Interviewer: Judy Richardson
Production Team: C
Interview Date: November 15, 1988
Camera Rolls: 2047-2048
Sound Rolls: 222
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Robert Finley, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 15, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Can you tell me the story of guarding your place on the first day of the riot, and just give me a sense that it was a neighborhood bar and how long you had your place?
Well being the bar business, ah, quite a while, ah, incidents had happened throughout these neighborhood and city come to your attention through customers speaking to each other and also to you. On this particular day, ah, I had heard through various people--
Tell me about the first day of the riot, what did you do in the bar?
On the first day of the riot I was uh--at my place, business, bar located at 1101 Clay, corner of Cameron when, ah, through listening to the conversation of customers that were coming through, had been all moving around the, the, came "We've got quite a situation going, there are riots in process here." I said, "Yes", ah, and then, ah, I became alert and, ah, decided that, ah, this is kind of a crisis so perhaps I better take some measures to prevent any harm to come to the place or myself. So, ah, as a result, ah, we did business as usual d- during the day and about dark, as it became dark I, ah, turned the lights on around the place and I have a cement stoop in the front door and I took my 16 gauge shotgun and, ah, put a chair out on the stoop and set there on there, and, ah, observed things that were happening. On uh till very wee hours of the morning and then I went into the bar and, ah, still doing business as usual but, ah, going to the door every once in awhile and observing what's happening outside. And I, ah, saw some of the people I was surprised, ah, to see in the act of, ah, breaking in the--there was a liquor store across the street from the bar--breaking into that and coming out with cases of liquor. None of the, ah, businessmen on the street attempted to came and open their places, none just showed on the scene at all. I think I was the only one there. I w- I was the only one there, ah, we had, ah, other proprietors who did not come down and I, as I said to myself there well if they, ah, fail to come down and protect their property I certainly not going take any , ah, part of it just past me by. And I watched cars come by and, ah, people observed, observed me with my gun and, ah, they'd continue on their way riding about, ah, blowing horns, just, ah, making a holiday of it, just seemingly. This continued throughout the day until just, they just about emptied the whiskey store of all of its, ah, beer, whiskey and wine. Across the--
If you could talk again about being at the bar and just give a sense that you know it's a neighborhood bar and you've had it since 1948 so people knew you.
I, ah, have been the operator of this bar for, since 1948 and during that time I've met many, many people, ah, both good, bad and ugly.And they have, ah, I can say the fact that I've been there 40 years, and at that time I'd been there over 20 years, I, as a result of my knowing as many people and, ah, I just became a part of the community and, ah, many people knew me, and as a result of this, I didn't have a single incident with any person during the entire period. I, ah, saw many of my, my favorite, my regular customers doing things that I was quite shocked at. But I found this, this generally happens, seems like, ah, when you have a particular incident happen, ah, people just to disregard all rules of society and I'm going out and do this thing. And they did it.
Can you go back just one more time and give me a sense of the bar being there with the shotgun also. And also that maybe that wasn't altogether needed, the shotgun, you know, that people knew you. You can start.
As a result of, of many people knowing me and my setting on the stoop with this, ah, 16 gauge shotgun, ah, I felt at, at the moment that I began this act that, ah, I was doing the c- correct thing. I'm defending my property, local neighborhood, but as, actually ,as the time went on I, ah, saw the way the reception, saw the way the activity was that actually I was not in danger, not at all, not, not one bit. And this, this is quite surprising when you see people acting up and, and I know the capabilities of my neighborhood. They can, as I say good, bad and ugly. And, ah, they sure suddenly showed me that well Bob, you're a part of this neighborhood and you're going to be here. And, ah, that clearly showed me that I guess I'm in business here. And really this I think in any businessman appreciate the fact that, ah, customers say, hey this is, ah, this is where I like to come. I have people again and say, "Bob you know I, I don't go anywhere but here to have a drink." I have customers come from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and I had the feeling that they were living, ah, on the north end or somewhere in the city limits. And people have been, he said, "You know I drive 25, 30 miles to come here and have a drink."
Now can you also talk about what the difference was in being a Black businessman, did that make any difference?
Well I, ah, felt that that was a part of it.
I'm sorry, if you could saying being a Black businessman.
Being a Black businessman doing, ah, business in a Black community, you, ah, sometime you feel that, ah, you're really not--
I'm sorry, if you could cut for a second--
Paint a picture for, you're not going to see any footage or anything, of what it was like being your neighborhood bar with a shotgun. What was that like?
Well you can imagine that I'm a, ex-serviceman and here I am, ah, have my own little business going and operating and my thought was that, ah, when I, ah, began to say, "Well I guess it's time to, ah, defend your personal property and safety," so the, ah, shotgun's there and I said, "Well, looks like I can realize now what the pioneer thinks of when they, when they said, you know, 'Your home is your castle,'" and, ah, here I've just left for war. I was very impersonal about the war as duty calls and I answered. But this certainly is a crisis in my life, and here I am on my home ground with my shotgun defending property and, and the many thoughts like that go through your mind you see. And, ah, ah, this was my, I was very apprehensive at the beginning but as I said, as I, as I go along and the time passed and I saw there was things as far as my place was concerned were not in danger, ah, which was a great, with great re- relief I might add that, that, this, this is it and, uh--
Why did you think they left you alone?
I feel the reason that, ah, I was, ah, bypassed is first, being a Black businessman doing a business in a Black area. Secondly, ah, I have operated the bar along the lines of, ah, you're not just a patron or customer, you're a friend of mine, and as a result of you being a friend of mine, ah, we have no problem. And as a result of this, we, we're going to make it and we'll make it together. And, ah, I have felt that that has been a strong thing in my favor. I might add that I have never been robbed, stuck-up, over my 40 years there, and that's no accident because I've had people come in and, ah, I had a little way of handling, ah, strangers at that time that I don't have now.
You can cut now. That is perfect.