Interviewer: Sheila Bernard
Production Team: C
Interview Date: June 5, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2136-2137
Sound Rolls: 264-265
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Daisy Nunley, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on June 5, 1989, 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.
If you could tell me about your old neighborhood and, and when and why you moved to this area.
Well, we moved here because we wanted a larger house, our family, ah, was growing, and, ah, we moved here because, ah, we, ah, wanted, we needed the room and the space.
OK, can you, can you start by telling me where you, what kind of a neighborhood you are coming from and what kind of neighborhood you're coming into.
Well, we were living in a, ah, on the west side of Detroit on, in the, ah, area where most Blacks lived at on the west side. Um, generally they had two sections of the three sections of the city, you had the east side, then we had the west side where Blacks lived at, and then you had the, ah, north side of Detroit where Blacks lived. And we moved from the west side, ah, to this area, because the color barrier had been broken here and, ah, Blacks had started to move into this area.
What was 12th street like
Oh, 12th street in the early 60s was a very exiting street, it had ah, a lot of places to eat, it had night clubs--
Can you start over again, there was noise.
OK, in the early 60s 12th Street was a very exciting street because they had night clubs, they had restaurants, they had shops there, and ah, especially there was especially place there called Klein Show Bar and some of the Jazz musicians played there. Especially Yusef Lateef, I remember hearing him there for the first time. And then there was a friend of ours who was a saxophonist, and we would go there to hear him play. And, ah it was just an exciting to be, and one place in particular that was Hughes Barbeque, and I remember that because they had the best, the best Barbeque in Detroit at that time, was a Hughes on 12th street.
--you know, about how far you are, where you live in relationship to where the trouble is, so we can get a sense of how far you are. OK, so if you could tell me, it's, ah, it's Sunday, July 23rd.
OK. Ah, the, ah, very first hint that we had of any, ah, difficulty, was my sister-in-law called, ah, about 8:30 Sunday morning and, ah, she was concerned about her brother. My husband was working, ah, midnights, and, ah, she called and asked me, she said, "I heard that, ah, there's a riot on 12th Street, is there a riot?" And I said, "No, there's no riot, everything is quiet over here." And so she asked, she said, ah, "Has James got home?" And I said, "No, he hadn't got home yet." And shortly oh, maybe five or ten minutes later he came up and I asked him, I said, ah, "Daisy said that there's a, ah, riot on 12th, do you see anything? Did you hear anything?" He said, "No, there's, I didn't see anything, regular Sunday morning." So we sat on the front porch and just, it was a peaceful Sunday morning and then, ah, oh, about ten o'clock, I had the radio on and I heard them say that they had, ah, closed 12th at West Grand Boulevard, and, ah, that was all that they mentioned, they just said there was a little disturbance on 12th Street and they had closed it at, ah, West Grand Boulevard. And then maybe about noon I noticed that, ah, traffic in the street was picking up and you could see people moving towards 12th Street, ah, it was like people found out that something was going on. So the traffic did increase and as the, ah, maybe, ah, people got out of church, ah, traffic, ah, people started in that direction so, ah, that was when we knew that something was really happening there on 12th Street.
OK, stop. Your parents were visiting, were looking for a painter--
Ah, after church was over my mother came by and stopped by our house and, ah, her and my dad, they were going over to, ah, my brother's house to meet a painter, they were going to make arrangements for him to have his house painted. And I told her, I said, "I heard the, ah, they're having some trouble over on 12th Street." So she said, "Well, I have got to go." And I said, "Well, if I were you I wouldn't because it seems like, ah, they're having some difficulty." She said, "No, I'll go anyway." So about an hour later they both got back and they were kind of hot and bothered, ah, and I said, ah, "What's the matter?" And they said, "We couldn't get across 12th Street, they just, everything is blockaded up there." And, and she says, ah, "We're going to go home." And I said, "Well, that's fine, go straight on home." And by the time they got home I told them to call me to make sure because you could tell by this time, ah, something was going on, it was just in the air, that something was about to happen. The burning hadn't yet started, but that, just that excitement that something was going to happen, was in the air. So by the time they got home they called and they got r- right at, ah, Grand River and West Grand Boulevard, and there was a furniture store there and, ah, b- by the time they crossed Grand River on, got onto the other side, someone, the loo- the rioting started right there, they started looting the de- the store, and then they ignited it and someone sent a fire bomb off and they took out the whole block.
OK, stop. OK, now I want to, if you could explain--
So as all this was going on, if you can tell me at your home what you were thinking and doing.
Well, by the, when my mother got home and, ah, I, ah, noticed it, that there was, my sister started calling me and she was saying about that time that, ah, they were, ah, burning some stores up on Grand River, from where her, where she lives at, she could see Grand River, I couldn't, the only thing I could see was, I could see people, ah, furniture in different people's cars going up and down the street, ah, the burning had started, and about that time, ah, there was a, ah, explosion on Pingrie, it was in a gas station, and a, ah, ah, cleaning establishment, and it had started to burn and it took out the whole block, it ignited a whole block on Pingrie. And, ah, from where I live at, I could see the flame shooting over, up. And about, ah, then you could see the flames coming from 12th Street. So I thought, I said, and where I live at, I'm four or five blocks from where the burning was taking place so I, I didn't know what to do, I just thought that maybe I'll go and get my, ah, all my, ah, important papers and have them ready, because I don't know what's going to happen, but I wanted to make sure that I had my children's birth certificate and my marriage license and my house insurance.
OK, I'm sorry, I'm going to stop you for a minute. I guess I need a better sense of--
OK, so you were about six blocks from an explosion and fire and burning. What's your first concern?
Well, I was concerned about whether our block would, ah, be on fire also. We weren't situated where there was, there are no, there was nothing that could actually burn, but then when I heard that the, ah, block on Pingrie had gone out, I, that, that's when I got concerned, and I was concerned about my children, I was, I was concerned about their safety, because at that time they were, they were small. And I didn't know what direction to go in, ah, where, where could you go, ah, at that particular time there was, it was just the sense of frustration, you just didn't, you just sit, you were, we were just sitting and watching, didn't know what was going to happen next.
OK, so six blocks away the city is on fire--if you could just let us know what you're thinking and doing and feeling.
Well, about that time in the afternoon I started to be getting concerned about my family. And, ah, I didn't know, ah, I just thought maybe I should make some preparations because then when I could see that, ah, that it was going to get worse, then I decided that I would, ah, go and have, ah, have everything at hand. And I got, ah, my children's birth certificates, and I got my, ah, marriage license, and our house insurance--and I put them all in an attache case and I sat it at the front door so that in case we had to leave and we had to leave suddenly I could just pick that up and go, I didn't worry about taking any clothes because I didn't think it would be necessary, I just wanted to, ah, have those important papers and, ah, have my children safe and my husband and, and, ah, then we could just leave. I don't know where we, I, I had no thoughts of where we would be going, but I just thought that I should be ready to, to have some indication that we did exist, that, ah, there was some record of our existing somewhere.
So it's the afternoon.
And, ah, we were telephoning one another to see what was going on in different parts of, of, ah, of the city--where my sister-in-law, I would talk to her and she would tell me what was going on in the area where she lived at and, ah, what preparations she was making and then I would call my sister and I would talk to her and she would, she would tell me what was going on where she lived at, then I'd call my mother and, and she would say what was going on over there and, and it was just that, ah, sense of, ah, ah, of, of fear. We didn't know, ah, what the on- the only com- communications we had was by telephone, because I, we were afraid to get out to try to drive to, ah, to get to the, ah, ah, to one another, so we just had to, to communicate by telephone and, ah, we would find out then, oh, well this store just, ah, they just burnt that store, ah, that block just went out and they said it started to, it, it spread to somewhere else and that, that was the line of communication that was going on between people, I think, we were using the, the telephone as our, ah, our, our contact point--that's how we kept in communication, that's how we knew what was going on.
And so what did you do in the house?
Well, that's when I started making preparations for, ah, if we had to make a sudden move, that's why I, I, ah, had my, ah, attache case all packed and with the, all the important papers that I thought I would need in it, I had that ready, because I, from what I was hearing, ah, different parts of the city was just on fire, ah, people were looting and things were being burnt and so there, I, I, I had to be ready, I just thought that, that we should be ready, in case we had to, to, ah, leave, that, ah, we would be ready to go.
If you could just tell me again about packing, what you packed in case and putting it by the door.
I had, ah, my marriage license, and I had my, all my children's birth certificates, I had their, their, ah, health records, I had, especially I had our insurance, ah, papers for the house, that's what I had in, in the attache case, I had that, all, anything that I thought was important that had anything to do with, with our home or anyth- any kind of important papers that, that I thought we would need for, to, ah, for record purposes later.
And what was your sense of what would happen when darkness fell?
I didn't know. There was, that, that, that's what you didn't know, you didn't know what was going to happen.
Could you be a little more complete in terms of telling me about afraid of being at nightfall.
Well, ah, at that particular time then you started to hear them saying that there was going to be a curfew and that everyone had to be off the street at 8 o'clock, and then you could see the, the movement in the streets, you could see people moving back and forth trying to get where they were going to go by 8 o'clock, because by then you'd heard it on the radio and on the television that, that, that the, ah, troops were coming in.
OK, I'm sorry, we have to stop for one second, the curfew's at nine.
Is it at nine?
Oh, well, I thought it was--
OK, so then the phone call network has told you that the city is just going up, it's just getting crazy.
Um hm. And then as it was getting darker, ah, I was getting, I was terrified, I didn't know what was happening because everywhere I looked I could see flames burning, I, I looked towards 12th and, and over, ah, St. Agnes Church--I could see the flames just burning, 12th Street was just burning, all you could see was just flames. If you looked towards Lynwood all you could see was flames and in the air you could feel the, you could see the ash just fluttering down and, ah, the, ah, the s- the s- the, ah, the smell of, of char that, that burning smell was in the air, and it was just smokey, the whole, the whole area here was just, just a smokey area. If you looked towards West Grand Boulevard it was burning that way, everywhere you turned and looked you could see nothing but flames, it was just, it was, it was just like they were just leaping, ah, in the, in the sky, at night, and then that was when I really got terrified. I said, wha- wha- what's going to happen--at, at, tonight what is going to happen? Will our, will we, will our, will our block get burned down by then? And, ah, ah, by that time, ah, when I was talking back and forth to my sisters th- they were saying where they were living at, it was just like every--the whole city was on fire, you couldn't get to where yo- th- you couldn't get to where, ah, ah, the, the fire was, but then you could, you, the, the, the sense of that, the whole city was on fire, is what you got- be- from talking to different people on the telephone. Not only, I talked to my friends and they would say that the block where they lived at, it was, was burning. My sisters was telling me that it was burn- my sister-in-law where she was saying the whole area was just burning. And then I, what, from what I could see it was worse over here than it was in any other part of the, of the city at that particular time. Then I got concerned about my dog, we had a dog, and it's, what are we going to do with, with our dog, and, ah, he was a type of dog that he liked to be outside, he didn't want to be inside. We had to go get him and put him down in the basement and lock him up, he's, he was the type of a dog that didn't want to be locked up, but we had to lock him up, ah, because I didn't want him to escape, because I didn't know what would happen to him so, ah, that was the, that was the sense of frustration that night, and then I didn't know what tomorrow was going to bring, I didn't know what the morning was going to bring.
OK, cut, that was nice.
Ah, we had sort of got used to, ah, the helicopters flying overhead, they were flying low and you got, I had got used to seeing the, ah, soldiers drive up and down the street in the jeeps and I had gotten sort of used to seeing the police riding four to a car with their back to back, with their shotguns out of the window. I had got used to seeing that. But, ah, I went upstairs, ah, the curfew was on and everybody had to be off the street and I came in the house and I, and one of my, my, my youngest daughter at the time was still in diapers, and I went upstairs to get a diaper or something for her and to get a wash cloth out of the, ah, the, ah, bathroom. And when I got upstairs I heard this helicopter flying real low, and I looked out the window and when I looked out the window I could see the soldiers s- he was, this helicopter was flying so low, until I could see the soldiers sitting in the helicopter, I could see him. And then when I, I looked out the window, I looked, ah, to my right to the alley and I hea- saw this tank rolling down, coming down the alley with this big long gun on it. And I, And I thought, "Oh, my god" I thought that the tank was going to come down and it was getting ready to level out our block, that's what I, that's what, what my thoughts were. And I knew my children were downstairs and I, I think I made a, a jump from the top step downstairs and I went and I started, I started gathering them up and I said we had to get to the basement, it was like, "Get to the basement!" I, I, I was screaming and hollering and I was trying to get them down to the basement because I didn't know what this, I just thought that this tank was coming to, to, to shoot down the block, I don't know why I thought that but I did, and I ran and I got them down to the basement. One of my daughters was, was cooking something on the stove, think she was making pancakes or something but then it, I, I made her turn it off and run to the basement. And, ah, then we heard gun shots and I, I didn't, I couldn't tell where it was coming from. All I knew was that our block wasn't being leveled but I did hear the shots from, from, that were being fired at that particular time, but I di- I didn't know where it was, where it was, but I did know that I could hear the, the, the, the shots being fired. All I knew was I was glad that they weren't shooting down our block.
What did that feel like? This is--
It was terrifying.
I was talking just then, can you start again?
Um hm, yes.
What did it feel like?
It was terrifying, it was just, it was absolutely terrifying, because I could just see this, this, it was just like lumbering, just, just lumbering along and, and then I, then behind it came some soldiers in a jeep. And I didn't, I, you couldn't go out, so you didn't know where was and the only thing I thought was, "Oh, my god, they're getting ready to level the block, because they had been saying there was some snipers, they had been saying on the radio, you hear them, oh, they're snipers, and then there was rumors that there were snipers in our area." And I just thought, "Oh, my goodness, they're just getting ready to, to level the block now."
OK, watching on television, what was, what was coming through in terms of what was being burnt and what wasn't?
Well, for instance, ah, we had a couple stores in our area, major chains, we had an A&P, and then we had a Buy Low market that I expected the Buy Low to be burned, because I had gotten some meat there, ah, on one occasion, and it w- it was some chicken, and I had to take it back because it was, it, it, it wasn't any good. So I'm sure there was, other people have said the same thing that they had gotten some products from there, from their market that weren't up to par. So I expected Buy Low, if they were going to burn down a supermarket, Buy Low was going to be one that would be gone.
Are you out? We're going to do that one again?
Did it make sense to you which stores got looted and which ones got burned?
Oh yes, it did, because there were, ah, some supermarkets in the neighborhood that, ah, didn't sell v- ah, products weren't very good. They sold bad meats, their stores weren't clean as they could be, and then there were other stores like the A&P market was, was well kept, they had nice food, their food was good, their prices were, were right, but, ah, so you expected, I expected that the Buy Low supermarket was going to be burned down. If they were going to burn down a supermarket, Buy Low's was one of the ones that was going to go because it was rotten. To me they, their products were, were terrible. They, the, th- their store was- wasn't kept as clean as it could be and, ah, the, ah, I, ah, went in there on one occasion, and I got bad meat that I had to return. And after that I just stopped shopping there and I just knew that Buy Low's was going to be a market that was going to be burned. And, ah, A&P might have been looted but, ah, it didn't get burned.
OK, ah, stop please. OK. Could you describe for me what looking out and seeing people--
OK, if you could tell me about the street lights
Well, ah, I know what it's like to, to, to live under martial law, and I can imagine what it would be like to live in a country under martial law because at that particular time during the riot the city of Detroit was under martial law--the soldiers rode down the street in jeeps and, ah, one particular, ah, night they came down, ah, I imagine they didn't want to be, ah, targets--and they just came down the street and they shot out the street lights, they shot out all the street lights on the block so it would be dark, there was no street lights during the riot, they shot the ones out on our block so that they, I guess they didn't want to be made a target of at night.
And what about the cops and four cars, four cops to a car, what did that look like?
Ah, the police rode four to a car. They had the back windows of the scout cars out and, ah, they would have their rifles, ah, they were sitting back to back and, ah, they had on riot helmets and then they had their shotguns just perched out the window, they, that's the way they rode up and down the street.
Do you think the city and the, the government over-reacted to what was happening?
Um, at that particular time, ah, I think after the soldiers got in it was much calmer. They, they went about their work in a professional manner and, ah, ah, things sort of got back the way they were supposed to be after the soldiers got in because they, they, ah, you could see them and they were doing what they were supposed to do and they, ah, were respecting people's wishes. Ah, I, I remember that, ah, ah, on Grand River and, and West, ah, when they, ah, burned down a block the only thing that was left was a, a bank vault. The whole building was burned and the bank vault was left, and they were guarding the bank vault, two soldiers--the whole, everything, and it was just amazing to drive and see this huge bank vault standing out right--that was all was left.
Did you see any distinction between the, was it the National Guard over here or was, were the federal troops here as well?
The federal troops were here.
OK, if you could describe 12th Street, what it was like.
It was as, it was just--
Can you start with 12th Street so we know what you're talking about?
Oh, OK, there's somebody at the door.
Oh, stop tape.
OK, if you can just tell me what 12th Street was like
Oh, in the 60s it was a very, 12th Street was a very exciting place.
OK, can you start again?
OK, ah, 12th Street in the 60s was a very exciting place to be because, ah, they had clubs there, nightclubs, and, ah, they had, ah, restaurants and they had shops that you could go to, it was just, it was like, the, ah, the mecca had sort of shifted to 12th Street from, ah, Blackbottom, because at that particular time Blackbottom um, was being um, let's say, ah, rebuilt, and, ah, so therefore, a lot of merchants and a lot of places had moved to, to, ah, to, to 12th Street. And, ah, we would go there for, ah, ah, one place in particular was Kline's Show Bar, it was a very nice club, ah, I heard Yusef Lateef there for the very first time, jazz and, ah, there was another, a club directly across the street and, ah, we would go, ah, one of our friends was a saxophonist there and I do remember that sometimes, ah, in, ah, in the summer, ah, he would, ah, come out on, come off the stage and come out onto the street playing his horn and, ah, it was just exciting. And, ah, we would go to, ah, there was a place Hughes Barbeque, on 12th Street. Ah, they had the best barbeque in the city of Detroit and they had real good ice cream and we'd go there all the time, ah, it was just, just an exciting place to be, the neighborhood was very nice, you weren't afraid to walk down the street. I wa- I was never afraid to be on 12th Street.