Sandy Livnat


Sandy Livnat


Sandy Livnat was a student at the University of Michigan in July 1967. He was working at a summer camp in northern Oakland County and returned home to help secure the family business in Oak Park.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI








My name is Sandy Livnat (formally Shmuel Livnat) and I was born in Detroit on December 4, 1948.

Describe the neighborhood(s) you lived in. Socioeconomic and/or racial and ethnic demographics as well:

At the time of the riots, my family lived in Southfield, MI, where we had moved in 1964, I grew up in several middle class/upper middle class neighborhoods in Detroit. From birth till 1952 we lived on Burlingame off of Dexter. From 1952-1959 we lived at 3359 Leslie just off of Dexter (first house my parents bought). From 1959-1964 we lived at 17586 Wisconsin in the 6 Mile/Wyoming area. There our next door neighbor happened to be Jerry Cavanagh who became Detroit’s mayor as of 1962. When we moved out of the city in 1964, I was 15 years old and in high school (11th grade). When we moved in to the above two Detroit neighborhoods, they were almost exclusively white and predominantly Jewish. My first elementary school McCulloch (where I spent K-4th grade) was comprised primarily of Jewish children though there were always several black kids in my class. My 2nd elementary school, Bagley (where I spent grades 5-6) was predominantly Jewish children and was less integrated than McCulloch. I seem to recall that in my 5th and 6th grade class, we had 3 non-Jewish students, one of whom was black. I attended Post Junior High School for grades 7-9 which, because of its drawing from (at least) 3 elementary schools, had a larger number of non-Jewish as well as black students. I began high school (half of 10th grade only) at Cass Tech, a magnet school downtown which was highly integrated, although my class (in the Science and Arts Magnet program) was highly predominantly white. I have a distinct memory of one black classmate at Cass Tech, the daughter of city councilman William Patrick. I remember her as being whip-smart, outspoken and rather sarcastic, and I felt respect and fondness for her! Within 2-3 years of our moves into the above two Detroit neighborhoods, black families began moving in. I have no personal recollections of any serious racial disharmony. I do recall a bit of tension between white and black students at Post Junior High – though these mainly surfaced in Gym class when competitive sports and physical contact were involved. What I do remember is that the “for sale” signs began appearing on the lawns of Jewish homes once the influx of black families was in progress. While my parents were not among those who rushed to move out in response to these demographic changes, I do recall hearing talk at home that property values would fall as more black families populated the neighborhood. Based on their personal experiences with such loss in value, my parents in fact counseled me against the purchase of my first home (in suburban Seattle, WA. which we knew would be for a short period). It turns out that not making that purchase would have been a big mistake financially, as the property value almost doubled in one year!

What do you remember about Detroit in the early and mid 1960's?

My memories of Detroit in during that period were positive and happy. Not being familiar with places like La Jolla Beach in California, I thought Detroit was a “nice place” to live. In hindsight, Detroit was a perfectly good place to grow up. As a kid, I didn’t have the same feelings towards the long and difficult winters as I do as an adult. My parents (along with maternal grandparents who lived with us) were survivors of the Holocaust who immigrated to Detroit in early 1947, coming directly from a displaced persons camp in Austria because my grandfather had an older sister who had settled in Detroit many years earlier, and such displaced persons needed a sponsor in the U.S. at that time. My grandfather and parents opened a tailor shop in Detroit which eventually grew to two stores and ended up in the suburbs. I recall as a youngster being proud of being a Detroiter, in large part due to the success and power of the auto industry (more so than the status of the Tigers and Lions in sports standings – which were not terribly strong in that period). I recall joking with schoolmates that Detroit would be a major target of the Soviet Union were a nuclear war to break out, given the presence of so many manufacturing facilities that produced military vehicles, airplane engines, etc. When considering and discussing racial problems around the country, as a kid I distinctly recall having the (mis)impression that racially, all was well in Detroit, in particular because the auto industry and its related industries provided “full” employment for black people. Personally, my family was excited about the fact that our next door neighbor, a young attorney of no particular note, Jerry Cavanagh, ran for mayor in 1961, survived the primaries in 2nd place, and then defeated the sitting mayor in the general election.
Where were you living +what was your occupation in July 1967?
As noted, we were living in Southfield, about 1 mile outside the city limits. I was a college student at the University of Michigan between my freshman and sophomore years. I had attended summer courses in Ann Arbor the first part of the summer, and, in July, I was working as a camp counselor at a sleep-away camp in upper Oakland Country. How did you first hear about the unrest that became the riots/rebellion/uprising? I recall hearing radio reports (from camp, where we had no access to TV) about a police raid at a “blind pig” at the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount and the surprising result that this led to unrest and protests in the surrounding neighborhood which was predominantly, if not completely, black. I was unfamiliar with the term “blind pig” at that time and found it interesting. What was very interesting to me personally was the fact that this was a mere few blocks from the place my parents had lived when they first arrived in the United States (i.e., it had been a “Jewish neighborhood” in the 1940’s.) Consequently, as I was aware, a number of store owners in that neighborhood were Jews, as were a fair number of landlords who owned rental properties there. Our family knew some of them personally.

How did your family and friends react upon hearing this news?

I recall primarily feeling “disappointment” that my sense of the tranquility as to race relations in Detroit was so wrong, particularly after the L.A. Watts riots in ‘65 at which time many of us thought, “this would never happen in Detroit.” I seem to recall my parents being both angry and fearful, and it brought out various anti-black sentiments that they held. I recall fearing for those business and rental property owners whom we knew when looting and burning in the “12th Street area began and spread. I had a day off from camp during that week and was shocked by the sights I now saw on TV. My fear became more widespread, for everyone who lived in the affected areas as well as the police and National Guard troops that were brought in. I also recall feeling very sorry for Mayor Cavanagh, our acquaintance and former neighbor, that this happened on his watch and that he had to face a situation for which he (and others like him) were certainly ill-prepared. I also felt bad in the coming years that this effectively damaged his ability to run successfully for higher political office, both governor and U.S. senator.

Historians often describe this events as a “riot”, what term would you use to describe this time?

I have no disagreement with the use of that term to describe what went on. It certainly fit my view of what a “riot” was.

Any particular moments or memories that stand out from that summer?

My parents owned a clothing store/tailor shop in Oak Park, at 9 Mile and Coolidge. While there was obviously no geographical nexus between that location and the location of the riots, the fear of destructive activity hit us when we could see smoke rising in the distance from the area which known as “Royal Oak Township”, located in Oakland County, just north of 8 Mile Road and west of Meyers Rd, one mile west of Schaefer/Coolidge, namely, rather close to our store. We understood (correctly or not) that area to be populated by blacks and to be somewhat impoverished. I recall that these concerns of riot-like activity there were confirmed by news reports of some fires. That triggered a flurry of activity on the part of my family, at which time I (taking an extra day off from camp) and my brothers, helped board up the front windows of our store, and transport the more expensive items of clothing from the store to our house several miles west (in Southfield, near 9 mile and Evergreen Rd.). This activity occupied the better part of a day. On the following day, I returned to camp, “way far away”. It turned out that nothing happened in the area of our store. As the rioting in the city waned and ended, the clothing items were returned to the store, the windows were unboarded, and life went on as usual.

How did these events impact the rest of your life?

These events clearly disabused me of any incorrect notions that race relations in Detroit were good or even intact, certainly not better than anywhere else. I left the U.S. and lived in Israel from 1968-1976, and the whole issue of U.S. race relations became much less salient to me than the immediate issues of safety and security in Israel, where I witnessed from various distances several terrorist bomb explosions and lived through the 1973 war (albeit not on the “front”, though in Israel, the front was not far away, and I lost a brother-in-law and several friends in that war.) So during those years, I admittedly did not pay particular attention to race issues in Detroit or the U.S. in general. I married in Israel and my wife and I returned to the U.S. in early 1976. We lived in Seattle, WA (1976-78) which had an extremely small black minority population. I was therefore surprised to learn how much racism was evident among whites who had little or no contact with black people most of the time. We, and our children, lived in the South for several years, in Durham, NC (1978-1981) when we were both employed at Duke University. During that time, I reached the conclusion that race relations in Detroit and other industrial cities of north were, in fact, worse than those in the South, maybe because the South had undergone forced desegregation – and had come to terms with it, or at least a majority of the white population had. In contrast Detroit and other northern urban areas had not gone through such a process. I also came to believe the depth of the anti-black attitudes of certain ethnic groups in Detroit were held by those whites who had worked hand in hand with black people in the auto plants; when that industry came upon hard times and suffered large layoffs, these whites thought employment of blacks came at their expense.

What changes if any did you notice to the metro Detroit area after 1967?

In the years following the 1967 riots, I was sensitized to the extent of anti-black sentiment in the Jewish community in Detroit, who didn’t have the excuse of the “employment competition” angle, and whose racist views seemed to emanate more from fear (rational or irrational) of black people. I hadn’t felt this as much earlier – maybe because of my age and naiveté. From a distance (Israel from 1968-76; other cities in the U.S. thereafter) with regular visits to Detroit, at least once a year if not more, I noticed increasing racial polarization in the Detroit area, highlighted by continued white flight to the suburbs that effectively depleted Detroit of white residents. This was coupled with what one might call “urban rot” with the city limits. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that part of this was induced or promoted by Coleman Young’s long tenure as mayor of Detroit and what I viewed as his “f--- the whites” attitude. I often felt that had Detroit’s black community had a strong clerical leader (not one of Rev. C.L. Franklin’s ilk) or a black mayor not from the hardscrabble labor movement like Young but from the church i.e., one who shared more views with the Rev. Martin Luther King, race relations in Detroit might not have gone downhill in the way in which they did.

You have lived all around the US; did you consider returning to Detroit and/or consciously choose to live elsewhere? If so, how and why?

Other than during a very brief period in 1992, I never gave any thought to returning to live in the Detroit area, certainly not the city itself. The reasons for this were more organic than conscious. I cannot attribute that attitude to race relations in the Detroit area, but rather primarily to specific professional considerations (my profession having transitioned abruptly beginning in the late 1980s from biomedical academic research to patent law specializing in the life sciences). Other than distance from family, I have no regrets about not living in the Detroit area. I’ve lived in the Washington DC area since 1988, an area that is certainly not free from difficult race relations – maybe more difficult than in Detroit. So again, it is clear in my mind that this lack of regrets does not stem from anything related to race issues or connect in any way to the events of July 1967.

Original Format

Microsoft Word document

Submitter's Name

Noah Levinson and Sandy Livnat

Submission Date


Search Terms

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Oak Park




“Sandy Livnat,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed September 24, 2023,

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