Joel Gibson


Joel Gibson


Joel Gibson was 16 years old in July of 1967 and shares three memories of his time in Detroit.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society






Written Story


#1: the potentially life-saving act of a stranger

after the riot started, a curfew was imposed ( I believe it was 8pm ); I had been visiting my high school girlfriend one afternoon ( I was 16 at the time ) who lived on ohio ( street ) and pembroke ( street ) in northwest detroit. when I was walking east on pembroke towards wyoming to the bus stop to catch the ( southbound )wyoming ( street ) bus, I saw the bus pass by and realized that I had missed the last bus to get me home before the curfew. for some inexplicable reason, I decided not to walk back to my girlfriend's house and ask her parents to stay over until the next morning ( it would have been impossible for either of her parents to have driven me home and returned to their home prior to the curfew ending, so that wasn't an option ), and to walk the approximately 5 miles to my home ( I lived on washburn ( street ) and davison ( street ). as I was admittedly somewhat apprehensive about being attacked while trying to get home, I picked up a fist sized rock to carry with me for protection. I walked approximately 2 miles down wyoming and at mcnichols road ( 6 mile road ), a police car, with two young white police officers stopped me. they asked me for my id, examined it, and then asked me why I was out after the curfew - they also saw the rock in my hand, but didn't say anything about it, which I thought was strange ( I had forgotten that it was in my hand ). they were professional and actually, polite, in the context of the situation. I explained the situation and asked them if they could give me a ride home. they said they couldn't, and then let me go.
I proceeded walking home and kept looking out for any vehicle going my way which could facilitate my hitching a ride in effort to get home. the streets were essentially deserted of people and vehicles, but when I was nearing fenkell ( street ), I saw a hearse approach and I put my hand/thumb out to try and hitch a ride. the hearse stopped, the driver, who was a white guy ( I estimate early 30's ) asked me where I was going, I told him, and he told me to get in. we drove the entire time in silence ( I think we were both overwhelmed with the enormity and tragedy of the larger situation of the riot ) and when we got to davison ( street ), I asked him to let me off there as my street was the first street over.
when I got home, my parents and my sister were all on the porch, relieved to see me ( as they had seen the bus I was supposed to have been on pass by, and after the few minutes in which I should have been home, didn't see me) - they had panicked ( they had called my girlfriend's home and had been told I had left there long ago to catch the bus home ). until then, I hadn't realized how stressed/scared I had been, until I was home safe with them.
whenever I hear/read anything about the 1967 riot, I instantly recall this and two other experiences I had, which make me sad/happy at the same time, and very reflective; sad that the riot/turmoil happened ( although I certainly understood the anger/frustration/futility the rioters felt, based upon my personal experiences/encounters with detroit police being a biracial ( read " black " ) youth in the city and encounters I had witnessed; happy that the kindness of a white stranger, who was, in all likelihood, afraid for his own safety being out doing his job in a city roiled with hate/anger and frustration, would stop and help a black kid, who was just trying to make it home alive; reflective of how while so much has changed ( with respect to race relations and civil rights, so much has stayed the same or deteriorated.

story #2: apparently, it wasn't all about race

I was standing inside the screened front door of my home and my dad was sitting on a chair under the awning of the porch, when a car with three black guys in a car turned onto our street, saw my dad sitting on the porch and one of them hollered, " old white man, get back in your house! " ( my father, now deceased, was greek/irish, my mom, black/blackfoot indian ). when I saw/heard this, I opened the door and shouted: " he's not an old white man, that's my daddy! " they looked at me, then at my father and drove off.
I then joined my father on the porch; about 5 minutes later, the same car, with the same bunch of guys drove up and stopped in front of our house ( on the wrong side of the street, in the opposite direction ) and one of them shouted to my dad: " hey, brother, we got some color tvs - if we can put some in your basement, you can have one! " before my father could respond, my mother, who was standing behind the screen door, opened it, and, as she was waving her hand in a " shooing " motion, said, " fellas, just move along.... " they looked at my father, then looked at me, looked back at my mother, and then the guy said " yes m'aam " and they drove off.....
over the 28 years that he lived after that day, he would tell that story numerous times to people ( friends and strangers ) anytime the issue of the '67 riot would come up - we would all laugh about it and the lesson that we learned ( or already knew, but what was reinforced ) that day - that greed, as distasteful as it is, is a power force that can overcome/supercede many ( other distasteful ) things - at least, temporarily. in this case and this day, it was racism.

helping a stranger
my brother-in-law, reggie ( a creole from louisiana and 21 at the time ) and I ( 16 at the time ) were returning from his parents’ home on lasalle ( street ) to our home on washburn ( street ) and while when we were turning on dexter, I saw some-thing out of the corner of my eye that didn't look right and told my brother-in -law to slow down, and then back up. we then saw a young black kid laying on the ground. reggie and I got out of the car and looked at the guy to see if he was alive or not. his eyes were open, but he wasn't moving - he was just laying here. I bent down to get closer to him and saw he was breathing, his clothes were dirty and torn and he was silently crying with tears in his eyes. we simultaneously said to him: " what happened to you, are you ok? ". he didn't say anything so we proceeded to pick him up and lay him down in the back seat of our car - we had a '61 buick electra 225 convertible - and the top was down.
the guy didn't have any blood on him that we could see and after he saw that we were there to help him, he finally spoke: " they beat me up! " was all he said, in a whisper. we didn't know whether to take him to a hospital or not, since he wasn't bleeding or anything, but we asked him did he want to go to the hospital. he asked us to take him home and gave us his address. after he caught his breath and had calmed down, he told us he was waiting at the bus stop to go home after he had finished his job as a stockboy at one of the few grocery stores that were still open. he said a group of four " white boys " in a car, stopped in front of him ( he was the only person at the linwood bus stop at the time ), got out, and then, in his words, " beat me up ". he said he was able to get away from them and run into an alley and then hide, and they didn't follow him into the alley. after waiting a while, and in a lot of pain, tried to walk and then crawl, to the place where we found him. although he said he was sore, he said he was scared they were going to come back. when we drove the kid home ( who actually, was about my age ), his family was on the porch and when they saw reggie and I help him out of the car ( he still was a bit unsteady and in pain ), they all rushed to the car, screaming, and for some inexplicable reason, thought WE, the guys who were bringing him home, were the ones who had beat him up! after we quickly explain what had happened, his mother and sister took him in the house to tend to him, while his dad, other sister, and by then a group of neighbors, gathered to hear more about what had happened to him. they offered us some lemonade to drink, and after we finished our lemonades, his sister came out of the house to tell us that he was ok, more scared than injured, and they all thanked us for finding him and bringing him home.

when were en route to our house, reggie and I were both relieved the kid was ok and found the bit of humor in the situation- that initially, the family thought WE beat the kid up and then, were foolish enough ( or remorseful enough ) to bring him home! we laughed about that one for years.

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Submitter's Name

Joel Gibson

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“Joel Gibson,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed December 3, 2023,

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