Juanita Harper, August 15th, 2015


Juanita Harper, August 15th, 2015


Juanita Harper's husband is also present during the interview. He was accidentally not introduced.


In this interview, Harper discusses growing up in Detroit including life before, during, and after the 1967 disturbance. She tells the story of the death of her brother, who was shot by a National Guardsman, and the lasting effects of the event on her and her family.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI








Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Juanita Harper

Brief Biography

Juanita Harper was born March 13, 1956 and grew up in Detroit, MI where she lived during the 1967 disturbance. Harper is one of eleven children and the events of 1967 had a profound impact on her family. She is married and currently resides in Pontiac, MI.

Interview Place

Tobi Voigt



Interview Length



Andrew Grauzer

Transcription Date



Tobi Voigt: Alright, we’re recording. It is Saturday, August 15, 2015. My name is Tobi Voigt and I’m with the Detroit Historical Society. We are recording at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. And I’d like to introduce our interviewee.

Juanita Harper: Yes. My name is Juanita Harper

TV: Alright, so I guess we’ll get started. Tell me a little bit about you. Where and when were you born, and a little bit about your family?

JH: Okay. I was born March 13, 1956 in Detroit. And I am the oldest girl of eleven children. I have — well technically I have nine brothers and one sister. My sister is seven years younger and there are four boys in between us.

TV: So you were born in Detroit?

JH: Yes.

TV: Where did you grow up? What neighborhood or street?

JH: Originally we lived on Thirtieth Street, which is like, I guess, northwest. No, southwest, I believe it is, and lived there until I entered into the first grade. And then we moved on to Calvert. And we — as a matter of fact my sister still lives in the house that we grew up in on Calvert. And I’ve been in Pontiac ever since my husband kidnapped me [laughter]-in ‘76.

TV: What was it like growing up in Detroit in the Fifties and Sixties?

JH: I liked it. You know, I would hear — and actually for a long time, until I met my husband, I heard a lot of negative things from people who didn’t live in the city, but that was where I lived and that was where I grew up and that was all I knew. But it was interesting. It was an interesting time, I think, just historically, and overall. Not just in Detroit, but it was quite interesting. And it’s ironic that I’m here talking about this because I always felt comfortable. I always felt safe. We were able to pretty much do everything and everybody in the neighborhood looked out for us so it wasn’t just our parents it was all the people down the street so we knew what we could and couldn’t do. But you know there were a lot of us and we were raised with a lot of big families around us, as well. So we were all close and, as a matter of fact, some of us are still close primarily because we still kind of have like, the family home.

 TV: Talk to me a little bit about what happened or how you first heard about the unrest that became the rebellion or the riots.

JH: Okay, so we lived on Calvert, between Fourteenth and LaSalle, which is – we were kind of in the middle of the block so I say about a block and a half from Twelfth. I was eleven at the time, and we didn’t know why what happened happened. But we were kind of like right in the middle of everything. And honestly, I don’t know how we found out. I don’t know if it was the TV or just because were just like right in the middle. Because we would sit on the porch sometimes and things were going on and you know Twelfth and Fourteenth are both one way streets. So Fourteenth is one way going south, Twelfth goes north, and people were going the wrong way on the streets, you know rioting, you know, just, it was just people everywhere. People were-if they weren’t driving, they were running and you see people with — carrying all kinds of things. My husband and I had this joke we talk about color TV.  I have kind of a weird sense of humor and I kind of look at things in a little different way sometimes. But prior to that, I didn’t know anybody that had a color TV, for instance. And that was a time when a lot of people got color TVs. Because they were expensive so nobody I knew could afford one. However, when the riots broke out you can just go take one. And the police were out, but they really weren’t stopping anyone from looting, for instance, as long — this is kind of strange to say — as long as you were somewhat orderly and not putting anyone in danger or anything like that. They just kind of let you take what you wanted. So a lot of people got color TVs and that’s kind of – you know we say that when you see things in black and white it’s not as real as when you see it in color.

TV: You’d mentioned when you submitted, you told me a story, a profound story about your family and an event that happened. Would you mind sharing that with us?

JH: Absolutely not. And you know I go through periods where it’s really fresh and it became really fresh to me again recently with Trayvon Martin, because there are a lot of parallels. So what happened is that, like I said, when the riot broke out you know it’s just, crazy things were-people were everywhere and doing all sorts of things and, to this day, I have, what I call, an irrational fear of fire because it was like every day, all day long for the riots last, what? Eleven days? It was fire, sirens, and smoke, and fire everywhere. So still that kind of stays with me. But anyway so that was going on, my brother, George — and it’s “Tolbert”, “T-o-l-b-e-r-t”, instead of “t-a”, because I have seen articles where they spell it incorrectly. Anyway he and a friend were out of town, I want to say, they were fishing or hunting. Hunting doesn’t sound right, fishing sounds more accurate. But they were out of town when this broke out. So when they came back to town it’s like- what’s going on? The other thing is that George is married. He was married and had two kids. He had married when he was seventeen. And he had two daughters. And I think he had come to town and went home and that’s when he found out what was going on. So he came to check on us, my mother, and everything. And actually, he and his friend kind of went up to Twelfth Street to see what was going on. They did some looting, like everybody else, but they just got food. And the house we live in is a big two-family, brick home. And it had a few additional rooms in the basement so actually my mother started a pantry at that time because he brought-I mean they got gobs of food. And they brought food to us and he, you know, took food home to his family. And then we would hear stories about what was going on, where- and some areas were worse, obviously, than others.

So my mother’s best friend had a daughter and her name was Joyce Anne. And she and George were very close because they were really close in age. They were just really good friends. And she, at the time was — I believe she was separated or going through a divorce but she also had two children. She had a boy and a girl. And she lived on LaSalle Gardens between Dunedin and I forget the other name, the name of the other street. So we had heard that it was really bad there. So he was concerned. And he knew she was there by herself with her kids. So he decided he was going to go and check on her and see if she was okay, if she needed anything, or anything like that. So he and his friend left to go see her. And there were curfews, but the curfews didn’t start until evening. Maybe like six or something like that. But in some areas where it was really bad they weren’t allowing people out at all, regardless of curfew. So in that area, because it was worse, they weren’t allowed out but a lot of the people would just sit on the porch. Like in our neighborhood, Calvert is right around the corner from at the time, there were three schools, now it’s just two. But it’s Roosevelt Elementary, Durfee Junior High, and Central High School. And it’s right there on LaSalle and it’s real wide. And because three schools were there they had a huge field. There’s a baseball diamond, a track. I want to say a football-so the National Guard camped there. So we would sit on our porch where we were and see tanks and things rolling up and down the street and for a kid that was fascinating. But we were still able to be out until curfew.

So anyway, George went. He and his friend, and I don’t recall his friends name — they went over. They parked the car. They got out of the car. Never made it to the other side of the street. A Guard came, from what we understand, between two houses and just shot. Bullet went into his right chest, through him, lodged in his friend’s arm-left arm because he was walking behind him. And as far as I know, they were never able to remove the bullet from his friend because, I guess, it probably would have done more damage to try to remove it than to, you know just leave it in there. And there were eyewitnesses because, like I said, everybody was sitting on the porch. And that’s how we know exactly what happened because everyone was saying, “Well, he wasn’t doing anything, he just was coming across the street.” Nobody heard the Guard say anything to him or tell him to stop, halt, or anything like that.

There was actually a gentleman who he held some kind of office in the city, I think. His name is Julian Witherspoon. He wrote an article that was in the newspaper about this because he witnessed it. He lived there. He witnessed it. Joyce Anne also witnessed it-didn’t realize at the time that it was George. So, like I said, there were a number of witnesses. They all saw what happened. My mother, at the time, was pregnant with my baby brother. So that was number ten. She actually had twelve pregnancies. She had miscarried two, but he was her last. And I assume he was due in September because his birthday’s September, 29.  So anyway when she got word that he was shot, of course she went to the hospital, her and my father. Then they pretty much had to put her in the hospital that day or the next day because she became toxemic and her blood pressure was just way out of control. He lived about seven or eight days.    

TV: Your brother?

JH: Yes. And my mother was still in the hospital when he passed. So she saw him the day that he was shot and she didn’t see him again until he had passed away. My understanding is that George had been-he had TB [Tuberculosis]. He had TB when he thirteen or fourteen. And back then if you got TB you were in the hospital for months on end and quarantined. And so my mother always said that she felt that had she not been in the hospital herself then they would have been able to get a more complete medical history on him and he may have lived. So he eventually got pneumonia as a result of the wound and so I don’t know if you say he died from pneumonia or if he died from the gunshot.

TV: Wow. Now they said it was a National Guardsman or a Detroit police officer?

JH: It was a National Guardsman.

TV: National Guardsman-coming between the two houses?

JH: Yes. We were never told his name. We always thought that he was protected. No one was ever charged or anything for killing him.

TV: Was there any investigation at all that you’re aware of?

JH: Not that I’m aware of. You know when you talk about that time-with civil rights and demonstrations and things like that – so, you kind of have to know my mother. I always say she was a crazy lady but [laughter] he’s laughing [referring to husband] – but she had really strong convictions and things. If she felt something was not right, she was going to do whatever she could. I think that’s a trait I’ve picked up on. But I recall going to the — I think he was a prosecutor at the time, his name was Cahalan. I recall- because she would call and he wouldn’t talk to her. So one day she said, “Come on. We’re going down there.” So she took me and, I want to say, my sister-in-law- her name is Barbara, George’s wife, and his two kids. And we went down to his office and he wouldn’t see her. So she was like well I’m going to sit here until you see me. And we sat, literally. I mean we sat for hours and hours and hours. And he wouldn’t see her. She would go down there, she would call, she would write letters. Nothing.

TV: And you were up at the county?

JH: He was the county prosecutor, I think.

TV: And he was Caucasian? White?

JH: Yeah, he was white. And you know the thing is-sometimes when this comes up I tell people, I say, “Do you know who the National Guard is?” The National Guard can be me, you. It’s just everyday people who go through this training and most of the time they are not called to do anything like this. So when something like this happens, when you throw them out there, when it’s real to them, stuff like this can happen. We just always felt like, whoever he was, he was being protected and obviously nobody really cared about George’s life or the impact that his death had on his wife and his children and our parents and us. And then, one of the things I had indicated when I was Googling things and went through and saw like two articles where it said he ran past the guards. No. No, he didn’t run past anybody. When you read articles, and some of it is really concentrated. I know you can’t say a whole lot when you do that but I think about — it says he was a TV repairman. It just really minimizes. To know him — he was amazing to me. I just really used to look up to him. For instance, he just seemed like he was really tall. He may not have been as tall as he seemed like, but he just seemed really tall to me. And thin. But he had an appetite [laughter]. He would literally —most of us we eat, and we want more we go back for seconds. No, George got his seconds all at once. So he would get two plates of food to start with and he’d eat both plates of food and then he might go back for what we would call thirds at that point. He had this, you know he was sweet — now trust me in our neighborhood and within my family I can definitely say that they’ve had some issues and [laughter], to put it mildly, you know kind of thuggish, but that was not him. Like I said, he was married and had two children. He was looking out. He looked out for his family. He was looking out for my mother. He was going to look out for his friend.

Our grandson, he lives in South Carolina and they’ve been down there about four years. So every summer he comes to stay with us and he just went back today, as a matter of fact. But it was about a week or so ago, I don't know why but he just started grilling us [laughter] about how we grew up, and what we did, and what kinds of things we had, and what we played with as opposed to things now and things then. Just all kind of things. And one of the things, he loves cars and so he was asking about cars and I was telling him, for instance, my father always drove a station wagon. And I had to tell my grandson what a station wagon was because he didn’t know [laughter]. But during the course of that conversation I thought about George.

Well, we had this ‘56 Buick. Okay. So we’re talking ‘76 [1967 ?], right? We had to fit ‘56 Buick, green — it sat in our garage for like the longest time. I vaguely recall my parents driving it. But mainly, I remember it sitting in the garage. And we had a two car garage and it would sit there, we would sit on the car and sometimes we’d sit in it but it didn’t drive. It didn’t go anywhere. So our oldest brother lived in New York at the time. So George asked — he went to my mother and he said, “Ma-,” we called her “Ma. Ma dear.” He said, “Ma, could I have that car? If I can fix it and get it running, can I have it?” And he just had a knack for being — so the TV repairman thing just kind of bothered [me ?]-because he could fix just about anything. So she’s like, “Okay. If you think you can get it running, take it.” So he took it, he got it running, he drove he and his family to New York to visit his brother. And sadly, that was the last time our brother saw him alive. But that was him. You can call him for anything. I think he was twenty when he was killed. He was special. And then like I said, it became really fresh to me with Trayvon Martin, only because I just really feel that justice wasn’t done. And you know, I see a lot of parallels, you know, like he saw someone who he perceived to be dangerous and went on and did what he — and he hasn’t been fully held accountable.

TV: Are you talking about George Zimmerman, in particular?

JH: Yes. Right. And that’s why I see those parallels because George is our Trayvon. Or, I’m sorry, Trayvon is George because nothing ever happened. And then I see how the impact it had on my mother was huge —

TV: That's what I would love to hear about.

JH: — and on one of my brothers, in particular. I have all these brothers, but my father was my mother’s third husband. And George and I had a different father although we knew him, they were all really close. We kind of grew up with him too. But George and — there’s a brother between George and I. His name is Jesse. Jesse and George had the same father. So Jesse never really felt close to my father because his father was always in his life. He was always present. So he would say, “Well that’s your father, he’s not mine.” But after this happened with George, he was just devastated. He spent most of his juvenile years locked up. He had issues with drugs for many years. Just a lot. He, at one point, had made it his life’s mission to find out who it was that shot him. And I believe he did at one point get some information, like a name, and where he lived. I got to a point where I figured nothing was going to happen and it didn’t make sense to kind of dwell on that.

TV: How does that impact you and your family over time? I’m trying to find a non-leading question but I just —empathy says I can’t imagine living the rest of your life without justice.

JH: Okay. When you said you wanted to interview me, I was talking to my husband and my daughter and I was telling them what happened. I said I was going to tell my siblings and they said, Why? So I said, “Well, just so they know.” And they were saying, “No, they don’t need to know.” Only because — well one, they might want to do it themselves and I honestly feel that I’m probably the best person to tell this story. Because I know Jesse couldn’t tell it without being really angry and he probably wouldn’t — and we have a different point of view. Everybody else was younger, pretty much.

But I can look at, for instance, my mother. Like I said, she was pregnant at the time. And when I look back I believe that after she had my brother that she went through postpartum depression. In 1967 nobody knew what that was [laughter]. No, I mean, there wasn’t a name for that, other than, “oh, she might be a little crazy.” You know I’m not saying that. But you know, really, in ‘67, I don’t think – when did that term come about? But what happened, how it manifested, the reason why I say that that’s what I believe it is that once she had the baby she couldn’t do anything with him. And I think he sensed. I don’t know if she was just dealing with so much grief she couldn’t handle having a baby to care for.

My father worked, pretty much. He worked twelve hours. He was off Tuesdays and Sundays. Sunday was spent watching sports and always something in front of the TV. And then my grandmother lived with us for as long as — I don’t ever remember a time that my grandma didn’t live with us. But she wasn’t a grandmotherly type. So the long and the short of it is my baby brother just sensed that my mother couldn’t handle dealing with him so I kind of took on that role. So for, I’d say probably for the first couple years of his life he was my baby. Of course I went to school and stuff, but I took care of him. I took care of everybody, and I guess I still do. It was funny, there was a time when you didn’t see me without seeing him and people were like, “There’s that girl with that baby on her hip again." And then my father, he was an old school daddy. He worked. My mother worked too. But he did what he had to do and he wasn’t a hands-on kind of father but with my baby brother he had to be. And we used to tease him, it’s like, “You would have never—” But if my mother couldn’t do it and, of course, I was eleven, but whatever, somebody had to.

TV: You talked a little bit before right when we were just talking before we recorded about how — the difference of your brother growing up after the rebellion and how that was kind of a different perspective than you had.

JH: Yeah. And that’s the other thing. With all of the unrest that’s kind of going on across the country, that’s the other thing that kind of keeps it fresh because you talk about people rioting and things like that — but you don’t recover from it. You absolutely do not recover from it. Before the riots, for instance, on the corner of Twelfth and Calvert was a five and dime. Do you know what a five and dime store is?

TV: Yes.

JH: But there was a five and dime. I forget the name of it, but I know it’s a five and dime. And we used to go up there all the time and you can buy anything at the five and dime. Next to the five and dime was a little park. And we used to go up there and just sit in the park. Then there was a little party store right there and there was a grocery store and then across the street there was a store owned by a couple, an older couple. They were the McNeals. I think that was the name of their store. And there store was similar to the five and dime. They just kind of carried some things. They were more kind of homey. You know what I mean? So we would go up there and there was a bakery. All up and down Twelfth, just anything you wanted, just keep walking and it was there. Gas stations and there were some bars you know, a Dairy-well it wasn’t a Dairy Queen then, but something like a Dairy Queen. They were all up and down Twelfth Street. And actually the McNeals, they had a smaller store on the opposite side of the street. And then they moved into a bigger store, a larger store.

They knew everybody in the neighborhood and everybody knew everybody and we would go up there and we could leave home and say, “We’re going so and so”. We can be gone all day; our parents didn’t worry about us. We walked everywhere. Not a big deal. We had friends up and down the street. But after the riots, gone. All of that gone. There was a party store that tried to hang on for a few years on the corner, but-[laughter]. And then there was one gas station and they tried to hang on too. And then the homes in that area, the neighborhoods, they were nice, big, most of them two family brick homes, really nice. And we knew a lot of people going down — actually after the riots because we did this when I was even through junior high, we would walk to Highland Park. So we would leave home, we’d walk all of the way down Calvert to Woodward. We’d pick up friends and some more along the way. Then we’d walk on down to Highland Park, down to Sears, and sometimes we’d go even further almost to Seven Mile. Yeah, but we could do that.

So what I was telling my brother, I said — him and his friend would go and hang out on Twelfth Street but not like we did, because most of that was gone. The park was gone. Most of the stores were gone. Some of the same people that we would hang out, they still continued to hang out up there but the whole environment was different. And there was nothing to draw you there. You didn’t want to be down there, it was just so desolate. Who would we go down there-? [Harper’s husband responds] Yeah right, and then like just a few weeks ago – and it still continues to deteriorate. We’re talking almost fifty years. So it hasn’t recovered. Not only has it not recovered but it just continues to deteriorate. So when you look at what’s going on across the country, it’s like you’re not helping. It’s not going to turn out well. Bottom line. It’s just not going to turn out well. But yet you still have to live here. And like I said my sister still lives in the house that we grew up in. She actually lives between Detroit and Florida. She’s back in Florida now. She just went just a few days ago. So she’ll be there. But you know we maintain the house and it was at that time a two family flat so there were times when — and that’s another kind of historical thing about our house but you don’t want to hear all that. She’s just turned it into one big house.

TV: That’s great.

JH: Yeah. So when I was talking to my brother I was saying, You don’t know what it was like before. All you know is this desolation. Prior to us — I guess I will tell you this really quick story. Do you know Jack’s Carwash?

TV: Yeah. Yeah.

JH: Okay, so, Jack’s Carwash was started by Jack Milan. And Jack Milan’s real name is Jack Milanski. Okay, he cut off the ski. So my father — actually, the very first Jack’s Carwash was built on the corner of Six Mile and Meyers. My father was the manager. And my father worked with Jack until my father retired. Now the house that we live in, Jack grew up in. And the area, for many years, was primarily Jewish. So we were one of the first black families to move into that neighborhood. One of the main reasons we moved there was because Jack’s father was living in the home by himself. He lived downstairs, his name was Mr. Milanski. So he was getting older and they had some concerns about him living there by himself. Then in the meantime, my parents were looking for a place for us to move to so we moved to the house and we lived upstairs and we would kind of keep an eye out on Mr. Milanski. We would go down there; he was a little old man, I mean he seemed really tiny and frail. But we would go down there and just spend time with him as kids. He had one of those little change purses that kind of popped open and we would sit down there with him-we’d sit down there and talk to him and he’d have us do something, he’d give us a dime or a quarter or whatever. So that’s how we got to that neighborhood.

TV: Did the family own and they rented to you?

JH: Yes.

TV: And did your family end up buying the house?

JH: Yes. And then eventually Mr. Milanski got to the point where they really didn’t want him to be there alone. He required more care. So they removed him from the home and put him into like a nursing facility. Like I said, my father worked for Jack until he retired. He managed the one on McNichols and Meyers. And then from there, occasionally he would go to the one in Birmingham, but he actually retired from the one in Southfield. And then Jack’s sons eventually took over. Tony, I think. My husband actually worked for my father for about a year when we first got married.

TV: I have read a bit about, at least in Detroit, and national history a lot of times, it works like that with the Jewish population moving into a neighborhood that previously had been inaccessible to them and they kind of making doorways accessible for African-Americans. So what was it like being one of the first African-American families to move into this neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish? Did you even notice?

JH: Honestly, no.

TV: No?

JH: No. We really did not notice. It was a non-issue. It could be because I was a kid, but in our neighborhood it was a non-issue. Because, even like I said, Mr. Milanski was kind of like our little old grandfather. We’d go down and he’d like having the company. I think he appreciated having kids around. He was just a sweet, little old man. We’d just sit down there so it was nothing for us. I guess when I think about it, the neighborhood was pretty diverse. It really was pretty diverse. And then a lot of the families that are there now were there. Some of them have been there for many many decades.

TV: So folks that are living in the neighborhood now are still folks who’ve been there for generations?

JH: Yeah. Like my sister lives in the house that we grew up in. And there was another large family that lived across the street from us. They moved in quite a few years later. They actually had more kids than we did. They had, like twelve. And they actually lived in both parts of the house because there was so many of them. [Husband says “We did too”] Yeah but not initially. Yeah, we did too. Yeah, we did turn it into a big — and then also use the basement. My brothers, their bedrooms ended up, at some point, being in the basement. So the people across the street, their parents moved and they bought a house on Chicago and then the kids stayed there. So they’re still there. [Husband: “And buying up property”] Yeah right, and they are, they’re buying up property on their neighborhood, on the street, on the block. And they’re buying it, and renovating it, because that’s what they do. They do like, construction work and stuff like that. So they’re buying up property, and I forget how many houses they own on the street now. So they’re reinvesting and trying to stay there. But that’s kind of what it’s going to take, if it’s going to come back. But when you look at Twelfth, and even just the next block at Fourteenth — the block where our house is it still pretty much looks the same. But when you kind of venture past that there were two that were on the corner of LaSalle. There were on each corner there was huge houses. They’ve been just kind of let go. One of them caught fire. But when you drive down the street, it’s like nothing like what it used to be.

TV: Wow.

JH: Yeah, it’s really been through some things. I tell people sometimes, we all have some purpose. And sometimes I think it’s sad if we go through our life and we don’t realize what our purpose is. Or we realize and we don’t accept it. Sometimes I think one of my purposes, not my only, but I think one of my purposes is that maternal thing. One of my brothers said to me when our mother passed — she passed in ‘97. [Husband: “I forgot”] Yeah, she passed in ‘96. [Husband: my mother passed away I forgot, I try and remember those dates, (unintelligible)”] But one of my brothers said to me, he looked at me, he said, “Well I guess you the momma now.” [Husband says, “Yeah”] Yeah. I said, “Yeah, I guess that is one of my purposes.” I always felt that I didn’t really have a childhood. Not much of a childhood. And it’s not a complaint. I wasn’t an unhappy child or anything like that. But I always had a lot of responsibility. And I used to tell people, I said, my mother, her philosophy was if you want something — most people say, “if you want something done right you do it yourself.” Ma always said, “If you want something done right have Nita do it.” Like she didn’t buy a dishwasher until I moved out of the house. You know, she had all these other people in the house, she knew they weren’t going to do it right. So that’s when she decided to get a dishwasher when I wasn’t there anymore. And I actually graduated from high school at seventeen and I’d been gone pretty much ever since. Because he and I met when I was seventeen, I was in college. He didn’t realize I was seventeen.

TV: That’s great. Anything else you can think of that you want to share? This has been absolutely fantastic.

JH: I don’t know. When I think about George I don’t — I believe that what the Bible says-the Bible says “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.” So I have tried to live my life with that. You do all you can do. If you can’t do it then you have to leave it alone. And you leave it to God’s hands or like our daughter would say, Karma. So I don’t know. I can’t dwell on what happened, if anything happened to who took my brother’s life. We just have to move on. For instance, my brother Jesse. I really believe that his — everything that has happened in his life, the path that his life took, is a direct result of that. Because he really felt that when George was taken that was really a part of him because they had the same father and they had that bond that kind of set them aside. Even though we were all raised together, it’s just impacted his life in such a negative way over practically his whole life.

Our youngest daughter is biologically his. We raised her. She was abandoned by her mother when she was two. My brother was in prison at the time. So my mother took her in, although I really didn’t want her to do that because she was ill a lot. She had raised all these kids and I just really didn’t think she needed to take on a two-year-old. But she promised my brother she would so she took him. And then when she passed away Jessica, you know she’s our baby-she was eight. [Husband: “Eight years old.”]

TV: Wow. [Husband: “Got her through college, man”] [laughter].

JH: So we raised her. Jesse is there, but we’ve raised her. At one point I had a couple of conversations with him about adopting, we never adopted her. And actually it worked out better because when she went to college, we weren’t held responsible. So we didn’t even have to pay for her college. We didn’t know that going in. But we talked about adopting and you know, he didn’t want her to be – and I told him I said, “Okay, is she ever going to live with you?” She’s always going to be with us. We’re going to be the ones who send her to college even though we didn’t. You know when and if she ever gets married that’ll be on us. She’s graduated college and living her life. And then she even talks about – you know she’s made comments about how different she thinks her life would have been had we not taken her when my mother passed. But yeah I guess I’m the matriarch and both our parents are gone. I think we’re kind of the matriarch and the patriarch of the family, period. [Husband: “Holidays we try to keep everyone together, you know, dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas, you try to get the family together but…”]Yeah because it’s kind of like if we don’t, nobody else takes the initiative to. Like today our daughter is at our house and her friend’s setting up a carnival birthday party for her three-year-old, like good, we should just come do this and it’ll be done when we get back to the house.

But yeah, I just – I don’t know. At this point I don’t know what justice looks like, who knows? But I can’t dwell on that. But I hate to see it continue to happen. And I also hate to see him minimized, if that makes any sense. You have these stats: there were 43 people killed in the riot in ‘67 over eleven days, blah blah blah blah blah, and you know I just hate to see him minimized. And he doesn’t mean anything to anybody — to a lot of other people — but he meant a lot to us. And you know I was talking, I said, “God, it’s going to be 50 years.” But sometimes it just still seems so fresh.

And his wife, she never remarried, which is unusual because she was twenty, as well. She raised her daughters, they’re beautiful. They’re beautiful, they’re smart. She became a social worker. And I won’t say that we’re not close. It’s just we’re not close in proximity. She lives in Detroit, I live in Pontiac, and we don’t talk a lot but because of what we do for work — and I think she actually retired last year or this year. But yeah, she worked for the state as a social worker and so we’d run into each other at certain events and conferences and things like that. So we stay in touch. But like I said, she never remarried. I think George was the love of her life. It’s unfortunate he was taken from her so young. I think they had gotten together we they were like fifteen. And then — my mother, she was different. She was progressive but then she had her old school kind of thing. Barbara got pregnant at seventeen, my mother said, “Well you’re going to marry her.” And he didn’t fight it. I don’t think he had any issue with that. You know he was probably going to marry her anyway. But my mother took him to Leo and they got married. So I know that that really devastated her. And that kind of loss at that age-and there was a period in later years where she actually went through a hysterical pregnancy. But these things happen and when you kind of look back on it, it’s just kind of like a snowball, or a domino, or whatever. However you want to put it. I have a picture of him, would you want to see a picture?

TV: I absolutely would. I was going to ask you that. [unintelligible: both talking at once].

JH: This picture is actually from — this is his high school graduation picture. Sometimes I look at this picture and I think, he was very attractive [Voigt laughs]. He was [Voigt Laughs]. Anyway, he had an incident when he was in school, I think it was probably like junior high or high school. He had really long, curly eyelashes. He had a teacher that came and stood over him one day. And was just kind of looking at him and she said, “You know, boys don’t wear makeup.” And he’s like, “What are you talk-” [both talking at same time]. “Boys don’t wear makeup. They don’t wear mascara.” And he’s like, “I know that. Why are you telling me this?” Well she thought he had mascara on [both laughing].

[Husband: “You never told me that, (unintelligible)”] I never told you that? Yeah [Husband talking] I actually need to go through here and delete some of these, I know [Voigt laughs]. [Husband: “You think?”]Yes, I think. Yeah this particular picture, I think this is probably — well it’s not the only picture I have of him but it’s the best picture I have of him. It was his graduation picture, I think. But he gave it to my grandmother. He wrote it, signed it, I think. And put the year on it. She had it in a frame. Why is it when you’re looking for stuff you can never find it? Oh, there it is.

TV: Oh wow. [Husband: “How old is he there?”]

JH: He was probably seventeen. [Husband: “Seventeen years old. Huh, okay.”]

TV: Well if there’s nothing else you want to, I’m going to shut this off. I want to talk to you for a minute or two after.

JH: Okay.

TV: Alright, thank you.



Juanita Harper.jpg
George Tolbot.jpg


“Juanita Harper, August 15th, 2015,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed September 22, 2023, http://oralhistory.detroithistorical.org/items/show/108.

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