Camera Rolls: 311:01-05
Sound Rolls: 311:01-03
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Dave Moore , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 6, 1991, for The Great Depression . 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 The Great Depression.*
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen]
Let's start. You came in about 1927.
Into Detroit. When you came, what, what did, the idea of Henry Ford, what did that represent to you or to your family?
Well, Henry Ford, at that time, you've got to understand that the Big Three, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, there was great rivalry at that time between the Big Three. Ford didn't have any stockholders. It was completely owned by the Ford family, Henry Ford himself. And he did things his way. And, and people wanted a job at Ford, they had to do certain things, you know. He provided gardens for them, he had a store for them, he had all kinds of what he called conveniences for them, his employees. And, but, when you started working for Ford, this was before my time, but you were totally tied to the Ford Motor Company. He owned you. He owned what, particularly what you would buy from him. Groceries, a land plot, and especially when you went into his plant.
Did you, when you worked in his plant, did you have to give up something to work in his plant?
I started at Ford in 1935. I can't speak for those who started there before 1935, but, but yeah, you had to give up something.
You had to give up your manhood. You had to give up your dignity. And you had to give up your pride.
** You were totally at the mercy of the Ford Motor Company. He had his rules and regulations. He had the work schedule for you to work by. He had the time that you had to eat. He had the time that you had to enter the gate. He had the time that you had to get, get out of that gate on your way home. And the employee didn't have any say so about his working conditions. He didn't have any say so about who he worked with. Or, he didn't have any say so about the time he would work. He didn't have any say so about the job he would be working on and the production he would produce. They would set the production, and you had to get it or you just didn't work.
When, even though you weren't working at Ford in the late '20s and the early '30s, from talking to people around Detroit, do you think most of what you were saying just now was probably true also?
Oh yeah, in fact it was that way from the beginning. As I told you from the outset that he was an independent individual who had no responsibility to anyone except Ford himself. He didn't have any stockholders.
Good, good. Well, do you want to tell me about, again, going back to when you were sixteen years old, seventeen years old, when you first arrived in Detroit, did you know anything about Ford's wealth?
I'd heard about it.
Heard about? Why don't you start again and say, "I heard about his wealth."
I heard about his wealth. My,
my family moved to Detroit in 1927 from Columbus, Ohio
** under certain circumstances. I didn't like Detroit when I first moved here. In fact, I ran away three times, went back to Columbus, Ohio. But my daddy finally convinced me the third time that I had to stay. And Detroit at that time was a booming town. Businesses were booming, cars were being bought.
** The economic situation was at its height. Prohibition was in at the time. People were making moonshine and selling it on the weekend, corn liquor. Those that didn't want to make it, they'd go across the river into Canada and get drunk, or have the wife go over with them and their wives would put it in their coat, pretending like they're pregnant, bring the liquor back to Detroit. Factories were booming. Everything was going great.
** 1927, '28, 1929, that's when the bottom fell out.
What happened in 1929?
In 1929, that's when the Depression hit. Banks closed. Mortgages were taken over by people who'd buying homes [sic]. The factories began to close. Lay-offs was everywhere. And, you've got to understand, at that time, Detroit was an auto town, and everybody that worked, everybody that lived in the city of Detroit, mostly, I won't say everybody, the majority of the people, working people, had their income from either Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler, or some supplier plants who would make supplies for the auto, make parts, rather, for the auto industry. And when the Depression hit, 1929, all hell broke loose, to put it real bluntly.
In 1929, how did, how did you personally find out about the crash? Do you remember, do you have any memories of how you heard about it, or how you knew something had happened?
Well, [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] there was a bank on the corner of Hastings Street and Brewster, and on Tuesday morning there was a sign put on the door, big sign, "This bank is closed until further notice." And people were lined up ten blocks long, you know, both black and white, who had savings in that bank. And, well, I wanted to know what the hell is this, you know, the bank closed, people got, why can't they get their money, you know? And a lot of, I would say, anxiety and disappoint began to happen in Detroit at that time especially at that, on that particular day I, I remember, I memorized it real well. People began to grumble and, "Let's tear this damn place down. Let's go in and get our money," you know. But that was on a Tuesday morning. By Monday, you had three newspapers here at the time, the , , and the . Each one of them came up with a big headline, "Bank closings," "Factories laying off," you know. And people began, that, to me, that was the beginning of a lot of disappointment, madness, hunger, which followed, and beginning, too, the rebellion of the people because of the economic situation that followed.
I want to talk a little bit about that later on. But I want to go back for a minute, again, to see if, I want to get back to this question of Ford as well. Do you remember Ford being, representing rich people, or being a rich man, or were you not aware of that.
Well, no, I was, I say Ford was, was an independent guy. He had a kind of a paternal attitude towards his employees, you know. None of the other two, General Motors or Chrysler, had offered them what Ford had, where you could go and buy groceries on credit until you get paid, or you'd, he'd give you a plot of land out in, out at the Rouge or Ecorse, out there. You could raise vegetables, what not. The wealth part of it, no, I'm not up to what he had or what he didn't have at that time. But I can assume that, he being the employer, that he was, he had plenty of it.
Good. Let's, let's go back now, and let's move up and talk a little bit more about the Depression itself, those early years, right after the crash, things were starting to get bad, Detroit started to slip downhill. Why won't you tell me a little bit about your, your family? Tell me, tell me about, first of all, in those early years, you know, of the Depression. Tell me about your mother.
Well, I came from a family of seven boys and two girls. And, as I indicated to you before, I was born in the state of South Carolina. And my father was a fire man on a train in South Carolina. And my mother had a brother living in Columbus, Ohio, and he convinced my daddy if he could come to Columbus, Ohio, he could get a job firing the train there. In South Carolina, a white man would not fire a train, that was below his dignity. That, those jobs were relegated to blacks in the South. Anywhere in the South you saw a train running, you could bet your life that a black man was the fire man on that train. We did. We left the South and moved to Columbus, Ohio, and my daddy applied to Pennsylvania Railroad to Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the, the Big Four.
Go ahead and skip ahead to when your dad came to Detroit.
OK, my dad had a brother, or, not a brother, a cousin, living here in Detroit.
Go ahead a start that again. "My dad had a cousin living here in Detroit."
My dad had a cousin living here in Detroit. My mother and my daddy, and other people, on the weekend, they would run an excursion from Columbus, Ohio to Detroit for several reasons: people wanted to come over to visit their relatives, others wanted to come over to get some Canadian liquor. My mother and my father came over several times to visit him.
Tell me about dinner time at your family's home, when times were hard, about supper time. What'd you have, what'd you have to eat? How did you eat?
Well, my family was no different than any other family. When the Depression hit, that threw everybody that was working in my family out of work, including my dad. Times were hard. I can remember the days I used to leave home so my sister, my brother, other brothers, and my mother could eat. I wouldn't eat, because...well, they'd say, "Come on! Let's...," you know, well, "I'm going over to Al's house," you know, but, but I would do—I would go down to Eastern Market and help the farmers out. Not only me, others did the same thing. These conditions did not get any better. They continued to get worse. I was living right next door, at that time, to a Jewish family, Mr. and Mrs. Berris. They had one son and two daughters. And I can remember Mrs. Berris asking my mother did she have anything she could give her so she could feed part of her family. As the Depression began to get worse, people began to grumble, and people began to become more close to each other because of the conditions that was existing at that time. Everybody wanted to know why this was happening. Then you begin on street corners, you begin to see people get on stepladders, or on a bench, and begin to make remarks about the government, remarks about the city administration, remarks about the plants, and they got jobs but they don't let us work.
Tell me about those remarks. What were people saying?
They were saying that they have taken our money, which they had, you know, people had lost their bank accounts, "They're taking our money," "They work us for low wages in these hazardous conditions." You had some of the most brilliant orators. If you wanted, you could walk from one corner to another, and you could see a speech maker. All of it was about the condition in the system. Then after a period of time, they began to organize among themselves. Blocks clubs, like, they began to say, "Well, if you live in this block...," everybody began to look after each in that block. I can, one example of...evictions and foreclosing on homes.
Tell me about that, the evictions.
The bailiffs would come around to evict your family. In fact, I lived in the first block, I think, it was in my block that the whole thing started. They would evict your family, and the people in that block would threaten the bailiffs, and the bailiffs'd say, "Well, they're giving me seventy-five cents to evict you. I don't give what a..." Even the policemen, to a certain extent, were sympathetic. And,
sometimes, a fight would ensue, and the younger guys would get on the porch and say, "No God damn anybody's going to take anything out of this house!," you know. And so the bailiffs would have to go back to court, then they would send the police, couple of policemen out the next time to evict them. And, after the bailiffs would leave, we would set the people back in.
You would take all their—
We would take all of their possessions that had been put out on the sidewalk and put it back in the house. So that'd mean that the landlord or the banks who owned that property had to go back to court again and say that we had defied a court order. "Who are they?" "Well, I don't have the names," so they jury would say, "Hell, we can't do anything unless we got the names. Who are we...," you know. But even some of the judges was being affected by the Depression. The police officers was being affected by the Depression. Remember, the policemen were getting $23.00 a week in scrip [sic], not in American money.
That story about evictions is important. I'm going to have you do it once again for me. Why don't you just start with, you can give me a little bit shorter version of it, OK, just start telling me that you saw the bailiffs taking furniture—
Well, we saw the bailiffs taking furniture out of people's homes, evicting them, in the dead of the winter.
I'm going to have you start once again. Because I was, I was still talking.
We saw, at the beginning, and during the Depression, people being evicted from their homes. People were mad, and through their madness they decided they were going to take some action. And that action was that they would defy the bailiffs or after the bailiffs leave they would put the furniture back into the home, and which they did. They did that. And out of that, in my opinion, came the beginning of the Unemployment Councils, because it was, it was, it was a spontaneous thing, what happened, by people taking action and putting people back into the homes. But after that, some of the people who had been making the speeches about the conditions, and about people being evicted, became, out of that came the formation of the Unemployment Councils, in my opinion.
And you were active in the Unemployment Councils, weren't you?
To a certain degree.
OK, I'm going to have you do just one more sentence for me on the evictions, because it's a real important story. Tell me again how, how you felt about the bailiffs, that sometimes you wanted to beat the hell out of them.
Well we consider the bailiffs part of the structure that had caused us to be in the condition that we were in. And I don't, when I say us, I mean everybody. And we would defy the bailiffs and tell them, "What in the hell do you think you're going to do?" In fact they, there were some fights that ensued, you know. They had to retreat. They could not do what they were supposed to do because they were outnumbered, number one, and, number two, the anger of the people was so great that they, they could get real seriously hurt.
That's great. Good, good. Now, tell us about, you know, you walk down the street and you would hear orators talking. What would you see if you walked down the street? If you looked around, what, what people—
You would see—
Start, "If you walked down the street."
You'd walk down the street, you would see men standing on the corner. You would see standing between the blocks. All of them were talking about their families.
** All of them were talking about how they had been mistreated, how they felt they had been mistreated. Most of them were talking about how they had lost what little bit of learnings they had by putting it into the banks. And the question would be, "We'd been talking all the time. Why in the hell don't we do something?" Do what, you know? What the hell? "Let's go and break in the damn bank." Some of them actually said that. "Let's go down to the city hall. Let's go to Lansing, to the governor." All kind of ideas were being offered by individuals, and you had some difference of opinion, you know. The difference of opinion among them, well some of them would, well, "If we do this we're going to get arrested. If we do this we're going to, they're going to call the police." The other part of it was, "If they call the police, let's beat the hell out of them." Some say, "Well, the policemen are being affected just like we are, you know. They're on our side, some of them are." Which they were, some were.
Did, can we express the idea that people were just, they were not willing to sit there and starve? Is that true?
Just tell me that.
Well, yeah, they, they, they were unwilling just to see their families suffer. They were unwilling to see the loss of the deposit they had in the bank. And they were unwilling to see that their families freeze. At that time, they had, they didn't have gas, they had furnaces. And what some of them would do, they would, they would—Pere Marquette Railroad, these boxcars loaded with coal, they would actually get on the freight train as it slowly comes down the railroad over on the East Side, here, and throw off coal. And they'd divide it up among themselves, each one of them would take so much of it home. That was one way they existed, by working and communicating together like that.
Tell me your stories about people stealing food from grocery stores.
Tell me about those.
In this town, at that time, they had Kroger, was the chain store in this town. And on the, on some occasions, they would. The police would even cooperate with all this. Kroger used to put potatoes and hams, whatnot, in the window, say, as a display. I'd call a certain policeman's name. I don't know whether he's still living.
—such and such a time, I'll be ten blocks away. So what guys would do, would go up, stand beside the window, reach and get the food and divide it up among them. That was the good thing about the whole thing. It seemed like, even with the Depression and the hardships that people were enduring, it seemed like it brought them together more, to some kind of understanding, you know.
OK, Dave, do you want to give me a little shorter version, just to tell us—
Yeah. Well, there was around one food chain that had some stores here in Detroit at the time. And to have help, rather, their families to survive, all kinds of tactics were developed. By people who had been affected—
[production discussion][cut] [slate marker visible on screen]
—short version of the grocery store.
To survive, many tactics were used by individuals and groups, including taking food from some of the stores that were operating here in Detroit. Some of those stores was owned by a national chain, and the tactic was that wherever a store would, could be found that had food in the window, some of us would take a brick, and wrap it up in a rag, and stand behind the window with our bag turned to it, and break the window. That would, to some extent, eliminate some of the noise of the glass when it fell. And all you had to do at that particular [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] hole big enough, just reach in and get you some ham, some potatoes, some cabbages, whatever was in that window. And whatever was taken out of that window was divided up among the people in that particular block or that area. The Depression, as bad as it was, had, to me, one semblance of goodness about it. And that semblance of goodness was getting people a little closer together. People were determined they were not going to let their families suffer with hunger, which some of them did. But there were those among the people in Detroit who used every way they could, legally and illegally, to survive.
So people were, they were, they were resolved—
They, they were resolved and they were desperate. They were, each day brought on more desperation. Each day brought on more desperation here in the city of Detroit.
When the string got real tight, and was about to snap, tell me about the Ford Hunger March.
Well, prior to the Ford Hunger March,
when that string got so tight and was about to snap, the Unemployment Council began to form. And they had them all over the city.
** And meetings of the Unemployment Councils, a final decision was made that we should have a march on Ford Motor Company.
** Again, I must tell you that if some of those individuals was around today, and you could hear them speak, I don't, I've heard many orators, and some of them could really go to the bottom of it. But, anyway, it was because of the actions of the Unemployment Councils that the determination was made that there would be a march on Ford Motor Company.
Because Ford has closed the plant, because they were desperate. Among those who were in the Unemployment Councils were people who had been laid off at Ford, not only Ford, but at General Motors, Chrysler, and other places.
But they felt as though Ford had let them down. And he had.
** He had let them down, because he had been looked upon as a paternalistic guy, was giving you, had grocery stores, he had land plots, and he owned one of the banks that had been closed, where people had deposited their money. And the decision was made that they would, would organize and march on Ford.
Tell me what kind of day it was.
Talking about the day of the march?
Yeah. Talk about the day. We'll come back to the other point [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
It, it was a cold day.
Let me have you start again.
It was a cold, cold day. I wonder sometimes, at this late date, why in the hell did I generate energy to get up in the morning to be part of that march on that cold day? Not only myself, but the other people as well. You had people coming from Detroit. You had people coming from Wyandotte. You had people coming from River Rouge. You had people coming from Highland Park. You had people participating in it from Hamtramck. You had people participating in it from Lincoln Park. Every suburb in the city of Detroit, you had people in that march. We left the city of Detroit, and we assembled at Bebe Creek Park, just opposite the Ford plant. And the crowd had been estimated from 75,000 to 100,000 to 125,000 and that was one of the days that helped, I would say, made me realize that damn sure there was something wrong with the system.
I'll have you say that again, "That was one of the days..."
That was a day that made me realize that there was something damn wrong with the system here in the United States at that time. It was just unthinkable that so many people could be at the mercy of the government with no kind of aid coming whatsoever, and people who had saved a few dollars had been denied those dollars to help make their family survive.
Tell me what you, when the tear gas started, and the fire hoses, tell me what you saw.
We had been told that we couldn't march any farther once we got on Miller Road.
One of the leaders of the march got up and made a statement, said, "Well, here we are. We've come this far. Should we turn back, or should we go forward?" And a big, huge cry, coming, "Let's go forward!,"
** you know. And we did. For about five minutes everything was pretty peaceful, and then all of a sudden the fire hoses started turning on. And we still pressed forward, going down Miller Road. Then, after that, then there were some shots fired. I saw three individuals fall.
** I saw a black woman holding a white dying in her arms with blood running down him, out his, out the side of his ear. The Ford goons opened up, at that time, led by Harry Bennett, Harry Bennett had personally take over for the Ford Motor Company at that time. Then, augmented by the Dearborn police, all hell broke loose, to put it real bluntly. With the fire hoses, with shots being fired, people being hit with clubs, and we had to retreat. We didn't have any weapons. It was not, the march was not designed for any force at all, just to put on a peaceful demonstration. But what we saw there on Miller Road that day, blood that I saw flow, that had a real, I would say, development. That development was the beginning of people to organize into a union. I have always said that the blood that flowed on Miller Road that day had two effects. It had one effect of bringing people close together in, in the industrial community, people who weren't. And, number two, it brought on a bond of friendship and relationship among the black and white workers at the Ford Plant that has never been broken, even to this day. Some of the [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] of the things that some of the blacks and whites went through in that march still is present out at the Ford Rouge Plant, and in Local 600.
Did you see anyone die that day?
Yes, I did.
I'm going to have you start again.
I saw Joe DeBlasio. I saw Coleman Leny.
** And we helped pull them aside. And I saw the one Curtis Williams, a black guy, get shot.
** He didn't die there. They took him to the hospital. He died three days later. And it was murder with the full intent and full, with about 100,000 people to look on. There were no justification for it, because we had not did anything to make the company react like it did. But Ford was determined not, that, always said that he owned this plant, and he'd run it his damn way. That was his philosophy.
Let me have you—that moment when you folks marched up and you got to where you were right at the Rouge, this may seem like a funny question, but just tell me what the Rouge looked like.
What did that factory look like? [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
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Right where we left off. Tell me about being in the crowd and looking at the, just describe to me what the Rouge Plant looked like on that cold morning.
This was a cold, dreary morning, snow on the ground, the smokestacks looming up over the plant, thousands of people out on the street. And, looking north toward the, toward Gate Four, it was drab, desolate, and major, think in terms, how could all this be, and we out here trying to convince the owners of this huge mass domain to understand my problem, you know? Why would it take so many of us to be here, you know? It...was a real, to a certain degree, frightening thing, but, as I told you before,
when I saw those people die on that road that day, and I saw the blood flow, I was a different man. And I, from that day on I've never been the same individual.
** It made me realize some things that I hadn't realize before.
And, such as that, why would one individual have so much damn much, and so many have so few, you know?
Let me have you say that again, "Why would one individual—"
Yeah. Why would individual have so much, and why would so many have so less?
Great. Tell me about the funeral.
The funeral was a sad but real inspiring thing, also, that brought people together. There's never been a funeral in this town before, to my memory, after, even up until this present day, that brought out so many people. If you have the opportunity some time or you're looking at the pictures, which you told me you had already, you will see the funeral procession starting on Ferry and Russell Street at the Hall, coming down Ferry to Woodward Avenue, all the way down Woodward Avenue. The mayor of the city of Detroit at that time had given orders to police department, "Don't disturb them." And he was a good mayor, Frank Murphy, at the time. And the sidewalks were filled. The streets were filled. The small band that they had was playing some real solemn music, and people standing on the sidewalk were shedding tears.
Tell me about, about the music you heard.
Yeah, the music. What—
You had, they were playing, Beethoven's 5th Symphony, I believe it is. "Stand beside me, walk beside me, do not let me fall. Stand beside me, but all for one and one for all." And they played "The Internationale." And they sang "The Internationale." And there were statements made that, "This is not the end, they didn't die in vain. We're going to accomplish our, and reach our objective." And, "The Ford Motor Company is to blame for this." And, "This will, these five who died will always be remembered." And the memory has not been forgotten. Here you are, here today, asking me about this. And we had the 50th anniversary of it. Did you see the booklet we put out for it?
OK. And yet we seem to be going back into the same cycle again as of today.
Tell me, tell me about your role in the funeral. Tell me about being, you were, what were, what were you? What was your role?
Well, I was an honor guard and a pallbearer at the funeral. And I was real close to one of the individuals that got killed, Joe York. And he and I had shared many things together, and attended many meetings together, the Unemployment Councils. And it really hurt me real bad. I often think of Joe, and I often think of the incident that they would not let us bury the black who got killed at the cemetery along with the white. He died a few days later, but we did hire an airplane. He was a cremated, and we dropped ashes over the cemetery, around the Ford Motor Company, Curtis Williams.
Curtis Williams, yeah.
And, but I have reason to believe that what happened on Miller Road that day will never be forgotten, if the true history of the Ford Motor Company and the industrial plants in the city of Detroit is written. The true history.
Good. Still talking about the Hunger March, tell me where specifically, why, why did you march? When Dave Moore decided to, you were, what, 17 years old?
Yeah. I, I march because I, along with many others, I'd seen my family suffer. And I marched because I couldn't understand why in the hell would people want to work, and they wouldn't let them work. And I also marched because of, I'd seen so many evictions take place, and people who would suffer for no fault of their own and for something instilled in me that I had to be a part of it. I don't know what the hell it was to this day.
I want to ask you a Devil's advocate question here. Can you imagine, put yourself in the shoes of Henry Ford, looking out the window of the factory and here's all these people marching. Did you ever think about that?
Yeah. If I'd have been Henry Ford I would say, "Why the hell all of them here? There must be something damn wrong with my policy. All of these people here, what am I doing wrong?" If I'd have been Henry Ford, I'd have been more compassionate.
Good. Now, I want to go back in time a little bit to long, you know, a few months before the Hunger March. There's a lot of people that are throwing out solutions, ideas. Can you just sort of give me a list of Socialist, communist, and Wobblies, and the church, and, OK?
Yeah. You had the churches. You had the Communists. You had the Socialists. You had the—you name them, they were there. And all of them had ideas of what should be done to get some consideration. But I think in the end, all of them realized, all of them had the same problem. And I've got to say that those in the leadership, they were communist, they were Socialist, they were, as I indicated before, all of them played a big part. And the Communist Party really played a big part in that march. Those, some of those who got killed were, belong to the Young, Young Communist League at the time, others who were Socialist. The church leaders. But it was a formation of all who had been, who was, at that time, had the feeling and the agony of being oppressed, of being denied, of being deprived, and of being neglected.
Tell me, do you remember, tell me, I'll talk about Communists for a minute, because a lot of people, a lot of misunderstanding about Communists. What did the Communists want? Did they have a philosophy? Was there a list of things that--
They were, in fact—
I'm going to have you start and say, "The Communists"—
The Communists played a big role. And of all of those that was involved, I think they had a more or less, of a better approach or program. I wouldn't say a program, but an approach. Number one, they wanted jobs, employment. That was their motto, "Full Employment." Number two, they wanted better conditions and the plant was to start operating. Number two, they wanted equality. They wanted understanding of all, that, together, we could form an organization that would help us get some of our problems recognized by, by the Ford Motor Company. And they were, they, they, they, they, in fact, it was, it was the Communists that gave—
—in my opinion, the most part of the leadership. And it was their strategy that I think that brought the people together in mass--
—an organization that would help us get some of our problems recognized by the Ford Motor Company. And they were, they, they, they, they, in fact, it was, it was the Communists that gave in my opinion, the most part of the leadership. And it was their strategy that I think that brought the people together in mass numbers like they did, because the other groups that was involved, then, I don't believe to this day that they had the organization ability that the Communists had.
Tell me, tell me about potatoes.
Potatoes was the—in Detroit, [clears throat] potatoes, in the Detroit, during the Depression was a method of surviving. You could cook potatoes, boil them, you could bake them, you could fry them, you could take the peelings off. You'd never throw a part of any potato away. In my family, we existed on potatoes, black eyed peas, and corn bread, and any other thing other than that was considered something real good. And I think most of the families in Detroit, at that time, had a potato survival, because it was a commodity that was not expensive. It was a commodity you could go down to the farmer's market down here, and a little spot and the farmers would throw it aside. People who were able to buy, at that time, were buying what they'd call the best and the top of the line, and you could pick up potatoes that had been discarded and make a meal out of them.
Excellent. When you did the interview before, you had a nice thing where you talked about how cheap certain kinds of food were,
Oh yeah, yeah.
You could get a slab of bacon wrapped in cellophane for thirty-five cents. You get a sack of flour, people, bread, most black people made biscuits at that time, a twenty-four pound sack of flour for twenty-nine cents. But where in hell you was going to get the twenty-nine cents from?
** You could go in a restaurant, and have a rib steak dinner for twenty-two cents. You could get a dozen of eggs for seven cents. The eggs were selling seven cents a dozen. You could get a big ham, if you could afford to buy the ham, for twenty-one, no, thirty-eight cents, a big seven pound ham, you know, a ten pound ham. People don't realize, it is hard for me to get people to understand who were not around at the time, in the Depression, to understand the economics and the hunger and the deprivation that people had to go through here in this town. And it was all over the country, but I can't speak for other parts of the country, but I can damn sure speak for Detroit. And being a victim of it, and seeing it on a daily basis, every day in the week, every week in the month, and every month in the year. You had to be there to get the realization and know exactly what had, what happened. And food was something that, they couldn't sell it, nobody—you was out of work. The people who had, was in business, and selling these commodities, it, it just stayed there. So whatever they would get for it they would sell. Can you imagine by a dozen of eggs today for seven cents? Can you imagine buying a twenty-four pound bag of flour? Could you get in, go in a restaurant and have a steak dinner, mashed potatoes, coffee, gravy, and a piece of apple pie for thirty-five cents?
And say one last thing for me, "But nobody had the money."
Nobody had the money. Nobody had the money.
Did you think that there might be a revolution in America?
I don't think it. I know damn well there would have been a revolution in America if Roosevelt had not gotten elected. And I'd have been damn part of that revolution.
** I was prepared for it, to put it real bluntly. People had got to a point where they were not going to take it anymore. You know the old statement the president at that time was making. Herbert Hoover was saying that, "The prosperity's just around the corner. There'll be a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage." But it, where in the hell was that chicken? Did they ever catch him? Where was that car coming from? Who was going to buy the damn car to put it in the garage, you know?
Here's an idea for you. The guys who were making the cars at Ford, this is in when you were a teenager, right? Did they buy those cars?
In some cases they could. They had a system at Ford. The foreman would tell you, "If you buy a car, you can keep on working," you know. But that was the damnable lie that'd ever been told, you know. I know a friend of mine bought a car, and he was among of first to get laid off, you know. And they would, he would try to sell you a job, say, "If you buy a car, make a second pay—" Well, cars was, the best, the biggest car cost, at that time, $845, $645, and that was a four-door black Ford. Right off the assembly line for $645. You asked the question about a revolution. The American people, especially here in Detroit, again it, it was all over, had got to a point that if Roosevelt had not been elected, there would've been a different America altogether, I believe, or, now I say a different America, I mean, from a standpoint of, of people forcibly taking over, because they had got to a point that they, in my opinion, that they was not going to take it anymore. And that was contending to boil up.
Did you ever listen to any of Joe Louis's fights?
I listened to all of Joe's fights.
How about the Schmeling fights? Do you remember those?
I remember sitting at the radio, listening to it.
Tell me a little bit about what you felt when you listened to him fighting—Schmeling.
To listen to the fight, and to see what happened after the fight, was something that the whole neighborhood—you, you, you, the first Schmeling fight? That's when Joe was defeated, if you remember. A pall of silence evoked [sic] the whole neighborhood at that time. People gathered in the streets as, as a funeral had, was about to happen. But there came a period of redemption, if you remember, the second fight. I don't know, I wasn't, I didn't see, I wasn't there when the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II, but when Joe knocked Schmeling out in that second fight, people came from homes, out of buildings, streets just got [claps] cluttered like that on the spur of the moment. There was jubilation all over the city of Detroit at that time.
Great, great. One last question about your family. Your own family, your mother and your father, can you tell me, what do you think your parents might have been afraid of in the Depression? Were there things that they feared might happen to the family?
They were afraid—
I'm going to have you start, "My mother," or "My father," or "My parents."
OK. Well, my mother and father, during the Depression, was afraid that some of us, especially the boys, would get involved in something that they would not want us, want them, want us to be involved in. And that would include a number of things: stealing, fighting, going away from home. At that time, the black family was a close-knit family. And the only way you would venture from home was when you married or you went away to work. And my father was a staunch Southern black Baptist person. His father before him was a Baptist minister, and his brothers were deacons, whatnot. And my mother came from a family of...part of it were ex-slave owners. And they were real, I would say, they were real religious people, both of them.
Did you feel that they thought that the Depression threatened their family, especially black families?
They did not, not only feel that way, but they said it did. It threatened, threatened, threatened it from the standpoint, as I indicated before, that we would be divided, that each one of us would go our own way, and, by going our own way, that something will, will happen to us that they, either, that we, well, they wouldn't approve of, or they would be ashamed of, because, as the old saying about boys being boys, everybody, but what we were doing, we were trying to help, you know, in what way we could—
—in some ways, they, I know, they didn't approve of.