Richard Rybinski, July 25th, 2015


Richard Rybinski, July 25th, 2015


In this interview, Rybinski discusses growing up in the Warrendale neighborhood in Detroit as it grew during the post–World War II housing boom as well as his parents’ employment histories in Detroit during the forties, fifties, and sixties. He also discusses his experiences touring Twelfth Street and other streets impacted by looting and arson after the 1967 civil disturbance broke out not far from his apartment in the Midtown area of Detroit.

***NOTE: This interview contains profanity and/or explicit language


Detroit Historical Society


Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI








Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Richard Rybinski

Brief Biography

Richard Rybinski was born in Detroit on April 22, 1940 and grew up in the Warrendale Neighborhood on the far west side of Detroit. He attended Wayne State University and was working for the City of Detroit Housing Commission and living in the Midtown neighborhood at the time of the 1967 civil disturbance.

Interviewer's Name

Noah Levinson

Interview Place

Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Mark Kwicinski

Transcription Date



NL: Today is July 25, 2015. This is the interview of Dick Rybinski by Noah Levinson. We are at the Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit, Michigan, and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society and the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project.

Dick, thanks for coming in today. Could you first tell us where and when were you born?

RR: Detroit, Michigan, couple blocks over from here at Women’s Hospital.

NL: And when was that?

RR: April 22, 1940. Women’s Hospital is now Hutzel Hospital.

NL: And what neighborhood—what part of Detroit were you first living in growing up?

RR: In Warrendale. In southwest Detroit right at the border near Rouge Park, about a mile and a half from Henry Ford’s Fairlane Estate. I am, was not one of Henry Ford’s [laughter]—so it was a working class neighborhood.

NL: Working class neighborhood. And about how long did you live there?

RR: From 1940 to about 1963.

NL: Could you describe your memories growing up in that neighborhood?

RR: Yeah, Warrendale was a good place to grow up and escape from. Okay? When I was a little kid I could go out my front porch, and if I turned my head just a little bit I could see all the way to Rouge Park. There were no houses. Mine was the last paved street except for Evergreen and there were scattered houses here and there, mostly along the Warren Avenue spine, which was known as the Crosstown Line. And then after the war it was developed because, you know, my brother came back, and all of his compatriots who won the war came back, and they needed a place to live. So just about all the vacant land was developed for the first time, with housing. And I lived, as I said, I lived there until about 1963.

NL: Did it remain a middle class neighborhood after that postwar development?

RR: Yeah, it was—first of all it was a white neighborhood. It was primarily Polish, although there were other ethnic groups—Italians, Jews—no blacks, okay? And people lived there, raised their families, did their shopping there. The whole shot.

NL: Do you have any inkling of, if the whiteness of the neighborhood, was that something systemic, or something cultural? As to just where individuals —

RR: Both. It was systemic because, you know, Detroit and America were primarily white, was segregated. I mean, America was founded on two things: slavery, and genocide of the Indians. I mean, the only reason we imported the blacks after we stole the land from the Indians was because we couldn’t enslave the Indians. So we wanted to wipe them out and we used the blacks as cheap slave labor. Okay? And we still are struggling with that problem. I mean, America really has a true dilemma in that if you are white, you look at black people as a threat, and if you’re black, they look at us as the oppressor. Okay? I don’t want to talk about that too much, but you asked the question.

NL: Sure. Where did you live after 1963?

RR: In this neighborhood.

NL: In Midtown, where we are right now?

RR: Right. I moved out of my home because I was going to Wayne State University. I first moved to 800 Prentis, where I lived with my girlfriend. My parents didn’t like that particularly, but you know, that’s tough. And then from there I moved onto Forest Avenue, onto Hancock Avenue, onto Forest Avenue again. Then for a brief period of time I moved up on East Grand Boulevard over where the streetcar used to make the turn to go to Dodge Main, where my father was working. And then I moved back to 700 Prentis, and then to 665 Hancock, where I lived for a long time, and then I moved to 667, which is part of the same building, and I lived there for a long time, until my first marriage, and then I moved out to Palmer Park.

NL: Could you describe the Midtown neighborhood during the first years that you were living there, I guess before the Wayne campus got built up?

RR: Oh, no. Wayne University was—

NL: One building?

RR: No, more than one building. It was started at Old Main, you know, old Central High School, but the state had it—it had gone from being Wayne University to Wayne State University, and then Wayne State University fought off the University of Michigan, which wanted to assimilate it, because they wanted a campus in Detroit. But Wayne was going its own way. Wayne State already had Old Main—

NL: A new—

RR: One, yeah, it had Old Main; it had the Medical School. It had, let’s see, State Hall; the Science Building; it had the library; it had—I mentioned State Hall—it also had the Science Building right at Woodward and Cass; and it had the Engineering Building, right over on Third Avenue. And it had a lot other buildings that it inherited. And Wayne State was in a growth mode, if you will. So—eventually it closed Second Avenue. Second Avenue was a main thoroughfare, and I think it closed Second Avenue right around 1965. I was already here, living here, when they closed Second Avenue, and diverted it—the traffic onto Hancock, where I was living by then, and then over on Third Avenue, which became Mad Anthony Wayne Drive.

NL: Glad you said that. I don’t know anyone else who calls it Mad Anthony Wayne Drive. I think that should be the official name. It’s more fun [laughter].

RR: Yeah, right, right. It’s a more colorful name, and Mad Anthony was in many ways mad.

NL: Yup. That’s a little further back in history than we’re talking about today. Could you talk a little bit about the diversity of the neighborhood in Midtown while you were living there? Was there diversity?

RR: White and black, yeah. I mean, it was mixed. It was whites living next to blacks. Hancock at that time, not so much in my building, but the building right next door had black people in it. You had Yono’s down the street. Yono’s was the little convenience store of the neighborhood, or of that. And there was Sharkey’s down the way. Both of which were Chaldean businesses. There were Jewish people. I mean, it was “the hood,” as some people referred to it.

NL: And how did living in that integrated neighborhood affect your life and your livelihood as compared to Warrendale?

RR: It was different. I mean, it truly was different. I mean, in Warrendale, except for the mailman, and a few delivery people, we didn’t have black people. I knew of them, because my dad didn’t have a car—even though he was working in the auto industry, he just did not have a car and we used the bus to get downtown. Took the Crosstown Line to Grand River, and Grand River downtown. And if you are ever on the Crosstown Line, you find yourself sitting right next to black people. Didn’t bother me.

NL: You said that your dad worked at the Dodge plant—

RR: Right, at Dodge Main.

NL: What type of work did he do?

RR: He was a core maker, a skilled laborer. Worked in the foundry. Before that he worked for Henry Ford, knew him personally.

NL: Hmm!

RR: There was a little bit of a dustup with him, and he moved up over to Dodge Main. And he worked there all through the Depression, through World War II, up until the day he retired from Dodge Main in the early sixties.

NL: Did you ever go visit him at the factory there?

RR: No, I never went into Dodge Main, but my cousin, who came back from World War II, for a brief while was working at Dodge Main, and he wanted to see his Uncle Al. So, on his lunch hour he asked his foreman, “Hey, my Uncle Al is working in the foundry, can I go see him?” And he got permission to go, and, “How do I get there?” And, you know, “You go dup, dup, dup, dup” through the various turns, and it was a maze, “and you’ll get to a door, it will say ‘Foundry’—open the door and go down.” My cousin Ray found the door, opened it up, the blast of heat that came out, he said it was like opening the doors of hell. [laughter] He closed it, and he never went down to see my dad.

I mean, the conditions down there were hellish. I mean they truly were! In the summer, if the temperature got over 93 degrees, they let the men off, in the foundry, because—

NL: Dangerous!

RR: How danger was—you know, they lived with it!

NL: That’s true.

RR: I mean, when the bells went off, you had to make damn sure your head wasn’t in the way of the bucket going overhead with the molten steel. And it was my job to make the cores of the engines, which were made down there. I mean, he made the molds, and all that, and then they poured it, the molten steel, into the core. It was skilled labor. I used to like to go down into the basement in Warrendale and watch my dad, who had a small thing down there, and he would make castings—molten metal castings—for various people that needed a casting.

NL: Did your mom work?

RR: Yes, my mother worked—well, for a while, during the Second War, she was one of Rosie the Riveters. She worked at the Cadillac Plant on Michigan Avenue. She was a fine—she used to drill castings for aircraft engines which were made at the Cadillac Plant. And she’d use a—the drill bits were so fine that a hair was too big. And she worked as a factory worker up until 1945—when we won the war, and the men came back, and she was laid off. And then she became a cleaning woman downtown. Every day she’d get on the bus—she’d leave about 4:30 in the afternoon—she would get on the bus: Crosstown to Grand River to downtown, and she worked there in the Lafayette Building. And she worked—you know, she got off around midnight, one o’clock. But by then my dad was home. Well, come to think, my dad was working afternoons. Yeah, that was the period when I was more or less on my own, but my sisters had—in charge. My sister Mary was older, she was in high school at the time, and my sister Rita was six years older than I. So, they were supposed to watch me, but lots of luck [laughter]. So anyway—does that answer your question?

NL: It does. Could you tell me about your career, since college?

RR: Since college? Okay—

NL: Yeah, or, well, starting as far back as you care to share.

RR: Okay, my first job was as a—about six years old, and I used to sweep the sidewalks at the drug store right on the corner at Warren and Piedmont. And then I had a number of other jobs—the best job was working as a junior usher at Briggs Stadium—

NL: Wow.

RR: —at that time. Well, it became Tiger Stadium, you know, blah, blah, blah. And my job was to basically take peoples’ tickets, run like hell up the steps, clean the—and you know, we were just working for tips, but on a good night, I mean, tips might—you might come out of there with 25 dollars in quarters.

NL: Wow.

RR: I mean, that was a hell of a lot of money back when I was doing it

NL: Absolutely.

RR: And I was used to having—

NL: [speaking at same time] That’s the definition of deep pockets!

RR: That’s right. Like a friend of mine who worked right next to me said, “Yeah, I’ll always have money jingling in my pockets”—during the season. I mean, during the football and baseball season. Yeah, I used to love to go see Ted Williams hit them. I mean that guy—when Ted Williams was in town, I would go there deliberately just to see him do batting practice.

NL: Wow.

RR: I mean, Ted Williams would take five swings, and four out of five would be line drives into the upper deck. And if he missed, it was a line drive into the lower deck, but they were all line drives. I mean, Ted Williams was something else.

NL: I’d love to hear more about Ted Williams, but another time.

RR: Yeah, right. We’re getting far afield [laughter]—

NL: How many seasons or years did you do that for?

RR: From the time I was able to get work and paid, from I think about age 12—I probably lied—until I was18. I mean, that’s what I did. I had paper routes.

NL: OK, So it’s throughout much of the fifties.

RR: Right, right. Throughout the fifties, that was my—the big source of money.

NL: And then what other jobs did you have?

RR: Since then?

NL: Yes.

RR: I mean, I worked for a very long time while I was going to undergrad school at Sanders. I was, at first a busboy, and then became stock boy, and I worked at a number of locations in the Sanders chains. It was—hey, it was good money. I mean, from my standpoint. I think I still have a paycheck but for 36 hours. I was clearing—you know, must have been getting two-something [dollars] an hour then. I mean, that was a lot of money. But still, everything is relative. Hey, but that’s how I was paying, paying the nut for 800 Prentis, where I was living. And I had a car. Having a car was a big thing back then.

So anyway, then after that I got a real job. I went down, filled out a form for the city of Detroit for the civil service. And after they didn’t call me for about two weeks, I called them, and they came down, and they said, “Well, you’re going over to the Housing Commission.” “Where’s that?” “2211 Orleans, right across from St. Joseph’s Church on Gratiot, and you report to Mr. Smith.” So I did that the next day. And I worked—the first assignment that I had was to Eight Mile–Wyoming, which as an urban renewal project that had been stopped because we were being sued by the residents of Eight Mile because they didn’t like what we were doing, which was basically spot clearance in some areas and making other improvements, you know, improving the street lighting. Eight Mile–Wyoming was the black community out there in northwest Detroit. It was surrounded by the white community. I mean, it was the—

NL: So this was before the major suburban sprawl had begun?

RR: Yeah, right. Eight Mile–Wyoming was concurrent with the Lafayette Projects, the urban renewal projects which cleared out Black Bottom. It’s current, modern day Lafayette Park, which was centered around the Housing Commission because the Housing Commission was the—even though the Housing Commission was operating the public housing units around town, they were given the responsibility to also do the urban renewal projects, do the clearance projects. The Housing Commission was an interesting place to work, because it was a totally integrated community: primarily white, a lot of black, and we had Jewish people, we had a couple Chaldean people, and Armenians, and—you know, the whole schmear.

Anyway, I was out at Eight Mile–Wyoming, which was a great place to work. That’s where I met people that I still know today, including Ron Hewitt, who figures later in my story. Ron Hewitt eventually came over at, came up out of the housing project where he was working, and Bob Knox, who was the director at that time, was doing, you know, a circle. And Ron Hewitt was—he was stuck there in Herman Gardens. And he, you know, piped up when he saw Bob Knox, he said, “Mr. Knox, when are you going to take me downtown?” And Bob Knox—who was an interesting character in his own right—looked over, “Who is that guy?” And he was sent back downtown. He was vetted by Uncle Frank downtown, and they took him out from that and said, well, yeah, go out to Eight Mile–Wyoming, which is where I met him.

So anyway, Eight Mile–Wyoming was an interesting group. That’s where I met the first Armenian that I ever met, Frank Kachigian (?), who—Frank Kachigian had a real thing about the Turks. I mean, he did not like the Turks. I mean, the Turks had basically tried to wipe his people out in Armenia. He was the son of immigrants from Armenia, so, anyway, and that’s where Stan Lewin was. Stan Lewin was a true gentleman. Anyway, from Eight Mile–Wyoming I worked my way out of there into the neighborhood conservation group downtown; was sent out to Jefferson–Chalmers, which is at the extreme southeast side of Detroit, right on the Grosse Pointe border. And from there I worked my way back downtown, where the action was. And it was there that I was working in 1967. I was working downtown. I was one of the people that they had decided was pretty goddamn smart. And I was working for Uncle Frank by then. So anyway—

NL: Well that’s a good segue. Can you tell us about your experiences in July 1967?

RR: Okay, right. In July 1967 I was living on Hancock, right where Second Avenue curved over onto—for that one short block—over to Third Avenue, and then it went north again. Ahh, it was hot! July 1967 was hot! It was hotter than hell. Not as bad as the foundry, but pretty hot. [Levinson laughs] My recollection is, it had been hot for at least a week. And, except for the fact that I was living in a basement apartment at 665—I mean, all the other people were suffering because that was not an air-conditioned building. Not too much air conditioning around at that time anyway, unless you were middle class and we were mostly students and, you know, except for others. But there was no air cooling at that time.

On that Sunday, the first Sunday of the action, I got a call in the early morning hours. The sun wasn’t up yet. It was from Ron Hewitt. He called to tell me that there had been a disturbance the previous night. Didn’t go into details, but it was at Twelfth and Clairmount. Okay? Ron Hewitt knew that because number one, he was the manager of the Virginia Park project, which was stalled at that time, just like other projects were stalled because the Feds weren’t funding them. And he was living then, I believe on Woodrow Wilson, but maybe he was living up around Clairmount at that time, because I moved him from one location into another. I helped him move, okay? Twice. And Ron Hewitt was about ten years older. He was a family man. And I asked him, “Okay, Ron, is there something you want me to do?” He said, There was a disturbance last night and it’s still going on. Those were just about his exact words. And he said, No. And I thought, you know, okay, hung up the phone and went back to sleep. I mean—

He didn’t want me to do anything. Then about midmorning, comes a banging on my door, go to it, and it’s George Brenner. He’s there, he wants to borrow my brand-new, 1965 Volkswagen Bus, so he could take his kids out, because he was separated from his wife at that time, and he was going to take his kids out somewhere. So yeah, he can use it. “Where you going?” “Ah, to the zoo.” “Hey, can I come?” because I hadn’t been out to the zoo in years. I hadn’t been out to the zoo since I had been there with my dad when he took me and my sister on the bus out to Woodward Avenue, and to the Fairgrounds, and then to the further bus out to the zoo.

So we get into the bus, and we go out to the far east side where his kids were living, and along the way we ran out of gas. But no problem in the 1965 bus at that time, they had a foot lever where you could reach down with your foot and just kick it over, which gave you about a gallon or so of gas, so you would be able to get to a gas station—about 30 miles you could get if you were real careful. And I remember telling George, “Well, remind me, goddamn, to get some gas.” “Okay.” We went and picked his kids up, went out to the zoo. The day was like all the other days. Promised to be a real scorcher. And that’s how the zoo was, hotter than hell. The sun was up and there was not a cloud in the sky. We did the usual walk around the zoo, because George didn’t have too much money at the time. We caught the show at the Joe Mendi [Holden Amphitheater].  I was taking pictures at this time. And at the Joe Mendi we then went back to the parking lot, got into the bus, dropped his kids off. And we’re coming back to Detroit—you know, coming back—but coming back from the zoo into Detroit, you could see in the sky lot of black smoke. There was some kind of action going on down there.

NL: You were heading straight down Woodward at that point?

RR: Yeah, we were coming straight down Woodward at that point. And we knew something was up, okay? And I remembered the call from Ron Hewitt that morning, and then, you know, I immediately suppressed it.

We went and dropped his kids off, came back to my place on Hancock. And I no sooner got in, but the telephone rang again—it was Mary Lee Benucci, she’d just come in from New York, from the airport. She was now living on Kercheval near Van Dyke, and she said,

 “Richard, I’m scared. They’re looting and burning down here.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Well, they kicked out the windows, and you know, set a couple places on fire—I don’t know, I’m scared”

“Well, you want to come here? Yeah, you can. George Brenner is down here.”

So she came down. And by then it’s getting toward evening. And we went up on the roof of 665 and there were other tenants up there already. Flat roof, three-story building. It was hot up there, okay? It was hot up there. But it’s a good view. We could see over towards Twelfth Street. We couldn’t—you know, there were plumes of smoke coming up here and there. You could see Jeffries Homes, which was to the south. In fact, later that night it got even more spectacular because we could see the flames. And in fact one of the buildings at Jeffries, one of the upper stories of the high rise, had flames coming out of the windows. Okay. For the rest of the night we sat up there on the roof, having a good time. I mean, all of us, we were having a party! We were safe. There was nobody that was shooting or anything like that, but we could hear alarm bells all around us. That was the thing about that first night, the alarm bells.  Anywhere you were, you heard the alarm bells going off. And they kept on going off for the rest of the night, because nobody was responding to the alarms. Along about two o’clock, the party was winding down, we went down to the, you know, down to the steps to my apartment. George appropriated the couch, Mary Lee went into the bedroom, got into bed, and I was sitting there, I was wide awake.

So I thought, well, what I should do is go for a bike ride, which is a good way to get around the neighborhood. So I rode my bike up the steps, got on it, and set off. First place I went was across the expressway headed towards Jeffries, and early on there was a store that had been looted—a convenience store—alarm bells going, lot of smell of smoke in the air. And there was a kid—I don’t think he was even a teenager at that point—but he was pulling a wagon, a little wagon behind him, and it had a big TV, bigass TV. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t think to—I knew what had happened. I knew, you know, where the kid got the TV, probably—but, you know, I wasn’t, hey, I wasn’t no law—

NL: How old was this kid, would you guess?

RR: He wasn’t a teenager yet.

NL: Okay.

RR: He was maybe 11, 12, something like that. I mean, he was old enough to be out—of course, you know, shit. He was a black kid, okay. He was probably living in Jeffries Homes at the time. So, you now, I asked, “Hey, kid, you got a cigarette?” He said “No.” Then he stopped and said, “What kind you smoke?” I said, “Camel.” He said, “Wait a minute. Watch my TV.” He stepped through the window of this convenience store. He obviously knew his way around it. Went over to a counter, came out, had a couple of packs with him, and he handed me a pack of Camels. “Thank you.” I went that way and the kid went that way. I continued on my ride. I was pointed towards Grand River at that point. I was specifically going to I think was called [Garrick’s ?] at that time. It was a big outfitter for cameras and stuff. I got there. The place had been looted already. You know, windows broken out. More alarm bells. There was actually a guy sitting there, and I think he was probably a fireman, maybe he was a watchman. But he was just sitting there. And he was exhausted. I mean—so anyhow I continued on down, probably, yeah, down Grand River to go downtown.

I went to the front of J.L. Hudson, and there were armed guards in front of J.L. Hudson. The windows were intact. But those armed guards were there for a specific reason, to protect the J.L. Hudson Company. I turned to go back home. It’s getting to be light by this time, okay? The alarm bells are still going all over the place, and going up Woodward, I don’t think there was a plate glass window that was intact. Alarm bells going on, and at one point in front of a pawn shop, there were two white guys in a car, and that was unusual because there was no traffic up to this point, and the traffic people are the two white guys who were from Ohio. So I asked them, “What are you doing up here?” And they said they heard about it, and they came up to see what they could get. Okay. “Thank you, keep on moving.” [sigh] I made it back to Hancock, and by this time I was bushed, exhausted. Brought my bike down into the basement, because you had to do that, because if you left your bike out, it was going to be gone. Okay? George was snoring on the couch. I tried to crash in my bed, and that woke up Mary Lee. “Wait. What’s going on, Richard?” That’s what she called me. It was always “Richard.” So, you know, “A hell of a lot, I mean, it’s bad out there.” And she said, “Let’s go look!” If you knew Mary Lee, you knew there was no way you could say no to Mary Lee. Okay? So, “Alright, come on, let’s go.” Along the way, George Brenner had woken up, so, “Where you going?” “Hey, we’re going out to see the world.”  And, “Okay, I’ll come with you.” So Mary Lee got into the passenger seat of my Bus, George got in the middle seat behind me, and we set off to try to go to Twelfth Street. I mean, that’s where we, you know, we’re going to. To make a long story short, we got through the barricades. And we were driving right up Twelfth Street.

NL: Were there personnel at the barricades?

RR: No, no personnel. Nobody. And nowhere did I see a policeman. They’d been there. Somebody had been there, because they had put barricades across the street with—I don’t even think they were using tape at that time. Here we are, three honkies driving up Twelfth Street. You know what Twelfth Street looked like, or if you don’t—

NL: Would you like to describe for us that would be great, on that day?

RR: Most of the buildings had been looted. Most of the windows were broken out. A few had “Brother” written on the windows. Those windows were intact. The alarm bells were going off all over the place. Heavy smell of smoke. By this time it was early morning. I mean, the sun was up, so there wasn’t too much action going on. We got up to Twelfth Street, we got up to Twelfth just south of Philadelphia, when the worst thing that could have happened: I ran out of gas—again. But this time I didn’t have a lever to kick over. We were out of gas, in the middle of Twelfth Street. Three honkies. Okay, so we put Mary Lee behind the wheel, and it so happens right at Twelfth Street there was a gas station. And we weren’t thinking. So George and I pushed my Volkswagen Bus up into the gas station, which was intact, and there were two guys sitting out in front of it. One of them had a shotgun in his lap. They were both brothers. And they looked over me and said, “What do you want?” “Can we get some gas?” And the guy just said, “Man, we’ve been shut down. You can’t buy anything out here.”

So I asked the guy, “Can I buy some gas?” “We’ve been shut down, no, no you can’t.” I don’t know who shut them down, but probably the governor. So, okay, we got out, and we started walking. And the guy said, “Where the fuck you going? You can’t leave that Bus here, get it out of here!” So, we pushed it out back onto Twelfth Street, right around the corner on Philadelphia, and fortunately the curb was open at that point, and we—that’s it—we parked it real close to the curb on the southwest, or the southeast corner of Philadelphia at Twelfth; locked it; and we started heading east toward Woodward Avenue. We’d gotten about maybe from here to that wall when coming from behind me—a big crash. And I looked back and they tipped the goddamn bus over. I wasn’t going back! I just figured, well, you know, I wrote it off mentally, and said, “Keep on moving.” And that’s what we do. We kept on moving all the way to Woodward. We determined that, no, there was no bus service on Woodward then, so we turned south, walked past the Algiers Motel—which was not at that point infamous—

NL: Right.

RR: But it became infamous, and we went down all the way to Hancock, and I crashed out at that point. I don’t know—I’m sorry, that’s what I did. I crashed. When I woke up, I got on my bike again, and drove around. This time I went to the DIA [Detroit Institute of Arts], right across the street. There was a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne, and his job was to guard that institute, okay? And you know why. So I knew the 82nd had just been shipped back from Vietnam. So I asked the guy, “Hey, you know, how’s this compare to where you were?” And he’s laughing and said, “Piece of cake, man.” So later that night, I’m back up on the roof, couple of other tenants—most of the tenants there had split, they had abandoned that area—but we were up on the roof when we hear something on Second Avenue, and it’s rounding the corner, and it sounds like a bigass truck with no muffler. And there’s a goddamn tank down there. And it comes down the street, down right in front of us on Hancock, and turns on Second, and it’s going somewhere. Hmm, I’d never seen that before. Where it was going was to the staging area up at old Central High School, north of Ground Zero.

The next day I go into work on my bike—still don’t have a vehicle. I go in and they say, Rybinski, your job today is to go out with George Post and do a survey of the following project areas: Forest Park, which was my area; Virginia Park, which was Hewitt’s area—I think they had probably already called, Hewitt was probably sent to Washington by that point to brief whoever he was talking with—Virginia Park; and there were a couple of other projects along the way. “And take your camera.” Okay, so, you know, I got in the city car, went to—did what they told me to do. Went and picked my camera up, made sure it was loaded. It was a pretty good camera so I could rewind the film, because I knew I was going to take a couple of pictures. Didn’t think anything further of it, and took a lot of pictures at that point.

Took Twelfth Street. Wanted to see—see, I expected the thing to be burned out. And goddamn the bus is tipped upright. The neighbors had tipped it upright because they didn’t want it burned. And I understood that. And I would have been very grateful and telling people, “Thank you very much.” So we then used the city car to push it from Twelfth and Philadelphia all the way back home to Hancock between Second and Third. I think that what I did with the bus later that week was I—since the battery acid had all leaked out, and ruined the paint on one side—I refilled the battery with fluid; refilled the gas, which I was able to buy out in the suburbs, couldn’t buy in the city anymore; started it; and drove the bus, after the worst of the action was over, to a friend’s garage on the far east side and painted the thing flat black, renamed it “Simon,” and drove it for probably the next ten years.

NL: Wow.

RR: And that’s how I won the war. [laughter] Thank you.

NL: Dick, thank you so much for sharing your story.

RR : Yeah, right, right.



Hewitt, Ron


Rybinski, Richard photo.jpg


“Richard Rybinski, July 25th, 2015,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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