Cassandra Webb

Title

Cassandra Webb

Description

In this interview, Cassandra discusses growing up on the east side of Detroit, and her experiences there before moving, along with the differences between the neighborhood she was born in and the one has moved too. She also discusses how her neighborhood that has been slowly degrading in community structure over time.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

9/21/2018

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Cassandra Webb

Brief Biography

Cassandra Webb was born in September 24, 1961 on the east side of Detroit on Seminal Street, 48214, and grew up there before moving to Northwest Detroit after the 6th Grade and is still living there today. She works with veterans at the Detroit VA. She is African American and has a daughter, Calebria Webb.

Interviewer's Name

Michael Philip Ostrowski

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

9/21/2018

Transcription

[Start of Track]
MPO: Michael Philip Ostrowski
CAW: Cassandra Webb
MPO: Alright, we’re recording. The date is September 21, Friday at the UGL at Wayne State University. This is the interviewer Michael Ostrowski, who is an undergraduate with a major in economics, interviewing Miss Cassandra Webb, and thank you for being here to answer my questions.
CAW: Ok
MPO: And we will be asking about your neighborhood and stuff like that. So...where and when were you born?
CAW: Ok, I was born September the 24th, so my birthday is coming up, 1961. And I was born on the east side of Detroit on a street named Seminal street. Zip code is 48214. My house was 5063 Seminal. And that’s, that’s where I was born.
MPO: So you grew up on Seminal, what was it like?
CAW: Well…in the 60s, I remember that neighborhood to be a nice neighborhood. It was a family neighborhood where our house was a two family flat. We lived on the north flat. My grandparents lived on the upper flat and they owned the home. My parents and my brother and myself we lived on the first floor and our neighborhood was very clean, I remember green grass…streetlights…I remember most of my neighbors…their children I remember playing outside. But we always had to come in before the street lights came on that was what my mom always said, “wherever you are make sure you come in before the street lights came on”, So there were tons of children and it was a family community. It was a safe community. I did not know...I did not have fear as a child growing up on that street. Which is interesting.
MPO: Compared to like…many different neighborhoods and many different…environments. Was it an integrated neighborhood?
CAW: No it was primarily African American. I don’t remember any other families that were of a different ethnicity no. So it was not integrated.
MPO: So you were saying earlier you were out on the street with other children what did you do for fun out on the street before the streetlights went on.
CAW: We used our imagination, we did not have…technology even though I remember when the first Nintendo games came out, as an adult I remember that, but we used imagination and creativity. So for example we would play this game called the rock teacher, and it was you got a rock, and you would put the rock in your hand, make a fist, and then you were the teacher and then the students were sitting on the steps, so my house there were 8 steps, and everybody would start off on the first step and the teacher would put their hands behind their back and change the rock to either the left or right hand and then put their hands together and then as a student you had to pick what hand the rock was in if you picked it correctly you got to move up from like kindergarten up to the first grade. The steps equaled the grade then when you got up to the top, then you had to come down and the first kid who went up and down and graduated became the rock teacher. So those were the types of games that we played, we made up our games. But I remember the rock teacher.
MPO: That’s a very creative game, do you know if children still play that in the neighborhood?
CAW: Nooo cause I tell my daughter you know we have some of our discussions about youth and she thinks I’m crazy like “are you kidding me is this what you guys did”, but we had a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun. Jump rope was a big deal, Double Dutch, hop scotch was a big deal, playing jacks, ball and jacks, paddle ball…ball games that we created our own rules. So it was interesting.
MPO: Where did your parents work?
CAW: My mom was house wife.
MPO: Really?
CAW: And so she did not have a job per say out of the community, but she was a house wife. My dad worked when, I was growing up he was a janitor at the sears and roebuck store that was near our house. At the time sears and roebuck stores were in the community. Our neighborhood store was located on Gratiot near van dyke that was where my daddy was a janitor. And then he transitioned into an automotive job working at Chrysler. Warren truck assembly. he was an assembly worker when I was young I remember when that transitioned….yea.
MPO: You said there was a neighborhood shop, where exactly did you go shopping for like the standard stuff?
CAW: Ok so…Gratiot avenue was the main road near our house and that was where the grocery stores were. But the bigger stores were located on Harper. Van Dyke and Harper was a place where we shopped for groceries, there were clothing stores on Van Dyke near Harper. So those were the two areas where we went to in our communities that I can remember. So, Gratiot was a main road, and Harper and Van Dyke.
MPO: Where did you go to school?
CAW: Ok so my elementary school was Hilger Elementary, and it was located near this park that I played in it was called Pingelry Park. I went to that school from K all the way up to the 6th grade. And in the 6th grade, what happened was my parents moved from the east side to the west side. And so, I finished the 6th grade at my school and then I went to Frank Murphy Middle School from 7th and 8th grade, that was located on the west side of the city at Telegraph and Finkle. And then in the 9th grade I went to Cass Tech from 9 through 12 and ended up graduating from Cass Tech. But Hilger Elementary was my elementary school.
MPO: Why did your parents move? Was it your father getting the new job?
CAW: No the reason why my parents moved was because as I was growing up moving into high school, they wanted me to go to a better high school. But even though Cass Tech was a high school you could go to if you lived-where ever you lived you had to apply to get in to that but that was one reason they told me but the other reason my parents purchased their first home. And it was located on the west side of the city, and so that’s why we moved from east, to west.
MPO: Did you prefer the west side over the east side of Detroit?
CAW: I was always still affiliated with the east side because that’s where my grandparents lived, and that’s where my friends were. So even though I lived on the west side I still had connections to the east side because our church was still located on the east side of the city, the Liberty Baptist church and we went to church a lot. A lot of my family members lived near my grandparents like I had cousins that lived around the corner from my grandparents, so I was always over there. So I still maintained a lot of ties to the east side.
MPO: Do you know if the schools like Hilger Elementary, Frank Murphey, Cass Tech, are they still around?
CAW: Well Hilger Elementary closed and it became what was known as the inner-city sub center and that was a community center. Frank Murphey is open, but I believe it is a charter school now if I’m not mistaken. So it kinda changed, I don’t think it’s a middle school anymore I think it’s an academy if I recall. And Cass Tech is still open. It’s a new building, but it’s still open.
MPO: Like you were saying how you had the games with like the rock teacher, do you have any stories about your childhood or about your neighborhood. Both in Seminal and west Detroit?
CAW: Yea you know what I remember…I remember a lot of things about my neighborhood. I remember the families in my east side neighborhood, like next door was the Williams family and then there was the Johnson’s on the other side, then there were the Mors family across the street. The Smiths. So we described our houses on the east side according to the families. Its deep-I feel like I remember more about the families because I think that was the most impressions. Now my west side neighborhood, I still live in that neighborhood today. So I’ve been…my parents are still alive they are in their 80s now, they live in the original house that they bought over 50 years ago. I live next door been up in that house for 30 years and so there are some families that I remember on that street but it’s different. I don’t feel like that neighborhood today is as close as it was in my childhood because you have more renters in that community, so you don’t have the closeness that I once had when I was growing up. There are a few families who I’m close to, they’ve moved on or died out, so I know their children, but Seminal street was a much closer community.
MPO: So Seminal was much more tightknit-
CAW: Yea!
MPO: and each house was their own thing.
CAW: It was much more cohesive. I feel like the Seminal Street community I grew up in was what I would consider homogenous, in that it was a very solid working-class community, African Americans worked! They worked, we worshiped in that community. There was much more connection to that community, we had the block club. The Semi Coys Block Club I remember traveling on a bus trip with my grandparents, we went to New York city with our block club. It was interesting to me! That was interesting. So there are some things that I remember about that community. Now the community that I live in north west Detroit I was much…you know I was in high school…so because I did not go to the community high school I was not really connected to many kids on that street maybe one or two kids went to the same high school that I went to but I didn’t have that big of a connection in that community.
MPO: So you said in Seminal that you-it was pretty much like-it was a very clean area and you only needed to go out until the lights were going out. When you were in the west side did you feel as comfortable as you did in Seminal, or just in general?
CAW: Well it was different when we moved-when my parents moved in northwest Detroit it was a nice community. It was a nice community. But I think because I had so many connections to the east side I did not hang out and play like I did when I was on the east side…there are a lot of people that I really don’t know.
MPO: Even today?
CAW: Even today! Even today. Today is totally different. You basically wanna stay by yourself. I know the people that live next door to me but they’re renters and they’re constantly in and out. So you know I kinda keep to myself.
MPO: So its kinda a revolving door community?
CAW: Kinda, yea there’s always people coming and going yea. My parents are one of the few remaining, what we call “The Originals”. In that after the 1967 rebellion…riot, rebellion there were changes in certain neighborhoods and so we moved into northwest Detroit in the early 70s, and I would say for a period of about 10, maybe 15 years, you had changes in people on that block. And then those individuals eventually died out and so today, we mostly have renters on that block so I don’t really know them cause you know they come and go.
MPO: What street exactly in northwest Detroit are you located on?
CAW: I live on Saint Mary’s.
MPO: Saint Mary’s?
CAW: Mmhmm
MPO: And what would you define as northwest Detroit? As the neighborhood?
CAW: Northwest Detroit…I would say that Woodward avenue in Detroit, the main street Woodward avenue kind splits east from west. And northwest…bordering I would say west 8-mile, one side of the community would be your Southfield communities. Northwest Detroit is located near Mary Grove college, University of Detroit founded by Wayne county community college, northwest district…so that in my opinion is some of the boundaries of northwest Detroit if I got it correctly I think.
MPO: Have you ever thought-cause you’ve said that you and your parents have lived there since you moved there have you ever thought moving to a different area?
CAW: Yea for me I…have thought of moving many times. but one thing that keeps me there is the fact that my parents are elderly and I kinda help to watch out for them. Currently you know there is a lot of crime in our community. My house was burglarized in 2015. Very very frightening. You have drug trafficking in that community you have a lot of individuals in that community that don’t work. So I had decided to leave but one thing that keeps me there is the fact that my parents are die hard Detroiters. They refuse to leave! They refuse to leave, no matter how things change, and Detroit is going through a transformation but it has not yet hit a lot of our communities which concerns me. So there is safety in numbers I would say and so that’s the reason why I have not left at this particular time.
MPO: You were saying that Detroit was going through changes but just hasn’t reached you yet. When it reaches you what exactly would you like to see change in your neighborhood?
CAW: I would like to see better services. Better police services…reinforcement of some of the city ordinances that are there to keep property up…a safer community. That’s the number 1 factor a safer community, a cleaner community…businesses beyond beauty supply businesses…I think that it does have the potential to be but its unfortunate now as the city goes through its transformations most of it is down town.
MPO: Like around Campus Martius and stuff like that?
CAW: Right…right.
MPO: So it sounds like if it was to pass it would be kinda like how you grew up in Seminal just clean and welcoming
CAW: Right.
MPO: If you could get a project done in your neighborhood, like a community project, what would you do?
CAW: Ok…a beautification project beyond the annual beautification projects that they have. So they do have what they call the alive Detroit programs but I would like to see….we have a lot of bordered homes on our block or around our block which is very very unsafe, and its uncomfortable if you have to walk up and down the street where a home is boarded up…but half open. I would like to see those homes totally boarded up. so nobody has access or torn down. So that would be the number 1 project I would like to see in my community, more cleanliness…yea.
MPO: And in general to Detroit…how do you feel about it? As in like its state of affairs…just in general?
CAW: Well...(interviewee sighs)
MPO: Cause as you’ve said your parents are hard core Detroiters. Do you feel its going through like an upswing, or not really?
CAW: Well you know there are two-I feel like there are two Detroit’s. One Detroit is for the well to do and one is for those that are struggling. And so I see both sides of Detroit I’ve seen the cleanups down town, Campus Martius, mid-town…massive change I’ve seen that and that’s beautiful but I also seen the neighborhoods continue to struggle. I’ve seen rent go up where people can’t afford the rent. I’ve seen homelessness and that is what concerns-it concerns me. So in a way Detroit is-has seen some improvements but in a way there are some struggles that are almost forgotten.
MPO: And for…last question, for an outsider looking into Detroit, say like someone who lives over in like Oakland county or anywhere else in Michigan or anywhere else in America. What message would you want to get across about Detroit?
CAW: Well I would like to say Detroit has a lot of potential. Its history…I would encourage individuals just to know the history of Detroit, so they can better appreciate the perspective of the people. I would hope that those that come to visit Detroit...would see its potential and to…build on that potential. But my concern is don’t forget about the people that are struggling.
MPO: Ok…
CAW: Yea…
MPO: Well thank you so much for answering these questions for me.
CAW: Oh ok!
MPO: It was a great time!
CAW: Ok!
MPO: And…do you have any last words that you’d like to say?
CAW: No this was-this was nice! This was nice.
MPO: Alright well thank you so much.
[End of Track]

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Northwest, rising crime, public services, public renovation, northeast detroit,

Citation

“Cassandra Webb,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed September 19, 2021, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/770.

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