Cynthia Keech

Title

Cynthia Keech

Description

In this interview, Keech discusses growing up in Copper Canyon in the 1950s and ‘60s and shares her memory of when her father was on duty during the disturbance of ’67. She recalls the social tensions created by Detroit’s efforts to integrate schools from the perspective of a student in high school in the years following 1967. She also gives her thoughts on where Detroit is headed.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

8/10/2017

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Cynthia Keech

Brief Biography

Cynthia Keech was born in 1957 in Warren, Michigan, and grew up in the east side of Detroit in Copper Canyon. Her father was a stationary traffic officer with the Detroit Police Department and was called on duty during the ’67 disturbance. Her father worked for the Detroit Police Department for thirty-seven years and her mother remained in Copper Canyon until 2009.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

8/10/2017

Transcription

WW: Hello, today is August 10th, 2017. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit ’67 Oral History Project. I am in Detroit, Michigan. And I am sitting down with…
CK: Cynthia Keech.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
CK: You’re welcome.
WW: Could you please start by telling me where and when were you born?
CK: I was born in 1957 in Warren, Michigan.
WW: Were you raised in Warren?
CK: No. I was raised in Detroit.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
CK: I grew up in an area of Detroit on the far east side which became known as the Copper Canyon.
WW: What was that neighborhood like for you growing up?
CK: Um… Well, of course, you know it seemed like a normal up-bringing. The thing that made our neighborhood unique was we had a lot of police and firemen that worked – or that lived in that area. Across the street was Harper Woods, and we even had several families with police as the father of those families too.
WW: Is that what your father did for a living?
CK: Yes. He was a Detroit policeman.
WW: Before we talk about your father, do you want to share any stories of growing up in the neighborhood?
CK: Well, I can’t think of anything unique but, just as I mentioned before, it was unique that so many children had fathers that were policemen. And it wasn’t just in our specific block, but the block down this way and the block that way and then to the east, you know, it was just peppered with a lot of policemen. Yeah.
WW: What was your father’s name?
CK: His name was Claire Keech but everyone called him Bud.
WW: Growing up, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood? Or did you venture around the city?
CK: I would say we probaby stayed in our neighborhood, and maybe when I got to high school I ventured out. We had relatives that lived farther into the city so, you know, we did visit with them, in the Chandler Park area.
WW: Going into the ‘60s, even though you were so young, did you notice any rising tension either in the city or around your neighborhood?
CK: Um… I don’t think I really noticed it, you know, until up around the time that the riots did occur, and then after.
WW: Ok. We can go right into that. You were ten years old in ’67?
CK: I was ten years old, yes.
WW: How did you first hear about what was going on?
CK: Well, it was a Sunday morning and my sister, who’s about six years older than me, woke up suddenly because my mom didn’t wake us up for church. And I guess she had to wash her hair or something so she was upset. And we were running downstairs, and my mom was sitting on her chair where she always sat, smoking a cigarette. And my sister said, “Well, why aren’t we going to church?” you know, “Where’s dad?” My mom said that there was trouble and they called him in early in the morning and told him to bring his riot gear. So, that’s all we really knew, except for what was starting to come in on the news. And a lot of the mothers were, you know, getting together, you know, what’s going on?, and no one really knew much. They knew it wasn’t good, but of course they didn’t have access to telephones so they couldn’t just call home and say, you know, everything’s fine, I’ll be home whenever, but that didn’t happen. So, again, this was on Sunday, and so it was like all day Sunday and all day Monday and we hadn’t heard anything. Still hadn’t heard anything from my dad. We had heard that there were – some policemen lost their lives, et cetera. And then it was late on Tuesday evening of that week. Some of the kids were gathered on one of the families’ porches and a cruiser was coming down the street. And it was going really slow, and of course we’re all watching ‘cause, you know, tension was high. And the cruiser pulled up in front of our house. And one of the policemen got out, went to the trunk, and they had my dad’s rifle. So they walked up – and of course by then my mom was already at the door expecting the worst, and the policeman had just said, “Your husband’s fine, but he did want us to bring his rifle back because they were detaining some of these looters – the jails were full, and they were detaining some of these looters and arsenists and snipers in high school gyms – or school gyms. So they didn’t want these weapons on the premises for safety reasons. And these policemen probably just lived maybe in the next block so they were going that way. And, like I said, we still hadn’t heard from my dad until the following day, which was Wednesday. Then he finally came home. But it was – and then I think it was that Monday night that some of the rumors were that the rioters were now going to out into the suburbs. And they were worried because they didn’t know if it was common knowledge that there were a lot of policemen here, but now those men were not home. All these women were home with these kids, so there was a lot of tension about what would happen, if this would come out into the suburbs. So my dad was – his normal position on the police department at that time was stationary traffic, and they – in the summertime they wore a real powdery blue shirt – real powdery blue short-sleeved shirts, and when he came home, his shirt was like a dark grey. It was just like, you know, saturated with smoke. So he had had those same clothes on for all that time. And I think one of the things I want to say about that was, until I saw the movie 12th and Clairmount, I didn’t have a real clear picture of what was kind of going on there. I mean it was – it was brutal. And I don’t think what the news was capturing was representative, because maybe they couldn’t get into the areas so they were just getting all, like, the outskirts and what we could get on the news. But I think that was probably the closest thing my dad had come to combat, ‘cause he was in the Navy but he was stationed on one of these LSTs where they fly the aircraft from, so they weren’t right in battle. So, I think that was the closest thing he probably came to combat. And that picture in this magazine that I was explaining to you shows him with his stationary traffic garb, holding his rifle with this cigar and this big helmet on, and probably something so that they could breathe – like, just a scarf though, it wasn’t like a aerator or whatever. And I was always real real close with my dad but it seemed like he changed after that. And I kind of wondered if – you know, he never really talked about it, so… you know. I don’t know if maybe he had, maybe shot some people, maybe didn’t know if – I don’t know because, again, he would never – he never really talked about it. But he did kind of change after that and we kind of grew apart after that because, like I said, we were real close growing up and it changed – it changed me as a person. So I don’t think people really think about the impact that the families of the policemen might experience. Because it seems as though there were some dirty cops from, you know, seems like there were, but I don’t think they were all like that, you know, so. You had good Christian people and not expecting to be in a situation like this where they would have to defend property and maybe shoot people, but… It gave me a lot of time to contemplate that after I saw that movie, and I kind of wondered, you know, what maybe really happened? And how many other children were affected by that? Like maybe some kind of PTSD or something. And a policeman - and a man probably wouldn’t seek out help. So, that’s kind of my perspective.
WW: Did your father stay with the Detroit Police Department?
CK: Yes he did. In fact, he stayed for thirty-seven years, which is pretty unheard of nowadays. [laughs]
WW: Did your family stay in the city of Detroit?
CK: Yes. Yeah, we stayed right there in that same house, even after my dad died – he died in 2009. And we just moved my mom out of there three years ago. And that – well, the neighborhood was changing, but the house wasn’t conducive to her needs anymore. It was getting harder to get her out of the house and soforth. So. Yeah, we stayed there.
WW: Just a couple quick final questions. After ’67 did you feel comfortable in the city?
CK: Well…
WW: [indiscernible]
CK: … you know, I did. And I’d like to add one more thing too. It was – this was 1967. I think it was the next year, 1968, that they started bussing. They started bussing some of the inner-city children in to our neighborhoods, and I do remember that the parents were having – a – fit. But you know something? I had never anything against any of those students. I mean, you know, once they were with our class and, you know, we got to know them – and I can name them all by name to this very day. And I was just kind of like… You know, they were different in the respect that their clothes weren’t maybe always the best, or… I remember one girl, Barbara White, she always wore a white cardigan sweater, but it had holes in it. But, you know, we didn’t make fun of her or whatever, but – they were just kids. Just like us. You know, just kids trying to get an education. And when I was going to be going to high school, now they wanted to bus the outskirts into the inner-city. And I remember that causing a great big fuss. And, you know, at the time I was what – fourteen years old, so I probably didn’t understand all of it, but I do remember what I learned in elementary school, you know, that it wasn’t what these adults were getting all… But so many of our friends then left the city because they thought that they were going to be bussed. So, that was interesting and I do remember, “Oh, you’re not going to go down there to Kettering High School, we’ll have to send you to Lutheran High East,” and I’m thinking, “I don’t want to go to…” [laughs] “I don’t want to go to parochial school.” So, just a, you know…
WW: I appreciate that. Thank you. What do you – Two final questions. What do you think of the state of the city today? (14:46)
CK: Well, I think that there – I think that the officials are trying to do some things with the city. I still own property in the city, and the neighborhoods where my properties are are not good, so I see a lot of development and things going on downtown, but I don’t think they’re really doing enough in the neighborhoods. And I don’t know what they can do. So, you know, I don’t have the answers, but I do notice that this is where it’s all happening but on the outskirts of the city, things are still a problem.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city, going forward?
CK: I am optimistic but I think it’s going to take a long time, and I probably won’t be here to see it. So. I wish I knew, I wish I had a crystal ball and I could say. But, I think it’s going to take some time.
WW: One quick question I forgot: How do you interpret the events of ’67? Do you see them as a riot? Do you see them as an uprising? Rebellion?
CK: Huh. I would say it was an uprising. I would say it was a rebellion. I would say it’s probably all three. Because, you know, that definitely was – that was more than an uprising and a rebellion. I mean, that was, from what I saw – from the movie, anyway – it was brutal. It was really brutal. And I think probably the individuals that were reacting got caught up in the sociological crowd group mentality and just kind of went berserk, not giving thought to what they were doing to their own neighborhoods, because a lot of those neighborhoods just never came back. They didn’t give thought to they were hurting Mr. So-and-so who was their friend, always tried to help them, but now they burnt his store down and he could never come back. So, I think it was probably multifaceted. It’s like, you know, the perfect storm sort of thing. It was hot, people were angy, I think there – initially there was some alcohol involved, and it just got out of control.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
CK: Thank you. Thank you, it was my pleasure.
[17:44]
[End of Track 1]

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, 12th and Clairmount (film), 1967 riot, Copper Canyon, Detroit Police Department, far east side, Harper Woods, School integration

Citation

“Cynthia Keech,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 12, 2021, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/758.

Output Formats