Stefanie Blackburn

Title

Stefanie Blackburn

Description

In this interview, Stefanie Blackburn discusses living and growing up in Delray within Southwest Detroit in the 1990's. She talks about what brought her family to Detroit, the racial make-up of her neighborhood was like, and to her the word neighborhood means family.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

3//9/2019

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Stefanie Blackburn

Brief Biography

Stefanie Blackburn was born in Dearborn July 13th, 1990 and raised in Southwest Detroit. Her grandfather migrated to Detroit for the auto industry after serving in World War II.

Interviewer's Name

Julia DiLaura

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

3/9/2019

Transcription

Interview Transcription

Julia: “Hello, my name is Julia DiLaura and today is March 9th, 2019. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Neighborhoods: Where Detroit Lives Oral histories project. I am in Detroit, Michigan, and I am sitting down with-“

Stefanie: “Stefanie Blackburn”

J: “Thank you so much for sitting down with me”

S: “Thank you for having me”

J: “Alright. We’ll start with the first question. What is your name?”

S: “My name is Stefanie Jean Blackburn”

J: “Can you spell it?”

S: “S-T-E-F-A-N-I-E J-E-A-N B-L-A-C-K-B-U-R-N”

J: “Alright, where and when were you born?”

S: “I was actually born, at Oakwood hospital, which is in Dearborn, about ten minutes from here. I was born Friday, July 13th, 1990, but I was raised right here in Southwest Detroit with my family.

J :“Do you know what attracted you and your family to Detroit?”

S: “Like most migrants, my great grandfather as looking for work, so he came up here on a mule, and then took a job over at River Rouge Henry Ford, and then Ford gave everybody those Model A cars, like so basically you got a car and you worked for it. He was pretty smart. And then he took that car back down to Houston, Texas, and picked up his family and moved them back up here in 1930. Yup.”

J: “So your family had moved out to Dearborn?”

S: “No, that’s just where I was born in a hospital in Dearborn, but my great-grandfather came from Houston Texas and relocated right here in Southwest Detroit, but actually closer to the old Tigers Stadium, which is no longer there, but right there is where they were born and raised.”

J: “So what neighborhood did you grow up in?”

S: “I grew up in Delray. I don’t know if you know Delray, but it’s basically like a subsidiary of Southwest Detroit. It’s over there by Marathon. Basically a ghost town; there is nothing there anymore, which kinda breaks my heart, but that’s where I was raised. And there is so much history over there, but yeah I don’t know”

J: “What was it like when you were growing up there?”

S: “Oh man, it was an adventure. I feel like I had a, I don’t want to act like ‘oh better childhood’, but like, you know, when I look at kids in the suburbs, and then in Delray there was like railroad tracks, and fields, and, so it was like me and my brothers are playing in the fields, you know, and just doing a whole bunch of stuff. We probably did stuff we weren’t supposed to like jump on trains and stuff. We used to [laughs] jump on trains and hop off of them and, I don’t know, just like your everyday inner-city kid, like, we basically raised ourselves. My mom was a single mother. My father and her divorced when I was eight, and there is six of us so my mom raised us all on her own over there, and because she worked so much, she was a construction worker, we basically raised ourselves, and I’m pretty lucky to have all of my brothers and sisters. They’re awesome.”

J: “What schools did you go to?”

S: “Oh boy, oh boy. So growing up I went to Higgens Elementary which is off Olivette here in Southwest Detroit. It’s now closed down. Someone set it on fire, now it’s gone completely. And then afterwards we went to Holy Redeemer, which is right here on Vernior and Junction. That’s where my mother graduated from high school, Holy Redeemer, and then my father went to Western, right here. But yeah, I went to Higgens, Holy Redeemer, then we crossed over to another Catholic school in Southwest Detroit, Our Lady Queen of Angels, and then believe it or not we went to another middle school in Southwest Detroit. We were like the, you know, moving around. That’s how it was down here. Everybody moving around trying to find the next place to live. It’s now called Phoenix multicultural academy and then after that, by the time I got to high school, my mom was just kinda tired of DPS school systems so we all were school of choice in Allen Park for high school.”

J: “What stores did you go to growing up?”

S: “Oh man, so that was a really big issue growing up in Delray, there was nothing left so if we were to go grocery shopping, we would have to just hop on the freeway and head out to the suburbs. Unfortunately, there was nothing left, I mean not even a liquor store over where we lived. Besides that, here in Southwest Detroit there was E&L market. My mom would go there for meat and stuff, but we were raised very poor. A lot of our food came from Focus Hope, you know, and things like that, so”

J: “Do you know what suburb you would go to when you went out?”

S: “Lincoln Park because they had a Kmart, it was right on Dix. This was a ten fifteen minute drive, but back then it was like ‘are we there yet?’. We didn’t have a reliable car so my mom couldn’t actually get on the freeway, so anywhere we went, you know on GPS when you click avoid freeways? That’s what she did in her head back then and avoided all the freeways. So I guess that’s another reason why it felt like forever, but yeah”

J: “Alright, you had mentioned you want to talk about your grandfather?”

S: “Yes, so my grandfather, his name is Jessie Martinez, he was a twin and he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, but the farm team, and then he was drafted into the war during World War II, and then when he returned, he came back here to Southwest Detroit and that’s where he started his family. And that’s how my mom was born. Insert my mother, 1968. But yeah, my grandpa was really into baseball, and like I said they, you know, grew up over by the old Tigers Stadium so he got to study the players and understand them and that’s where he fell in love with the sport. My great-grandfather played as well but down in Texas, the Houston Owls, it was a Mexican Native American league because back then like African Americans and, not just African Americans, but Mexicans and Native Americans all couldn’t play in, you know, major league baseball. So he played there. But I noticed that it’s real, it’s crazy like how, you know, my great-grandfather, my grandfather, you know, my father, my brother, like, how like baseball kinda just like followed down generation after generation, but like how much of a big influence and outlet it was for them, you know, to kinda keep going in life. I think that’s important. I don’t think people realize how important sports can be, you know, but yeah.“

J: “How important do you think it was for your family? What do think like it brought to your family?”

S: “I mean, it was just a way, you know, every day was rough, you know, sometimes you didn’t know how you were going to eat or what was going to happen and you could be stressed or overwhelmed or scared, anxious, and so, you know, but you could always be sure that that was certain. Baseball was going to be there, and a bat and a ball is going to happen. So I think, just like anybody else, or maybe how dance is for a girl or poetry or art, it was just a really good way to find an outlet to keep going in life.”

J: “So did you have like hobbies that you do, something like baseball?”

S: “Yeah I did softball but I didn’t like it. I was a catcher, but I’m a gymnast and I did gymnastics growing up and that was my thing, gymnastics.”

J: “So you had mentioned things that you had done for fun in your neighborhood, is there any like specific stores that you want to talk about, like with some friends or siblings?”

S: “Uh, man, I know there, like I always mention those fields, like even in the neighborhood, the Detroit Edison, they had a sub-plant or tower something over in Delray, but the whole field was like beautiful and perfect. It was cut all the time. So we would just get the whole neighborhood together and play football, like we always played football over there. I don’t know, we were just your average kids. Even though the place looked like a warzone, we were still just kids, climbing trees, oh I would just love climbing trees. So we had this pine tree, it was super super tall, and like my sister died of SIDS and she’s buried over here at Woodmere cemetery, which is also in Southwest Detroit, but in Delray if I could climb the tree high enough, I could see the cemetery, so I would just act like it was me visiting her. But yeah that’s something I liked to do. We liked climbing trees, I don’t know, we were, we were just average kids, I think, yeah. We didn’t know we were poor, that’s what I tell people. My mom made our life so much fun. We had no idea, you know. We didn’t have a pool, but we had a hose, and my mom, one time, like, I don’t know why I’m telling you this”

J: “No, no, it’s perfect”

S: “So we didn’t have like a pool but we had like this yard of dirt cause no grass grows over there. She like took a hose and like sprayed it down and made it like a mud bath. All of her kids like jumped in it, and we like rubbed the mud all over our bodies, and so we, she made us stand in the sun and we like, it hardened up and we all looked like statues. So like, we’d run around and then like if a car or somebody came by we would like stop and freeze and act like a statue, but we basically used what was around us. I mean there was berries that grew out there, mulberries, and every summer we’d pull them, my mom would clean them, put powdered sugar on them. We’d eat them up. You know, people will swear to you that if you eat anything over there in Delray, because of Marathon, it’s all polluted, and you’re gonna die, but I’m living proof that you don’t die [laughs]. We would eat everything over there. It was fun. But yeah, we really made use, that, Delray was our jungle. Like it was like our jungle gym. It was one huge jungle gym for us. I liked it. So that’s what’s kinda making me sad, I don’t even know why I’m getting emotional. [starts tearing up] But everything is gone.”

J: “Just to clarify, how many siblings do you have?”

S: “I have, [clears throat] there’s my sister, Katie, myself, my brother William, and Bob, but he likes to be called Robert know, but we’ve been calling him Bob for so long that it’s like ‘look your friends can call you Robert, but I’m calling you Bob. You’re Bob’ [laughs]. But yeah, so all six of us. We’re all, the first four were like ten, like my sister is ten months from my brother. My brother is ten months from my sister, I’m ten months from her, you know, so. My mom was uh, she was a-going with my dad. I always joke around, my dad was a truck driver, so he said ‘oh every time I came home we just, had sex, and before I knew it, she was pregnant’. It’s like ‘oh cool’. So, I’m sure, you know, people wish they could do things differently, but everything happens for a reason. And like a mentioned before like having my brothers to grow up with in such an empty neighborhood where there wasn’t many people like, it allowed us to still like have company, and you know, really-“

J: “You sound really close”

S: “Yeah, yeah, well we fight like everybody else. Are you kidding me? We’re like every other sibling. I’m not gonna pretend like, you know ‘best friends!’ but, you know, being older and looking back, I can appreciate and value what I learned from my brothers and sisters”

J: “Mmhmm”

S: “But yeah”

J: “I know you had mentioned that you would go shopping like outside-“

S: “Mmhmm, yeah”

J: “-if you needed it but um , did you usually, other than that, did you tend to stay in your neighborhood, or did you go out?”

S: “oh yeah, well, I mean, like I mentioned, I was really lucky to have my mom, she was very, um, even though she was limited with resources, she always made the best out of every situation, so, like the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village like I know that place like the back of my hand. You know, people go there as field trips, I’m like ‘I could be your tour guide’. You know, so my mom, even though we grew up in Delray, and yeah because she was single and working, we were there a lot. But any chance she could she would like pack us up and take us to a museum and, you know, educate us and push the power of education. She was constantly telling us like ”it’s so important. You gotta read. You gotta do good in school’. So I was lucky to have my mom because there was a lot of kids I grew up with down here who are dead now, or shot, or, you know, kids, and just, you know, falling under, and I’m very very happy that, you know, it didn’t happen to me.”

J: “Yeah, so what was the makeup, like the economic, racial, ethnic, makeup of your neighborhood?”

S: “Yeah the demographic?”

J: “Yeah”

S: “Yeah so, we made up the neighborhood. [laughs] like, I don’t know, like besides us and, [woman starts blowing her nose in the background] you know, back in the day Delray was very-“

[woman still blowing her nose]

[woman]“I’m sorry”

S: “It’s ok [laughs] it was a high dense population of Hungarians and a lot of gypsies.-”

[woman in background blowing her nose again] “I am so sorry”

S: “But I want to say during the eighties and nineties, everything, that’s when everything, businesses off Jefferson were closing down, I mean, there was really nothing left, and I think over there, you know, the, if I had to guess the like average income of someone over there I would say $12,000 a year. My mom was lucky enough to make, you know, the 30 or 40 she was making but when you have six kids and a house and everything else, you know, you’re not really making it.”

J: “Mmhmm”

S: “But yeah, it’s pretty poor over there. I don’t know what that word is but poor is the best, you know, description. But it’s still, you know, it doesn’t take away from like the churches or the buildings or, you know, how beautiful the architecture of the house is and stuff. Like, there is so many houses down there and stuff. Like there’s so many houses down there I wish I could have. So, it’s interesting. I know it was thriving at one point in time, you know, especially off the river. The Native Americans were there first and that’s what made Delray such a popular spot was it was right off the Detroit River so people could set up camp and be fine. And then of course you have Fort Wayne during the Civil War. You had all the military camps over there, stationed over there. And then after that, you know, the Hungarians came in, and after that, like I said, the decline of just everything, and just… there’s nothing left over there”

J: “Mmhmm”

S: “Yeah”

J: “So do you feel comfortable in your neighborhood?”

S: “Still?”

J: “Or did you feel comfortable in your neighborhood?”

S: “Oh did I feel- I don’t know if you mean comfortable as in safety, cause I always felt safe. I was aware, my mom made aware that, you know, dangerous things can happen. But the most we got over there was people would set things on fire and just dump their garbage. It literally was a dumping zone. I feel like this is turning more into a Delray talk, but Delray is part of Southwest Detroit-“

J: “Yeah”

S: “-and it’s almost like a forgotten, you know, city, but yeah I don’t know what I was saying, I’m sorry” [laughs]

J: “No that’s ok”

J: “So like you said, ‘I dont know what you mean by comfortable’-”

S: “Oh”

J: “-is there like a different meaning that you had gotten from that?”

S: “I just, I don’t know, I just, I’m one of those people like ‘man, I’m so lucky to live down there’. Like I know people will look now and be like ‘you’re crazy. You would have had a better life if you lived x-y-z’ but I think just like anything in life, you gotta see the good in everything otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy. But I was comfortable. I was comfortable there, like, we would leave our doors unlocked. My aunt would leave her car unlocked. Everybody knew each other, like in the neighborhood, everyone knew everyone. My mom was really good about getting like, just like you do anywhere else, getting the neighborhood to do block parties and stuff, my mom would do that. She even got the news over there one time and got people to donate dumpsters so we could like clean up all the mess that people kept dumping. We painted all the brick walls in the neighborhood, and put no dumping, and we were trying to fix the blight before the city ever decided to fix the blight here, you know. So, my mom was a very, she was just an advocate of everything. Keeping the place clean, keeping things good, you know, keeping, you know, but yeah. I felt safe there. It was comfortable.

S: [unintelligible] 17:28

J: “So you, earlier you had mentioned you were talking about like the changing demographics-“

S: “Mmhmm”

J: “-and, so, is there like a moment where you realized it was, like, changing, or can you, like, speak more on-“

S: “So Marathon started buying out houses when I was probably ten, and that’s when I noticed like “oh man, things are gonna change, like they’re buying out people around me, they’re paying for them to leave, and I think it was around that time I realized like I’m not gonna have this neighborhood anymore. Which is weird for a little kid to have to worry about. But yeah, Marathon just started paying people to leave, and they were relocating over here in Southwest Detroit, but my mom and a couple other people were like, not stubborn, but they refused, like you know, ‘were not leaving. You’re not gonna do that to us’. So there’s actually people over there now, like family of mine that still live in Delray. They haven’t left. They refused. They refused to leave. But it was around then, yeah, ten, ten years old Marathon really started buying out, knocking down houses cause their using that land for all their stuff. I don’t know if that answers the question, but-“

J: “No, no [unintelligible]

S: “-that’s when I started really noticing the change, and things, like I said, the few gas stations that were there closed, and everything was torn down, you know, I think it was about, that’s when we moved over there to Southwest Detroit, but we jumped house to house. We didn’t really have like one house that we, you know, eh.. you know, I don’t know. I don’t want to say ‘you know how it is’ but you know how it is. You’re a mom. You got all these kids. You’re trying to afford rent. Maybe you missed a month. Now they’re kicking you out. Now you gotta find somewhere else to be. You know, it was that situation. So we were moving. We were like always on the go. And- Oh my gosh. I don’t know why I didn’t mention this. We were in the news back in 2000, in Delray, our house caught on fire. And my mom had to throw us all out the second story window, and this was in November, and she had to jump out herself. And that’s the part that gets me the most, cause like, at least if you’re holding a kid, like you know, you could try to dangle them and then hope for an OK fall. No, I’ll never forget this. You know, the house was so old, the wiring, I think it was like 1917 it was built, and the wiring was bad, come to find out. So that’s what started the fire. That’s when I was around ten years old and that’s when everything kinda went downhill. So my mom threw us all out, I’ll never forget it, like looking up at the window, and it’s really dark out, but I just see my mom in her nightgown and she, like, crouched out the window and had her hands, you know, on the top part, and just came [smacks table] BAH! Falling down. She came falling down and it was like ‘oh my gosh!’. She was like not breathing for a minute and then [deep inhale] before I knew it, she like took, cause she like lost all the air, that’s what happened to her, and just, before we knew it she was like [deep inhale and exhale] you know, took that big deep breath, and she tried to collect us all, and then finally the fire department came. And, but, Ford actually donated, so they relocated us to a house right there in Delray, but Ford like donated like living room, like a whole living room and dining room set for us. And people were really nice, like donating clothes to us. The fire department, you know, came back with like cups, and socks, and things for us to have so I think that right there was like beautiful. Like, even though we lost it all like so quickly, everybody came together like not even knowing who we were, and like just was so giving, and like really like put us back on our feet. We had clothes again. We had shoes. We had everything we needed. You know, I have no idea who these people are still to this day, you know, so it’s like ‘man, that’s crazy’. But my mom always pushed kindness and helping everybody, so I think I live to that philosophy still today. And I look back on those people like, man they didn’t have to do that, you know, so that’s cool”

J: “So when you had moved out of Delray, where did you end up?”

S: “We came to Southwest, right off of Michigan Avenue and Martin, which is the 48210 area code, and we stayed there right up until about high school. And then high school, my father finally bought a house out in the suburbs and told us we could all move in, and so we did. You know, ever since I just, I work down here, you know, this is my home, and it’s so important to give back to the community, and these kids. I’ll look at a lot of girls and they remind me of me growing up, so it’s like no, someone’s gotta be there for them, and that’s why I stayed.

J: “So you left Delray, do you often go back?”

S: “All the time. [laughs] Well every year, my family that’s still there has a pig roast every August, so, you know, we always every year get together for that, and then I’m very nostalgic, like when I leave here, cause I work here and then I’ll home, I always like take Jefferson and then I’ll cruise through my neighborhood because there’s a house I want to buy so bad. [laughs] If they let me. But I always drive through the neighborhood, like that’s, you know, that’s your history. It’s like reopening your book, you know, so I’m always cruising and checking things out seeing what’s still there and what’s gone. I feel like more, people should do that. People need to go back to their neighborhoods and, you know, get comfortable with it.”

J: “So what do you think makes Delray unique?”

S: “Us. No I’m kidding. [laughs] No, I mean the history. I mean, like I said, the diversity, the different cultures starting with the Native Americans that were there, and really I mean just the hist-, I think change, like it’s crazy, it’s just [unintelligible 24:02]. But we’re right there by the water, and something about the river, I don’t know, a lot of energy. It’s really calming. Whether there was like industries or factories around us. Being able to walk over to the Detroit River and just watch it flow, you know, it was really calming, and you know, things like that. But it’s… I don’t know, I feel like it’s gonna be that forgotten land, and I hope not. But it has a lot more history than people realize. You’re talking about, you know, people, boats coming in and out, you know, the trains that are coming in and out, you know. Of course, Marathon is there, but I would love for them not to be there. But other than that, I don’t know. It really was a city, like, almost like, I don’t want to say like a phoenix rise from the ashes, but like even with all the turmoil, even today the people that are still there stand strong and, you know, won’t budge. I don’t know, their pretty cool people. I feel like everybody down there is really unique, strong and has a story to tell. Like you’ll learn from them like ‘oh where did you get all this wisdom?’, ‘just here. Like this area just gave us so much life experience’ you know. I’ve learned so much just there just in that one, I’ve learned more there than what I’ve learned reading in the books, you know, as far as life. There’s a lot to gain from it, experience-wise. It’s a good area. Good city. Good city to grow up in.”

J: “So what does the term neighborhood meant to you?”

S: “Family… I don’t know. It takes a village. I feel like something I didn’t [throat clear] like about when we went out to the suburbs is like, you know, everyone has their fences, and their cute little private fences because this is their house, and their yard, and their house. And that’s fine, but like down there, there was no such thing. We didn’t have gates, we didn’t have fences. My backyard was her backyard, you know. And everybody was a family. Everybody knew each other, and I like hope people can bring that back to neighborhoods, you know. So I think that’s what made it so unique, and that’s what makes it a neighborhood, the people, you know, not the things. It’s the people and the history that make the neighborhood, so.”

J: “So if you could do one thing in your neighborhood, what would it be and why?”

S: “I would purchase the house I was talking about earlier. It’s right next to a tree that my grandfather built, I mean not built, he planted. And so I’m hoping to save the tree but also the house has so much history. And like I said, older houses, they’re so beautiful, I mean it takes a lot of work, but I really want to preserve that little lot and tree, even though it’s dead center in the middle of chaos. It’s still like my park and my home, and I really want to save it.”

J: “What do you mean by chaos, like…?”

S: “Well the tree, where I grew up, there was four train tracks around you, so if there were trains on the tracks, you couldn’t get out of the neighborhood. Kids would actually love it because like the school bus would pick us up and then a train would come and then the bus driver would be all mad and ‘naghhh’ their an adult, but like, we were like ‘yes! No school!’ because we knew we were stuck for at least an hour. Like ‘we’re late for school, dude, we’re not going to school’. But you know when you’re a kid, you’re excited like ‘yeah!’. But it was interesting, and, I mean, that’s kinda unsafe too when you think about it. There’s no way out sometimes if the trains on the tracks, that’s it. You’re there. Get comfortable and wait for the train to leave. So like that tree is in the dead center of like train tracks going around it. Marathon’s right here, you know, that freeway’s right here, you know, there’s this beautiful big tree and then all around it is… [laughs] But it’s nice.”

J: “Is there anything else you would like to talk about?”

S: “I don’t think so [laughs] nope, just…

J: “Ok”

S: “Just I’m glad you guys are doing this because, you know, preserving history and culture is what’s gonna keep everything alive and keep things going. But really I am so happy you guys are doing this. And I’m glad you got my perspective, like you said because, you know, it’s different. We were kids. We did look at things differently. But yeah, it was cool. Thanks!

J: “Yeah, thank you!”

S: “Thank you!”

Search Terms

Detroit, Southwest, Tiger Stadium, auto industry, migration,

Citation

“Stefanie Blackburn,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed December 2, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/743.

Output Formats