Ted Van Buren, March 19th, 2016


Ted Van Buren, March 19th, 2016


In this interview, Van Buren discusses working in a de facto segregated hospital in Detroit in the 1960s and his recollections of the 1967 disturbance. He compares modern day society and race relations to what he experienced in the 1960s.


Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Ted Van Buren

Brief Biography

Ted Van Buren lived and worked in Detroit at the time of the Detroit 1967 disturbance in Hutzel Hospital downtown as a lab technician.

Interviewer's Name

Alexis Draper

Interview Place

Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Robert Lazich

Transcription Date



AD: My name is Alexis Draper and I am interviewing Mr. Ted Van Buren, docent here at the Detroit Historical Society on March 19, 2016. Ted, if you just want to start and talk about where you were in the events leading up to July of 1967 and your memories of that time.

TVB: Well, I think the riots started, I believe it was a Saturday, July 23, and it I think it started early in the morning on 12th and Clairmount.  It was actually a celebration for a couple of people who were returning home from Vietnam.  It was what they used to call a blind pig or private club back in the 60s.  They were a lot of places like that where you could go and they used to call them blind pigs or after hours joints and there were a lot of them in the city back then.  The police came and tried to break it up and it just escalated from there.  They started throwing things at the police cars and they started assaulting the police.  And then I think the first thing they did was they set the store next to the club on fire and that’s how it started.  When I got to work Sunday which was at Hutzel Hospital, I was told I wasn’t going to be able to leave.  They gave me an essential worker pass so I could come and go through the police lines because the National Guard hadn’t gotten there yet.  Then Sunday, it escalated even more and I think the mayor of the city asked the governor to bring in the National Guard and the National Guard came in and it escalated even more.  Then the governor asked Johnson to bring in federal troops.  There was a big, I don’t know about discussion, but The Insurrection Act, the president really didn’t want to activate the Insurrection Act because both of them were up for re-election, but finally they actually did.  They brought in the 82nd Airborne and the 101, Screaming Eagles, they were posted all over the city of Detroit.  We had troops right in the hospital.  Monday, when I went to work at Children’s Hospital, we actually had troops inside of the hospital.  Everybody was put on freeze there, nobody went home, because if a fire had started in the hospital we would have to evacuate those kids there.  So what we did was, at Children’s, they gave me another essential worker pass, and for me, I hate to say this, but it was a godsend.  What they did is if you stayed there overnight, they paid you for the whole 24 hours.  And I think my flat rate then for 24 hours was I think $100 a day.  Because people weren’t making a lot of money back then and I was getting ready to get married in September.

AD: So you were able to cushion for your wedding?

TVB: I was getting a $100 a day and that money was going to go towards the wedding. And what had happened is that my wife was trying to save for the wedding and had taken a second job at Harper.  She worked at Children’s, but took a second job at Harper.  She dropped the second job because she didn’t need to go there.  They gave her an essential worker pass too, because she was working at Children’s hospital too. It did escalate to the point that it was simply out of control.  Most of the high schools that had a large playground, that’s where they troops bivouac was on the school grounds.  There were a lot of snipers.  It was not a good idea to go out into the street because people were shooting at everybody.  There were tanks here.  I know you hear a lot of rumors about there not being tanks here, there were tanks here.

AD: Where were they?

TVB: The tanks were over in the area on 12th street.  The ‘67 riot was actually called the 12th street riot. It really wasn’t called the ’67 riot.  It was called the 12th street riot because it started on 12th street.  It really was not a good idea to go out, because people were randomly shooting at everything and a lot of people got killed.  I think it was around 43 or 45 people that got killed.  Not too many of the federal troops got shot at; it was the National Guard people that actually got killed.  They had arrested so many people that they didn’t have space for them at the different precincts.  So what they did is they took a lot of the prisoners up to Belle Isle and they held them in the Bath House out there.  They just packed them in there.  There were thousands of people in that Bath House.  They didn’t have any facilities for them.  I had a couple people that I knew that  got arrested and they fed them two pieces of bread, two hot dogs, and a boiled potato.  That was the meal.  There is a rumor, I didn’t see it, but I did know about the Bath House, it’s a rumor that back behind where the soccer field is now on Belle Isle, they took telephone poles and built a stockade in a circle and put people in there also.  I didn’t see that, but there was a rumor that that’s what they did. 

We talk about police brutality, there was a lot of police brutality and it went on for the whole week.  You gotta remember there weren’t too many blacks on the police force back in ’67.  Most of the people who got arrested were Afro Americans.  I have to say that.  I hate to say this, but I don’t think this was really a race riot, because there were a lot of white people that were looting also.  They didn’t put that on the news, but there were a lot of white people looting.  You have to remember where Hutzel Hospital is, it’s right there on Forest and you can see people with the stuff they had stolen going down the street. And people would say, “Ooh look at that,” you got two people carrying a couch.  It was different, it was really different.

AD: You were watching all of this from inside of the hospital?

TVB: You have to remember we were inside the hospital during the riot in ’67, especially             Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital, segregation didn’t exist anymore.  When I first came to Children’s Hospital in 1960, it was very segregated.  When I first came there even though I was going to work in the lab as a lab technician, especially in the bacteriology section, I couldn’t eat in the cafeteria.  That’s how bad it was.  The segregation was kind of undercover. We had to go across the street to Ms. Thompson’s and eat lunch.  Then in 1965 they integrated everything.  I was there in ’65 when they integrated Women’s Hospital.  The riots came in ’67, Women’s Hospital had just been integrated two years from when the riot broke out. 

What happened, the people at Women’s, we would actually sleep in any room that wasn’t occupied by patients.  They took one wing of the hospital, 3 West, and they turned it into quarters for doctors and nurses and then support people were over on the other side in 3 East and it worked out, everybody got along because everybody was getting paid for a 24 hour shift. I made a lot of money.

AD: How many days were you there?

TVB: I was there almost a whole week, so that meant I made about $700-800. In between the two hospitals was a place called National Laundry. They had troops in front of National Laundry. Everybody thought, “Why are they putting troops in front of a big laundry?” But that’s where we got the sheets and the scrubs and everything for the hospital and the area so that people could stay there, because you couldn’t wear the same clothes for a whole week. So they were washing and cleaning the sheets and the scrubs and they had a truck that would bring them into the different hospitals so everyone could have clean clothes. It was strange because everyone had on white. It looked like a festival. It was trying times. You have to remember a lot of the stores got burned and there was no place for you to go to shop. The buses weren’t running in certain areas so it was hard for you to get to work. I had a car at the time and they gave me a sticker to put on the window. It said “Medical Personnel.” All the people that worked in the hospital had the same sticker, it said “Medical Personnel.” Whether or not you worked in housekeeping, or whatever, it didn’t matter, it just said “Medical Personnel.” Police didn’t ticket you, you were able to come or go out of the different areas, and you could park just about wherever you could find a parking place. You have to remember when the buildings burn down and all that stuff had fallen into the street. So you might go down one street and then have to turn around and go back because you couldn’t get through all the debris that was there. There was a lot of debris. People were bringing in supplies from places like Flint, Inkster, River Rouge – all of those suburbs would bring stuff in to people they knew here, groceries and stuff like that. That was going on also.

This riot was—I was six years old when the ‘43 riot was in place. That one was a lot different. They talk about that one being comparable to the one in ‘67 but it wasn’t. Because you got to remember that in 1943 there were not a whole lot of Afro Americans in Detroit at the time.

AD: Right.

TVB: Not because of what you were thinking. They were away at the war. World War Two was going on. All the eligible young people that would normally be out there looting and rioting were away in the army. So, in ’43, most of the men who were here were usually older Afro Americans. That riot was small compared to ’67. It really was.

AD: Now when were you able to go home or leave the hospital?

TVB: Actually, after the third day they asked anyone who wanted to go home that they could go home. What they did was they took two buses and they escorted us to certain parts of the city and you got off the bus and you could actually walk. I took the bus from the hospital over to Cadillac Boulevard and then I got over at Cadillac and then walked over to my mother’s house. I stayed there for a couple of days. I wanted to really check to see whether or not my mother and father were safe. Then they had other buses that went in different directions. They would wait for you at a certain spot and then they would bring you and take you back home. There was a place where people would go if they needed a ride to a certain place -- that was the State Fair. They had soldiers out there that would take people to certain areas. It was well organized. The aid that came in was really well organized.  A lot of people complained about the troops but they were needed. I’m serious. If the troops hadn’t come in when they came in, the city of Detroit would have been in much worse shape. It was moving toward downtown and that wasn’t going to happen. It was moving towards the DIA and other places down here and they didn’t want that to happen. So they had to really bring in the troops, they did. The Insurrection Act – I think is one of the only cities that have ever instituted the Insurrection Act – it’s more like Martial Law. When the troops come in, all other laws are gone. Marshall Law is a lot different. Then they saw curfew, they mean curfew. Don’t be on the street after curfew.

AD: Was there a curfew?

TVB: Oh yes. There was a very strict curfew.  The curfew was 8:00, I think. When the curfew started everybody had to be off the street. That’s why we were central workers, we didn’t go in the street,  we stayed where we were. That was a good idea also. Now we had a lot of kids that were really sick, like what you would call ICU or CCU now. At one time we had a power failure at Children’s Hospital. We had people that were assigned to go down and maintain the emergency generators. At first they had hospital personnel do it. Then the Army Corps of Engineers came in and they hooked up their own stuff. I mean they got some stuff. They brought in their own generators and hooked them up to the hospital. Our generators were old. We never really had to use them. So when they went out, they brought in their generators, hooked them up and supplied power. Those are things that people don’t think about. Also, they brought in a lot of water. I think between the 82nd and the 101 I think it was close to 10,000 troops. People don’t realize there was a lot of soldiers here. That doesn’t include the National Guard, the state police and the Detroit Police Department. Now you got to remember the state police was all white, back then it was all white. They caused a lot of problems too. The police department and the state police, they caused a lot of problems. You got to remember they were doing their jobs. They were actually trying to keep people from burning down your house. They were doing their job. They had to be kind of tough because it was a tough situation. A lot of people fought them for doing what they had to do.

Another thing: this was the first time you could see a riot on television in ’67. And ’43 you couldn’t see it because there was no television. But when I watched it on television in the lounge at the hospital I thought the whole city was on fire. Everybody thought the whole city was on fire.

AD: That’s the perception of what you were seeing.

TVB: Another thing too, in ’67 this was the first time they used helicopters that had cameras on them on them so they could fly around and show you. So when they went up high like this and you saw what was happening, it really looked like the whole city was on fire.

AD: And it probably looked a lot worse than it actually was.

TVB: Oh yeah. Another thing you got to remember, and this is why I said it was not safe to go out into the middle of the street: when the fire department came to put out a fire, the fireman got shot. I think three or four firemen got shot. Firemen were getting hurt because of electrical lines that had fallen down on the ground. People couldn’t get in and a couple firemen got electrocuted. Also, the fire stations were kind of under siege. Because they would go to the fire station and make sure that the truck couldn’t get out by laying in front of where the truck have to come out of those doors. They would lay down on the ground so the trucks couldn’t get out. When the Army came in they stopped that. You have to remember if you’re a firefighter, and you’re going someplace where you might get shot, you’re not going to be too anxious to go out in that fire truck and a lot of them did not want to go out but eventually when they finally got things quelled down, they actually brought in equipment from other areas, and they came in, because that was the first time I saw a green fire truck. I never knew that a fire truck could be green. They brought some in and they were actually there to help the Detroit Police Department. Women’s Hospital, on Hancock, we had a fire truck parked there, already hooked up to the hydrant that just sat there.

AD: Just in case?

TVB: Just in case.

AD: Anything happened at the hospital?

TVB: Yes. 1965 Hutzel Hospital changed over. They started letting men into the hospital.  In ‘60 it was all women. That’s where you went to have your child – an OBGYN. But in ‘65 when they changed over and integrated they also brought men into the hospital. So in ‘67 it was pretty much a general hospital rather than an OBGYN. There were a lot of groups of whites and blacks mixed that were doing a lot of the looting. It wasn’t just blacks. That’s why I said I don’t know if you can really call it a race riot, because there were a lot of blacks and a lot of blacks got killed.  I think it divided the city even more than it was already divided. The riot did. A lot of people said that they though it was a good thing because it let all of that aggression out but I don’t think it was a good thing. I really don’t. There were a lot of older people that were terrified. My grandmother was really terrified. She had a beauty shop down on Hastings and Theodore and they just came in and took what they wanted and they just left. I don’t know why anyone would want one of those big hairdryers. Just taking stuff. They didn’t rob anybody they were just taking property.

You got to remember you’ve got a lot of good people that never would have committed crimes that got involved in that crowd and they just followed the crowd. A lot of good people got arrested and a lot of good people got records now because of that too, from following the crowd. You have to remember the Afro Americans burned down their own neighborhoods. That was why it needed to be stopped. Once 12th Street was gone – it has never recovered. A lot of people said 12th Street should have been burned down because 12th Street had gotten to be kind of rough down there – 12th and Clairmount down in that area, it was kind of rough. But we didn’t have any place else to go. When they moved everybody away from Hastings and down in Black Bottom and those areas they had to go somewhere -- so they went west. That’s where they went; they went across Woodward and down toward Twelfth and Clairmount. Once the riot started that one area was a concentration of just black people. They just formed a group and they just started looting.

I was kind of lucky because all the hospitals – Harper, Grace – we had a lot of protection in that area. You got to remember that people got shot or people got hurt they had to go to the hospital. So they wanted to make sure that the troops, the National Guard and the people that were rioting actually had a place to go. It was segregated. I have to say that. If you got hurt and you were black – you went to Receiving. If you got hurt and you were middle class and you had money or insurance you went to either Harper or Hutzel, and Grace. There was another hospital right next to it, Old Grace and New Grace. Either one of those two hospitals. There were a couple of black hospitals in the area but they did not have the facilities to take on that kind of triage from all those injuries that were taking place. So they usually didn’t get any like Burton-Mercy, Edith K. Thomas – those were little hospitals and they didn’t have the facilities to take care of gunshots and things like that. They usually went to other hospitals. The other thing too is nobody paid. If you came in injured from the riot, they just did the work that they had to do. You didn’t have to pay. That was something that they should have continued.

AD: Now the hospital that you were at, did they take people in or was it for the women and children that were already there?

TVB: Oh no. They had patients coming in, they had patients coming in. There was some cases where people lived in a certain area they did not discharge them even though they were fit to go home. They just kept them there in the hospital. You got to remember you got a child and there’s no grocery store in your area, how are they going to eat? So they would just keep them there. Schools were closed so they didn’t have to go to school. This was in July, so they were out for summer vacation. The kids played. We had people come in and entertain the kids. A lot of TV celebrities came in and entertained the kids. We had 16mm movies for the kids. At Hutzel Hospital they had car clubs and chess clubs. They didn’t last long because it was only a week. They got through it, they got through it. You have to remember too back then at Hutzel Hospital even during the riot – if a woman is pregnant, she got to go to the hospital. So you got to have that open. That one side on Hancock, that entrance on Hancock, became an emergency entrance. The only bad thing about that is you have to go up a flight of stairs – I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the front of that hospital.

AD: Right.

TVB: They had people. If you came in and you were in labor, they had people there, they had soldiers there that actually carried you up so you could go in there. Because the Forest side – there was a lot of shooting and sniping going on over there. But Hutzel Hospital took in a lot of OBGYN because you got to remember whenever you have that kind of stress, that can trigger you into labor.

AD: I can’t even imagine.

TVB: If the next door house is burning, your house is burning – it triggered a lot of women started into labor just because of the riot. A lot of lab work. The other thing too is we didn’t really have any way of getting blood from … there was a place called Michigan Blood Supply. We didn’t have any way of getting any blood. In the lab, what we did is if we needed blood we would draw it from personnel or the soldiers. They gave us a list of all the blood types of every soldier that was here. If he was in the hospital and he was O negative, then we could draw him and we would have blood on hand in case somebody got shot. Normally when you go in to give blood, you give a pint, one pint – we drew two. If it was a guy and his hemoglobin was pretty good, we would draw two pints. It might make him feel a little dizzy, but you could get away with it, we would draw two pints. A lot of the soldiers donated blood. You got to remember that a lot of Afro Americans are alive today because white soldiers gave a lot of blood so they could get blood transfusions from being shot, cut glass and all that other stuff.  It was as close to a war zone as you could get.

AD: Wow.

TVB: I have to say that. Also you got to remember too that when you’ve got tanks going down the street, you can’t drive down that street anymore -- tank tracks tear that street up.  You might not be able to get out of your house because a tank came down that street and tore up that asphalt. It would be like a trench after those tracks went through so now how are you going to get to work? You can’t even get out of your house. They had people that formed little groups like carpools that would bring people back and forth to work. It only lasted a week. The worst part was the aftermath, not the riot. When people actually came out and see how stupid this was.

AD: Right. You have to put the city back together.

TVB: Yes. It was more than anybody ever imagined. Twelfth Street was wrecked. There were a lot of black businesses on Twelfth Street that never, ever recovered. They didn’t recover at all. It’s in history. The people that lived through it normally they don’t like to talk about it. A lot of people got hurt. But a lot of things really have not changed that much. There’s still a lot of racism in the city. I hate to say that but it’s true. People didn’t realize that in ’67. In 1967 there was still a lot of segregation in the medical center, a lot of it. After the riot things did change a little bit. They realized that blacks had a right to be angry but they didn’t have a right to be that angry. There was a lot of racial issues in the city of Detroit at that time. I can only speak for the medical center; I don’t know about the other areas of the city. But at the medical center – there were a lot of issues at the medical center. There were things like two different salary bases. If you were white and I was black, when I came in and worked in the lab your salary was different than mine. You started at the high end, I started at the low end. A lot of things like that. The reason I got hired at Hutzel in the first place in 1960 is to do all the indigent patients that were there. I was to do the patients that couldn’t pay -- the ones on welfare. I was to do the lab work on them. Now if I got a stat or an emergency, then I could do it on the other people. That’s just the way that it was.

AD: How long after the week of the riots were the troops here?

TVB: The troops started leaving on the 29th. Because I was at the hospital when the tanks were coming down – they were putting them on the big tank carriers. They had a truck they drove them up on and they didn’t want them riding down Woodward tearing up the street. So they brought in the carriers and they put them on the thing and they carried them out of there. They had machine guns – believe me. People don’t want to realize. They did. They had machine guns. I don’t know if they really used them or not. There was machine guns up on top of the bakery called Schaeffer Bakery. That was the machine gun that protected the hospital. It was up on the roof. You could look out the third floor and see them sitting up there. They were just sitting there. You got to remember: you’re sick, there’s nothing you can do about the riot. But if you’re laying there all hooked up with IVs and everything going into you. Once surgery was done there was no place for you to go. You had to stay in the hospital. They made sure that area was covered. A couple years after the riot Children’s Hospital closed and we moved to the new facility. It was trying times. It really was. A lot of people ask me about it. It was different. I think that’s why the lab became more integrated because of the riot because we were all in there together for a week and we found out, “Hey, he’s not so bad; hey, he’s not so bad.” We were forced to be together.  We got to eat in the cafeteria. Oh, another thing – if you were a cook at the hospital, you were definitely an essential worker. They didn’t go home at all, I don’t think. Most of them stayed right there in the area where the kitchen was. Because not only do they have to cook for hospital personnel, they got to cook for the soldiers outside. The other thing too is that Hutzel Hospital was one of the places where civil defense – remember the sign that was a triangle like this that had “CD” in it? Hutzel Hospital was one of the places where – downstairs we had freezers and that was the civil defense food storage area. This is the Cold War—in case we got attacked this was one of the places that was going to provide food for that particular area. So we had tons of food. They had enough food to feed everybody. Anybody that came in there, they fed them. You could walk off the street, walk right into the cafeteria, pick up a tray and get something to eat because there was no place for you to go shop. That only lasted for a couple of days. After the 29th things started to quiet down. People started going out again. They lifted the curfew a couple of days later. People were in the street before the curfew was actually lifted. On the 29th the city was still smoldering. You could look out and see smoke everywhere. It was still smoldering because the fire department got overwhelmed. They couldn’t get to all those fires. So they just let them burn out. You’ve got to remember too: once one fire started, they couldn’t get in to do the next fire. The gas company couldn’t get in to shut the gas off so there were a lot of explosions. On television you could see the houses where the gas hasn’t been shut off and explosions would take place. It was like fireworks, it was like fireworks. It was different. It was really different. What else you need to know?

AD: I think that’s about it. That’s a great story.

TVB: I got a lot of stuff here that I got off the Internet. I got a list of all the people that got killed. You can look at them and see that a lot of them are white. Some of the soldiers – I have to say this – some of the soldiers that I saw that came into the hospital, the white soldiers, were terrified of being in a situation like this. You got to remember the Vietnam War was going on. A lot of these guys had just come back from the war. They don’t want to get killed doing this when they made it through the war.

AD: Right.

TVB: A lot of them were scared, they were terrified. Because we didn’t have any of the 82nd Airborne here, we only had the 101 Screaming Eagles in front of the hospital. The reason I know that is because I jumped with the 101 when I was in Korea. I didn’t know anybody that was in that group, but I had jumped with the 101. I knew these guys are pretty rough but they were scared they were going to get killed here and made it through Vietnam. I think I would have been afraid too. I think President Johnson he had to bring them in here though. Lot of people fault him for that but it had to be done. If it had gotten out of hand any more than it was, it would have been really, really bad for the city of Detroit. It was escalating, it was spreading. Also, they started having uprisings in Inkster, River Rouge, Flint. Any time there was a pocket – that’s another thing too. When it’s on television people can see they are rioting in Detroit – let’s do it here. It’s on television and they see it here and the copycat riots started springing up everywhere. I think when they have an insurrection like that it does not need to be televised. Because it is an open invitation for people to do whatever they want to do. Television was one of the reasons that it spread so fast. It’s because people said “hey, they’re burning down stores over here and getting all this good stuff.” They would leave the west side and come over here to the east side and they would riot and get in their cars and load up. There were cars just loaded up with stuff, just loaded with stuff just driving down, back and forth, especially down Woodward. When you think about it there were a lot of people that were good people that – like I said – just got caught up in it. Right now today, I don’t think that would happen. Because we’ve come a little bit closer together, blacks and whites. That’s why I said I don’t think this could be called an actual race riot.

AD: What would you call it?

TVB: I would just call it an insurrection because I think… there is a law called the Insurrection Law. That’s why they brought in federal troops because the president has the right to use them in the Insurrection Law. I would just call it a civil uprising rather than a race riot. Because you have to remember back then we weren’t called Afro Americans. We were blacks, negroes, whatever they wanted to call you. In ’67 no black man had a name. I was “boy,” you were “honey” or “baby.” We knew that. When you got stopped by the police, you had to go along with it or you got into trouble. That’s just the way that it was. People don’t realize that ’67 – this is 2016, that was half a century ago. A lot of things have changed since then. Blacks were fed up with the police abuse, being laid off first at the jobs. They were fed up with not having any jobs that they could do, even though they had the education. My father was a good example of that. My father had a degree. He graduated in 1935. But he was an athlete. Back in 1935 if you were an athlete on scholarship – because he played for DIT – when you finished school they gave you a degree in psychology. What can you do with a degree in psychology and you’re black in 1935? That’s the degree.  It wasn’t a liberal arts degree. It was a degree in psychology. There was nothing you could do with it. He played four years and he was captain of the team but he couldn’t even shower with the team when he got ready to come back to the university – because it was right downtown there. A lot of things have changed. One thing that they did not burn down, that they did not hurt in the city of Detroit – there were fliers all around them – were the funeral homes. Diggs – I’m trying to think of some of the other ones – Cantrell, they didn’t touch the funeral homes. They didn’t even burn, set anything on fire anywhere near the funeral homes, which is kind of strange.

AD: Yes, it’s interesting.

TVB: You have to remember we have a real fear of death. Funeral homes are kind of sacred to us. We don’t do that enough.

AD: What about churches? Were the churches burned?

TVB: Some of the churches did get damaged. John Conyers came here on the first day. He stood on top of a car with a bullhorn and told them to stop, that this wasn’t the way to settle anything. They bricked him off the top of the car. I actually saw that, yes. He stood on top of a car and they threw bricks at him and knocked him off the top of the car. There’s one other person who came here, I’m trying to think who it was, that tried to quell it and just couldn’t. The name of the guy who started the whole thing and he took credit for it – I think I have his name in here somewhere— at the Blind Pig. I think there were close to 82 people at the party. It was a party for two returning Vietnam veterans. At a blind pig, at the time the law stated the last drink was at 2:00. They made their money after 2:00. It was an after-hours joint and you went there after 2:00.  Everybody knew what they were, they’d been doing that for years. In fact, a lot of the entertainers that came here – Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald – once they finished their set they went to the after-hours joint and they did another set. Because we paid them pretty good so they could get some extra money.  So everybody knew about it. It was just that the police—I don’t know what the reason was why they went there, just to bust up this particular one.  It was upstairs over a printing company. It was a printing company downstairs and upstairs was the Blind Pig. It was upstairs, not downstairs. They probably went there to do what a lot of the police did – to take part of the profits. You don’t know about that. If you wanted a Blind Pig, you got to pay the pigs. That’s what cops used to be called. That might have been what happened. That was norm back then. Same thing on 12th Street—if you a working girl on 12th Street, you had to pay to be on 12th Street, otherwise you get picked up and taken downtown. That’s the way it was back then. We had the Big Four, we have STRESS – these were the police that were put in that area to try and control us. We knew who they were. They had a free hand to do whatever they wanted to do. Everything you see now about police brutality, that was every day, that was every day. That’s why when I left the hospital going from Children’s walking down Beaubien to Women’s Hospital, I always wore my lab coat out on the street so the police would know I was working at the hospital. In fact, most of the time they thought I was a doctor so they didn’t bother me at all. They didn’t bother me at all. They would wave and I would wave back and I would just keep on going. It was different. Is this still on?

AD:  Mmhmm.

TVG: If you’re a nurse here, you’re a good girlfriend for a cop. You’re making good money, you keep yourself clean and healthy. I saw a lot of black nurses that had a white cop boyfriend. Certain perks came with that. You could park downtown, your car wouldn’t get ticketed. There was a lot of stuff. It was a different era, it was. When I left the hospital in 1980, a lot of things had changed. The riot had something to do with a lot of the changes that had taken place because they don’t want it to happen again. There was something else that came up a few years later but they stopped it. I can’t remember what it was. I got some stuff in here.

AD: I’ll make sure to look it over.

TVG: I was looking for a friend of mine’s name that was in there that got killed. I didn’t see his name on the people that got killed. He was a taxicab driver, Bradford Facing. He was a cab driver. I heard that he got killed during the riot but I didn’t see his name on the list. He and I went to school together. In fact, he was my best friend for a long time. Actually I would have married his sister but later on they found out she had sickle cell anemia and she died. Because when I came back from Korea I was trying to find out where she was. I was definitely going to – yeah. Because everybody just kind of expected us to get married because he was my best friend and when we went to the show and stuff it would be three of us. I take her—it really wasn’t a date then. She would just go with me because she was Bradford’s sister and then it turned out that she was saying it was a date. I didn’t want it to be a date but she wanted it to be a date.

AD: I appreciate you coming in today. I’m going to look through this stuff.

TVB: Okay.


Alexis Draper


Ted Van Buren


Detroit Historical Museum




“Ted Van Buren, March 19th, 2016,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed July 14, 2024, http://oralhistory.detroithistorical.org/items/show/251.

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