Interviewer: Sam Pollard
Production Team: X
Interview Date: June 6, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2143-46
Sound Rolls: 267-268
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Ed Vaughn, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on June 6, 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.
Ed, in '63, Malcolm was, came to Chicago and spoke - now give me a sense of what was happening in the community around the time Malcolm came and spoke, what you were doing in the community, what people were doing in the community.
Well, in 1963 when Malcolm came to Detroit, we were just beginning to organize a community--a few of the sisters were wearing naturals, Mrs. Mitchell was one I remember, and there were a few others that were wearing naturals, and of course that was quite phenomenal in the community and people were, just kind of looked at us. And we were basically politically organizing where we could. The Cleages had a newspaper called The Illustrated News, Henry Cleage and his brother; Albert B. Cleage and Richard Henry and Milton Henry were also involved with The Illustrated News. I was working at the post office at the time and my good friend Kwame Atta, who, who was also working with me, we were also working with GOAL, Group on Advanced Leadership, and we were trying to mobilize the community. It was a difficult task but people were beginning to come around, people were asking questions, people wanted to hear any speaker that came to town, and they certainly wanted to hear this fiery young Muslim Minister, Malcolm X Shabazz.
What were you trying to tell the community?
I think what we were trying to, to say to them--
What were, what were you trying to tell the community?
I think what we were trying to say to them at that time was that we needed to control the community in which we lived, it was kind of sad that we lived in a community where we did not control the, the social, economic, and political conditions of the community. Ah, we were surrounded by a, a White police force, we called them an army of occupation, we had hardly any Blacks in any political offices in the city, we had no judges, we had had one on the City Council, a council of nine, we did not have elected officials, in, in, in any numbers. Ah, we did not own the, as si--sig--significant a number of businesses as we felt we should. Ah, we did not control the social life in the city, we felt that we needed to control that and that it needed a Black orientation.
That's good, that's good, that's good.
Here you had this book store, so tell me about this book store, and what it meant?
Well, Vaughn's book store was certainly something that was new in the community. There had not been a book store here before, and of course I got into the business because I was looking for a book called "A Hundred Years of Lynchings" by Ginsberg, and I was told downtown that they didn't have the book in stock and I decided that I'd see if I could find it and then when I found it and my friends at the post office said that they'd like to read that and other Black books, so I began to order them and sell them out of the trunk of my car. And then I, about 1962 I had opened Vaughn's book store and we were beginning to sell books rather briskly, people were asking questions, and that was pretty much the mood around the book store. We were mainly oriented toward the people who already were Pan-Africanists and Nationalists or people who were on the left in, in the movement, and they, they came to the store, and soon school teachers, children began to come. There was sort of an awakening in the community from New York, we were hearing about things happening there. I sold a, a magazine called "The Liberator", and so the consciousness was being developed and of course "Mohammed Speaks" and those things were happening then, so there was a consciousness that was being raised throughout the community.
OK, let's cut a second. I just need you to tell me, to introduce the idea part of a whole grown consciousness.
Well, a great deal of consciousness was taking place in the community. I was selling books, I was selling a magazine called "The Liberator," we had the Afro-American Broadcasting Company which was broadcasting every Saturday on WGPR, broadcasting the speeches of Malcolm X practically every Saturday, we had the "Illustrated News" newspaper which the Cleage brothers put out, Albert and Henry. The Henry brothers were working with a, a group called GOAL, and they also were responsible for the Afro-American Broadcasting System. Central Congregational Church, pastored by Albert Cleage, was beginning to, to make some movement in this particular area. So there was a great deal of consciousness taking place across the community and that consciousness sort of came to bloom when people like Malcolm X would come to town or Elijah Mohammed came. Usually it was Elijah who came, and Malcolm spoke before Elijah, and of course, set the audience on fire. And that was really the, the mood of the, of the, of the times. And there, there was a great deal of change beginning to take place.
Cut. Lets move on
It wasn't Black Power that caused the rebellion, it was the lack of power that caused the rebellions around the country. People did not see any hope for themselves, people were beginning to be unemployed more and more, we had no access to, to government, we were still pretty much confined to the ghetto and, what, and then our consciousness was being raised at the same time, and I think the masses of people made a decision that they would do something and I think that they did. I don't think that it was the call for Black Power that did it, I think it was the lack of power that did it.
Tell me about the lack of power within the Detroit community, what was--
Well, we, we did not have anyone in--
Just say in the Detroit community--
In the Detroit community we had very few people in, in political life, and usually they were very conservative, the one or two that we had, it was difficult for people in the, in the automobile industry, because of unemployment. We had a, the police, that was an army of occupation, the police would vamp on the Black community, ride down on us almost nightly. The Big Four and they were rather notorious, there were almost no Blacks on the police force, and so the police force was seen as, as an army of occupation. Economically, we weren't doing very well, our businesses were being squeezed out, especially with the oncoming of, of more acceptance of the Blacks downtown, and so all of those things happened, and I think that that turmoil caused turmoil among the people.
OK, cut. People were angry, they were fed up with all of this, how did you feel, were you in this--
Yes, we were driving back from Newark, myself and two other brothers, in Forum Sixty Six, the organization that we had established, of course this was in `67, and of course we heard that, uh--
That's a little too confusing, I think you just need to say, "I was with a group of brothers and we were coming back from a Newark Black Power conference."
OK, OK. OK, I was with two brothers and we were, we were returning from the Black Power conference in Newark, and we were detained in Toledo, Ohio and not allowed to come into the city of Detroit. We were quite concerned, worried, we could not call our families, the back-up was about three miles on the highway, and all we could hear on the radio was that they were not allowing cars to come into Detroit, that the riot had broken out in Detroit and that Detroit was under some kind of, of martial law. And we, we didn't know exactly what was happening. And we were very concerned, and we were not allowed to go into the city until about 3:00 a.m. that morning, and we kind of went in the back way of the city, we decided to do that, we went in the back way, using back roads, and we fin--all of us finally got to our homes safely. And of course, the next day it was on again. That was Monday, it started all over again Monday.
OK, let's cut a second. Well now that, that wouldn't be true about the martial law, I mean--
OK, and tell us about when you were coming back from the Black Power conference in Newark.
Yes. Well, I was with two other brothers and we were detained in Toledo, Ohio.
You know, just say I was coming back from--
Newark, OK, OK, all right.
--the Black Power conference--
Ah, myself and two other brothers were coming back from the Black Power conference in Newark and we were detained in Toledo, Ohio which is about 46 miles from Detroit and not allowed to come into the city and were, we were detained there for several hours and not allowed to come in until around 3:00 a.m. We drove in on back roads, and we had heard that the riot was, was on, we had been listening to the radio all day, and--
Lets cut. Good.
We were coming from the Black Power conference in Newark, myself and two other brothers, and we heard on the radio that the riot was on in Detroit. And of course we were, we were very concerned about it because, you know, our families were here and we didn't quite know exactly what to do. However, we were not surprised that the riot came because we knew that the unrest was there - it was seething, it had always been there, and we were not, we were not surprised that it happened. But we were concerned about our families, and we were detained in Toledo about 46 miles from Detroit for about 3 1/2 hours and then we were allowed to, to go into Detroit early that morning around 3:00 a.m. We went in on back roads and we were able to get to our homes safely, and of course the next day the riot was on again.
How would you, how, how would you say it looked to you, how did it feel to you when you got into Detroit?
Well, it was eerie, there were, we, there was hardly anyone on the streets, we didn't see anything - no people, no nothing, nothing on the streets, we didn't see anything.
We got to cut.
We came into the city about 3:00 a.m. that morning, and it was a rather eerie feeling that we had because no one was on the streets. I mean it was just deserted, and we were concerned, we didn't know, you know, what was happening with our families, we didn't know the extent of the riot that first day, and so we were able to get home early that morning and of course the next day the riot was on again.
What was it like that next day? Were-- Well, the next day, the next th--the first thing that I did was go straight to the book store. When I left home that morning I went to my book store because I thought maybe that the police or someone had done something to the store. I had no fear of the people bothering anything, although we knew that they had been looting all up and down Dexter Avenue. The first thing that I saw at Vaughn's book store was revolutionary slogans written all across my windows, no one had touched anything, and I--
The next day I went to the book store and I, I knew, I just felt that nothing would be wrong with my store, at least from the people, and of course I was correct. And there were revolutionary slogans written all across the windows, "Long live the Black revolution," and "As-Salaam Alaykum," and those kind of terms were written on the windows of the building. There were four units and my store was one of those units, and there were revolutionary, -nary slogans all across there. So it was something that was, you know, good for me. I, I, I, I enjoyed seeing that, and of course I went in and it was business as usual in the book store, even a little more, people began to come in because everyone was trying to compare notes and to try to find out what was going to happen next.
OK, what happened two days later?
Well, two days later the, the Detroit Police Department broke into my store during the curfew at night, they took the, one of the guards that was in the door out, and used that to bust pictures that I had all across, on the walls of the, of the building. They made sure that they hit the face of Malcolm X, they hit the face of Martin Luther King, I guess the ones that they recognized. And some of the others they didn't, they didn't bother, Rap Brown, and Stokely. And then they fire-bombed the, the, the building, and left. Fortunately, the, the fire-bombing did not burn the building completely, it only burned part of the building. So the next day I came into the store and I cleaned that up and people came and began to buy books and of course, newspaper reporters came out, people from the federal government came out to, to inspect and to look. And I felt, so we cleaned up and I felt they were coming back the next night, and of course they did, they came back the next night. They knocked all of the books back off the wall, the ones that we had saved, then they took the mop and they plugged the sink up, turned the water on, and when I got there the next day there were about 8, 10 inches of water and all of my books floating in water.
Let's cut. Can you do that one again ?
You, you going to ask me a question? You going to ask me?
No, you can figure out, you know what--
Well, two days later, the Detroit Police Department broke into my store during the curfew at night, took out the, the, the uh--
Well, we need to know how you knew that, you saw some witnesses, witnesses told you--
Yes, but let me tell you what they did, then I can tell you how I found out about it.
Ah, the Detroit Police Department broke into the store, knocked all of the windows out, and then busted all of m--the pictures on the wall. And so as we were cleaning up, I didn't know what, what, what had happened to the store, but as we were cleaning up, several of the neighbors came over and told us that it was done by the Detroit Police Department. Damn! I thought that phone was unhooked.
Well, he would never assume looters did it because-- INTERVIEWER 2: But the audience, I'm just saying in terms of, it has to be from his point of view.
Yes, OK, INTERVIEWER 2: There's foreknowledge in it. You're right, don't explain it that way, don't explain it that way, but in terms of going to the store, seeing the mess, and then learning the cops did it, I think, unless you disagree, but I think it has to be that way. It makes it a better story anyway, --
OK, and tell me about when you came back to the book store two days later.
Well, I noticed that the windows had been broken out--
No, I, I came to the book store two days later and I noticed--
Oh. I came to the book store two days later and I noticed that the windows had been broken out, noticed that the pictures had been damaged on the wall, and as I was inspecting the damage, some of the neighbors came over and told me that the Detroit Police Department had done that damage. And I noticed that they were especially interested in, in busting the faces of some of the more well known Blacks who were on the wall, like Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and so I said, "Well, you know, what am I going to do." You know, so I called the police department, first of all, I called the Mayor's office and the Mayor told me to call the police. I said, "Well, the police did it." And so he said, "Well, call them anyway." So then I called the 10th Precinct and the Sergeant in charge who told me his name was Sergeant Slaughter, said that, "Yes, we did it, we did it before and we'll do it again." And he said that, "The reason we did it is because we heard you guys were storing guns in the store." And he said, "We, you know, we, we don't intend to have any of that and I know you guys are the ones who started the riots, and sure we did it, and we'll do it again." And he wasn't lying, because the next night they came back, they broke in again, knocked all of the boards off, and plugged up the sink, turned on the water and, and knocked all the books off the wall and water logged all of my books in about 8 inches of water. And that's what I found the next day I came into the book store.
Good, that's a good one.
OK, tell me about the story about Warren Street, the hardware store.
Well, what, what happened was, everybo--ryone was in the store, looting the store, and of course this store was--
Tell me, "I was at the store, Warren Street hardware store--"
Yes. I had been passing by this store, and they were looting the store, and no sooner than, you know, I noticed that, I then noticed that a car load of brothers drove up. I didn't know who they were, and they asked everyone very politely, had they gotten enough from the store? And everyone said, "Yes, pretty much." And then they asked the others to, to make sure they got what they wanted and then asked them to leave and once they did that, they fire-bombed the store, they set it on fire and they left, they drive right off, they didn't take anything.
But who was out there, who was out there looting on the street, who was it, was it revolutionary people like you and Milton?
Just the average people in the community, no, we were not--
Just tell me who were out there.
We were not out there looting, it was just average people on, on the streets, the ones who were, were, were so-called looting, we called it taking rather than stealing, you know, taking back some of the things that we deserved and never got, so it was called taking, and so the people in the community were taking some of the things that they did not have the opportunity to get.
And why, I mean--
Well, they took them because they felt that they had been oppressed, that these things had been gained from them illegally in the first place, that prices were too high, that merchants were gouging the people in the community, and so they took it out on them. And they, they didn't feel that they were stealing anything or, or looting anything, merely that they were, were taking back some of the things that they should have gotten in the first place.
OK, let's cut a second.
Give me a sense of, I mean did you feel like this was a revolution, it had come and it was finally here?
Well, I felt like the, the revolution was here but I also felt like we were going to lose the revolution because I knew that you could not defeat tanks with bricks and that there was not enough weaponry in the community to really deal with this kind of, of armaments, and of course we had been reading the teachings of Mao Tse-Tung, we had been reading the Red Book, and one of the things that Mao always said is that you go, "Never go into battle unless you're certain of victory." I was not certain of victory, and I certainly wanted the, the, the fighting to end and some kind of compromise take place.
OK, let's cut.
You mean after it was over? After it was over, we had a strong sense of camaraderie on the streets. People, Black people would greet each other, "Hello, brother." "Hello, sister." People would shake hands with each other. A very strong sense of, of brotherhood and togetherness was taking place on the streets, and there was more politeness, brothers ga--gave sisters more respect, it was a, a great period and we all felt very good about it. We felt that we had accomplished something, that at last we had let our, our anger come out, and that that anger had meant that some kind of truce was called, and that we had won that battle, and, and we just felt goo about ourselves.
OK, the reaction to some other brothers in the community who said the people had burned down the city, we had burned down our own city, what would you say to that?
Well, I mean, they, you know, we, we referred to them as Toms, that they didn't--
Let me interrupt you here, just say my reaction--
OK, my reaction to those brothers and sisters who were negative about the riots, said that we had burned our own community down, we knew better. We refer to them as Uncle Toms. We had checked and found out that the only Black homes that were burned were those that were accidentally burned, and there were a, a few Black businesses that were destroyed, but that was because the people who ran them were, were very negative and very anti- the Black community themselves. One of the first businesses on 12th to go was owned by a Black man, it was a drug store.
OK, let's cut.
OK, give me a sense of what the community was feeling like, what they were, how they were acting after the rebellion had died down.
After the rebellion was over, there was a strong sense of camaraderie in the community, a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We saw more and more sisters began to wear natural hair-dos, more and more brothers began to wear their hair in, in the new natural styles, more and more people began to wear dashikis, we saw a very strong sense of, of, of camaraderie in the community. That was all very good for us, and we, we enjoyed that feeling, we felt that we had accomplished something, that the riots had paid off, that we finally had gotten the White community to listen to the gripes and to listen to some of the concerns that we were, had been expressing for many years.
OK, let's cut.
Give us that story again on Warren Street with the hardware store.
Well, during the riots, I happened to be on Warren Avenue, West Warren, and a hardware store was being looted by a lot of people, apparently people who lived in that community, and they were just hauling all kinds of things out of the store. And a carload of brothers rolled up, and I, I thought I knew all the revolutionaries in town, but I did not know who these brothers were, and they drove up and they asked everyone had they gotten enough and did they need anything else? And people said, finally said no after they had gotten what they wanted. And so these brothers said, "Fine," and so they got everybody out of the store, and they fire-bombed it and they left, they didn't take anything themselves**.
Tell me about all the supposed progress in 1967, what it meant to the Black community.
Well, in 1967, the Cavanagh administration, and of course we had put him in office because we were definitely opposed to the Miriani regime that had gone before Cavanagh, and so Cavanagh was elected mainly by Blacks, and of course we felt that he was not moving fast enough. He had very few Black appointees, and most of the federal money that was coming into town was being used for urban renewal, which we termed "Negro removal". Urban renewal means Negro removal. And of course they were trying to bring more upscale Whites into our former Black communities, and of course Blacks were being moved out, they built the expressways which tore open the Black communities, split them up very seriously, they built the Chrysler Freeway, which tore up a very, very strong and important Black community. It used to be Hastings, and then it became the Chrysler Freeway. And all of these things really divided these Black communities. And so we did not see anything coming from the Cavanagh administration of, of any magnitude that would bring about some fundamental change. So, we decided that we would take that effort for change to a, to a higher plain, and of course that meant being a bit more vocal, to demonstrate, to do all kind of, of activities that were designed to bring the administration around to understanding our real needs.
So, and what kind of people were out there on the streets doing looting?
Well, during the riots, or the rebellion, there were many people on the streets looting, and at night there were people who were going out doing more revolutionary type activities. These people were community people, they were people who lived in the neighborhoods, they were not members of our organization by-and-large, or the organizations that were, were a part of the revolutionary movement. These were just spontaneous movements on the part of the people in the community. I met a group of brothers who lived on Linwood near, near Davison, and they, they told me that every night they went out, and, with their guns, and they shot at police and National Guardsmen, and they would drive back, you know, you cut all the lights off, and they thought it was quite exciting what they were doing and they felt that they were doing something to help the people, but in terms of Black consciousness, they had very little of that.
OK, so tell me who was out there looting and why they were out there.
Well, during the riots, the, the people who were looting or taking, the people who were in the streets, the people who were, were making the rebellion, by-and-large, were people who lived in the community, just average people. I came across a group of brothers, for example, who said they were just fed up and that they did not want to live like they had lived before and every night they went out and, with their guns, and they shot at police, shot at National Guardsmen, and of course went, went back into their homes. They cut their lights off, and they did this on a nightly basis during the curfew. Most of the people were just community people who just had a, a sense that they were fed up with everything and they decided that they would strike out and that was the way that they struck out, that was the way that they would, would strike back at the, the power structure.
Fine, that's quite good.