Christmas at all. Because every day was, every day was Christmas to me. I mean Christmas was not special. It could not compete with my daily family life. That’s, that’s how wonderful it was for me to be a kid, and the neighbors—I knew every neighbor, and every neighbor knew me, by name, and I mean all up and down the streets. The Asians, the, the Hispanics, the Slavics—we all knew each other. We even knew, to some extent, each other’s birthdays. Which was interesting because the Jehovah’s don’t celebrate birthdays either. But it was just, um, I think of it as paradise. I had no sense of racism whatsoever. I had no sense of meanness whatsoever. You know I, I was cocooned because it was clearly all around me. you know, just in 1943, just before my, five years before my parents came to the city, an enormous race riot here, and of course you know about the one in ’67, so this little enclave, at 23rd and Butternut—23rd and Michigan—let’s say now between 75 and West Grand Boulevard, between, um, the river, for lack of better. What is now Martin Luther King Boulevard—at the time, was known as Myrtle, and quite a pretty word. That little enclave was paradise. You know?
CC: Um, okay, so.
DS: And now it’s a, uh, destroyed rubble. The house I was reared in was gone, almost every house that is etched in my memory is gone. It’s painful to see it, but the memories are very much alive.
CC: So you grew up in that neighborhood? Which neighborhood exactly was it?
DS: Well, I, I don’t know that that neighborhood has a name. We call it the “South End.”
CC: Okay.
DS: Um, it is very near Corktown, it is very near Core City, but I don’t know that it itself has a name. I don’t remember. I remember calling it South End, I guess they’d call it. Michigan and 23rd Street.
CC: Okay. Um.
DS: Before I became an adult, we moved to, um, the outskirts of Boston-Edison at Pingree and Livernois.
CC: Okay, um, so you said before you were an adult, you moved there.
DS: Yeah I was, uh, fourteen or fifteen, when my parents moved there.
CC: Okay. So what would be your first impression of that neighborhood?
DS: That was very different. I didn’t like it at all. Um, part of not liking it, of course, was just leaving my nostalgia.
CC: Mm hm.
DS: Um, but it was a nice area, house. The whole thing was black folks moving on up, you know, to improve your status. Um, it was a modest improvement—to save the money for it—modest. But, uh, I suppose what I remember as much as anything is how quickly the whites left. You know? Um, and I was not accustomed to being in an all-black community. That, that in and of itself was not a problem because human beings are human beings, when all is said and done, but that exodus was a bit startling, and I began to wonder what that was about. You have this, this feeling, and there’s a great deal of evidence, that no one wants to be where you are. You have to make sense of that [inaudible]. Uh, I did not like living there. And by the time I was nineteen or so, so only four or five years, pretty much high school—I lived at Linwood and Pingree—and then back home, these young men were want to do at that time. And um, you know, began to pursue my career as an adult. There’s nothing special about that place for me, except my mother was there. When I drive by that house, which still stands, I know she was in that building; she was between those walls. And for that reason, it makes it precious.
CC: Mm hmm. Um, when you lived in that neighborhood, what would you do for fun? I mean obviously you were a little older, so it wasn’t the same as being a kid, but…
DS: Yeah, I, uh, I always liked games. My intellect did not show itself until later, because I was climbing trees, shooting marbles, and playing baseball—that was what I loved to do. But, um, even then, we had sort of a quasi-poetry club. And it was led by my older sister. You know, the library remained big in our world, and we were all a group of novice poets, and we would write poetry, read poetry with each other. But I loved to play ball, you know—baseball, football, basketball—all the games. And not just field games, you know, so like table games, you know—chess, [inaubible], and so.
CC: Um, where did your parents work when you were living in that area?
DS: Well, that’s uh, that’s an interesting—uh, I should’ve brought you the book. I’ve written a book about all of this, you know. An actual published book about this, essentially. Um, my father was a, I think of him now as a noble man, because he was committed to being a great dad while being broken. He fled the South, crippled emotionally, intellectually. He was probably the brightest man I’ve ever, and the most apt brain, but he could do nothing with it in the culture that he fled, and I assumed he thought it was too late when he got here. So he put all of his hope in his children. So he was a chef, you know? He was, you know, he was no longer even a chef, he was simply now a cook. Cooked for the county, the county [inaudible]. An industrial cook. And my mother, um, beautiful, elegant woman was a domestic. Cleaning houses for other people, other women like her. But at some point she, she decided—someone coerced her into becoming a, an insurance lady, so she started selling insurance. And she was—it was interesting to watch this evolution, because you know, she worked for eight dollars a day, or something like that, but when she started selling insurance, even in the 70s, she was making fifty-grand. That’s an enormous amount of money for someone who had never made more than five-six-thousand dollars a year, you know? So she was very, very successful at that. And that of course created an unusual dynamic between them, and soon, they parted ways. I was eighteen or so, but he raised his kids before that happened. And um, so yeah, she was a domestic who became a professional insurance person, and my dad remained a cook until he left, yeah. He’s um, he is an individual that I’m doing a series of poems about my dad, because I despised him, ’cause he was such a disciplinary, he was so strict. But if he lived now, Cassidy, I would worship him. I would worship him. He would want for nothing, and I get it now, and what he went through, you know? He suffered mightily to have some dignity, to raise his children. And uh, that I didn’t get it is now embarrassing to me. I get it now. I was, I was a mama’s boy, a classic mama’s boy. And Mom could do no wrong, Daddy could do no right. And it, it’s just now I see the price he paid. And enormous price that you, you would have to read my novel, called Mother’s Milk to understand—no, no I have to write another one about Daddy, because he’s not, he barely gets a mention in my book.
CC: Um.
DS: I’m going to write another one.
CC: When you were living in the area, where did you go to school?
DS: Western, Western High.
CC: Western High? Is it still around?
DS: Oh, yeah. Western International, Scotten and Clark Street.
CC: Okay. Um, do you want to tell me a little bit about going to school there?
DS: Well, you’re closer removed to high school than I am, so you remember what it’s like, and you know, I was not, uh, academically inclined. I was simply smart, and I didn’t give a damn about a grade, you know? I was one of those persons who, um, I enjoyed school, I guess. But I wouldn’t say for the right reasons. I was not the valedictorian, but I’m the guy they chose to give the speech at graduation, it was ’cause I was well spoken, I mean it’s, they staged some phony contest that they knew I would win so that I could give a graduation speech, um, I was, uh, kind of a nonentity in college. I got a—I mean in college, I didn’t go to college—in high school, I got a job. I went out for the baseball team, made the team, and then I had to choose between having a job or playing baseball. And, you know, I wanted to look nice for the girls, I guess, so I took the job. I don’t really know if that was a good decision. So I worked after school throughout high school. You know, I would go and do what I was supposed to do. Just barely. And then go to work after school.
CC: Where did you work?
DS: That building is still there. It was, was what used to be called a five-and-dime store. Have you ever hear that, five-and-dime?
CC: Mm hmm.
DS: I guess now they call them dollar stores. But back then, you could literally buy stuff for a nickel, and a dime. And if you had a dollar, you could out of there with a bag full of stuff. Um, it was right on the corner of Michigan and 23rd Street. It’s called Ideal’s Five, Ideal’s Five-and-Dime Store. And I was just their stock boy. You know, and uh, that was probably the hardest job I ever had to leave, ’cause it was like a little family. I remember every person that worked there, not that there were that many. It was a very small place. But it was literally, um, I don’t know—five doors from my house, you know? So I’d been going in that store all of my childhood. And, you know, I got to be thirteen, or something like that, and became a stock boy making—I don’t know—25 cents or fifty cents an hour, or something like that. But as I was saying, you could ride the bus for a dime, so it’s a lot of money for a kid. You know, I would—I’ve never been, um, given to, um, acquisition. Never wanted material things, so, my little thirteen dollars a week, or whatever it would amount to, would just stack up in the drawer. I might spend three dollars a week, but I didn’t need thirteen. But luckily my sisters did, so. They found a way to spend it, which is okay with me; I wasn’t going to do anything with it. The one thing I did do was open a savings account. Um, right again at the corner of Michigan and 23rd Street. There was a Detroit Bank and Trust there, now known as Comerica. Yeah, and I put five dollars in there, Cassidy, and they paid me six-percent interest. Now you can’t get, if you put 60,000 in there, you couldn’t get one-percent interest. It’s crazy to me. So I can’t leave my money in a bank today, I, I’m insulted by it. I mean why would I let you make twenty-percent on my money, and you’re going to give me less than one-percent? I’ll go stick it under the mattress. It’s like nothing. You simply get to use my money. So, yeah, I mean, high school I was, uh, I don’t know what people thought of me in high school. I was a clown, I was a fun-loving kid, you know? I was always that, I still am. I’m about to seventy-one and I’m still a fun-loving kid, but, um. It would be interesting to hear what others think of me, wouldn’t it?
CC: Yeah.
DS: What did your peers think of you in high school, I don’t know. I didn’t have any enemies. I had a [inaudible] coterie of friends, we’d walk to school together. I was quite an innocent boy. I mean I didn’t use swear words, I didn’t fool around with girls. I didn’t drink, you know, I was just a good, good kid in high school. I was a good kid until I was twenty-nine years old when my mother died, and then all hell broke loose. My, my despair at that time was indescribable, incalculable. Momma’s boy, lost her. When she died, that meant I died. And probably I stayed dead for twenty years. I don’t think this anything to do with Boston-Edison, but I’m happy to answer your questions.
CC: Of course. Is there anything in particular, like a specific memory from your time there, that like out in your head, like?
DS: At the college? I mean, at high school? Or just the neighborhood?
CC: Just the neighborhood in general.
DS: Well, part of it is difficult. And I don’t know where it began. I guess I want to say 1967 when the Riot occurred. I was very accustomed to, at least this is my memory of it, and I’m one of those people, I don’t challenge anyone else’s memory. You remember what you remember, and this is what I remember. It was, um, the warm and fuzzy manicured space—the lawns, the shrubbery. No litter. You could, uh, walk in the streets—any street, any hour of the day or night. And at some point, that began to change. And I want to say it’s 1967. But, I also, again in reference to my mother, um, and without the [inaudible], decided that I would become a minister, and that meant something to her, in the sect that she chose, Jehova’s Witnesses. And so, I spent a great deal of time enmeshed in that culture, you know? God-Fearing, plague, love one another kind of world. Um, but it also happened during the Vietnam War, so I was a conscientious objector. And that meant, that I, since I wouldn’t go to war, that I was going to go to prison. But I was not the only conscientious objector—there were thousands of them across the country, and the prisons became full. They, they couldn’t put any more of us in prison. Um, even though many were fleeing to Canada. So they came up with this program, where you would, if you’re not going to prison, you had to do some service. And the service they assigned me was to work in a hospital. So I ended up having to leave Detroit, move to Grand Rapids, Michigan. And work for twenty-four months in a hospital. And, and they paid me to do that, two dollars an hour. It wasn’t enough to take care of a family, ’cause I had gotten married. Um, but it was something. So I spent, I think, most of my time, um, praising the Lord, if you will, you know? And I think it’s important for me to point out that I, I didn’t regret it. It was part of the happiest time of my life, you know? When you, when you—this group has divided up the world, every inch of it, and they ended up calling it territories, and you know when I was on 23rd and Michigan, there was this territory that we were assigned to knock on all of the doors, you know, and pass out God’s literature. Well, when we moved to Pingree and Linwood, the same thing applies, just the territory is different. So I’m on every porch in the Boston-Edison area, for example. Every porch up and down Boston and Chicago and Madison and Longfellow [inaudible], so, doing, as I say, the Lord’s work. Um, but it was, that was a very happy time. One of the things about that religious sect, is it, it matched my sensibilities. It was about goodness. I, I, I could never fully embrace the dogma. For me, the, the commitment was more to my mother than it was to the religion. But I did like the kindness they were—and the phrase I use frequently—warm and fuzzy. I like that. They were warm and fuzzy guys. Um, and that was pretty easy for me to do. But the problem with that, again, having almost nothing to do with Boston-Edison, was that I’ve always been this talker. And so there’s this movement to push me up the, um, the Christian ladder, and the next thing you know I’m having to lead the flock, and you know, I’m saying stuff that I don’t believe. I, I can’t do this. And so the moment came when I, I can’t do this anymore, I mean I love my mother, and I’m glad I did what I did, but I can’t do this anymore. This does not make sense to me. But you know, I’m supposed to be the reverend. So, she, mother got sick, and I went to the hospital to tell her, I just can’t do it anymore, but she was too sick—I knew she was never coming out of there. And then, uh, she died and my world fell apart, fell completely apart.

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Boston-Edison, diversity, Corktown

Citation

“Dwight Stackhouse,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed December 2, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/739.

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