Amne Talab, November 17th, 2016
AO: So today is November 17, 2016, my name is Amina Omar, this interview for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I am currently sitting here with—
AT: Amne Talab.
AO: Ms. Talab, where and when were you born?
AT: I was born on July 17, 1959, in Highland Park, Michigan, at 137 Pasadena Street.
AO: Where did you live in July of 1967?
AT: I lived at 137 Pasadena Street in Highland Park, Michigan.
AO: And what were you doing that year?
AT: I was about eight years old and I was going to school. And while we were in school, they sent us home, I remember, at that time. On the first day.
AO: So what was it like being a Muslim Arab growing up there?
AT: So back in that time, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on what you were, whether you were Muslim or Christian or black or white. The area we lived in was a very diverse area, so we had people from the Middle East, from Mexico, from—we had Native Indians, African Americans, it was a very, very diverse area. And nobody really focused on being a Muslim or a Christian or anything like that back then. So you were just—everybody was called Syrian back there. If they were from the Middle East, they were called Syrians. So we didn’t emphasize—it wasn’t a factor in anything. We were just, you know, from the Middle East. We were considered from the Middle East people. And we didn’t feel any uneasiness or any type of, like, we’re being looked at because we’re Muslim or Arab, at that time.
AO: So what do you remember about Detroit in the mid-sixties?
AT: So being that I was so young, I don’t remember a lot. I remember, like I said, our street was very diverse. We had people from all different nationalities, different countries. It was a beautiful neighborhood at the time. I remember I always went downtown for the parades, the Thanksgiving parade, and we’d always go downtown—I think it was on Woodward, Hudson’s was there, which is now known as Macy’s—but we would, you know, we grew up very comfortably over there. We used to go to the Tiger games. There was this one restaurant there called Red Barn, we always went there. It was a very, very fun time before, of course, the riots started. But it was a very nice neighborhood that we lived in, and we enjoyed—we really enjoyed it there.
AO: So your neighbors, did they all interact?
AT: Oh yeah. Our neighbors were—I mean, nobody had computers or phones or DSs, or whatever those—all these little technology gadgets. Everybody went outside and played in the alley. We either played baseball, the boys played football, we’d play whatever, you know, we were always outside playing and enjoying ourselves. It was more of a—being out in nature, rather being inside of your homes doing things. In fact, when we left—we did leave the country in 1969 and the whole block had a party for us before we left, like a farewell party.
AO: Wow. So there weren’t any tensions between races and different backgrounds?
AT: Before this time, it wasn’t. There weren’t any. After it became—and not against Arabs or Muslims, just it was more of a white and black issue, when the riots started.
AO: Okay. So how did you first hear about the riots?
AT: If I can remember—again, I was about eight years old. We were in school, and they said there’s been something, some civil disturbance, some public disorder, something’s going on, you know. I think it was—some problem had happened the night before at a bar or at a restaurant or—I don’t know. And then the police had to come in. And then the police had to come in, and—I can’t really remember, like, specifically, but something where the police got involved. And then they said, you know, the blacks are fighting against the whites, and whatever. The police are shooting and there’s a lot of chaos in that area, wherever—I can’t remember where that area was. So they were kind of worried so they sent all the kids home from school. So all I remember is my mom coming and picking us up from school.
AO: So how did your family react to this event?
AT: At the beginning they just thought it was just an incident that happened and got out of hand. That’s what we thought before, because it was so peaceful there before. So we didn’t think so much of it. They didn’t say it was a riot or anything. They just said there’s been some civil disturbance, there’s been this—an issue. This is what I recall, and I can’t remember vividly, but I remember they said that something happened, and the white people and the black people were fighting, and the police came and started shooting, and that’s all. So we didn’t think of it immediately as a riot, or—we just thought, you know, maybe something happened and they’re just worried about the kids. And our school was right off of, like, a main street, so they just told us to come home and sent us home. That was the first day.
AO: Do you remember if, like, the mayor or anybody from the government told you guys anything? Or how did they react to it?
AT: To be honest with you, I was too young. I remember Romney was, I think, the governor at the time, and President Johnson was the president. I remember that because I read about it later on. But I think after a while, there were, like—they would come on the TV and say stuff like, “Everybody needs to be calm, everybody needs to keep order,” or—I can’t remember, I can’t remember exactly. But I know, like, it started to get serious after—because it was like about five days where it was awful. But then they started—and then the federal troops—I mean the, yeah, troops came in, and it was almost like a war. I mean, by the time—as we were progressing it was getting worse and worse. Then nobody left their homes, we all stayed home for a little while. And then we went back to normal life after that. But there was a lot of tension then. There was a lot of tension. Even after things had settled down, because I think, like, about—a good number of people died. I think when I read about it was like 45 people maybe died? Actually black and white and women—they categorized it like that. So I know even after things calmed a little bit, there was still a lot of tension then after that. So we weren’t really allowed to be out alone. You know, only in the backyard, only close by home. You know, first we used to go play in the alley and on the streets and we would go places, but after that there was a little bit more caution. Parents worried more about their kids. All parents, not just the Arab parents. Everybody on our block really worried about their kids, and we tried to stay together. And what was beautiful about this whole thing was that even though there was all this tension, the people on the block were very, very still close. Because we had been there—you know, our parents and their parents—had been there for a long time. So there wasn’t a lot of—like, within our block, whatever number of houses there were. But nobody really ventured out. We didn’t go the parks. We used to go this park called—Ford Park? Or Palmer Park? I can’t remember the name of it. It was also off of Woodward, but we weren’t allowed to go to the park anymore. So things like that.
AO: So I know some people describe this event as a riot, and others refer to it as a rebellion or an uprising. How do you think you would describe this event?
AT: Well, at that time I really couldn’t figure it out. But after what I’ve seen through the years, I think it was more of a social disparity or financial disparity issue, where there was a lot of—I think at the time, if I recall correctly, at the time there were some issues where there was a lot of poverty. And I think that the African American community or the black community was feeling also that they maybe were not being treated well, or maybe that the white people had the upper hand, and something like that. I mean, that’s what I remember. And I don’t think they did this because they just wanted—you know, they just wanted to create tension. I think it was more triggered by some of the social class issues and the way people are treated and maybe discrimination. I don’t know, I mean, this is just what I think. I don’t think it was just because somebody woke up and said, “I’m going to shoot 10 white people,” or a white person woke up and said, “I’m going to shoot 10 black people.” I think it was more of the whole economic situation, in addition to the social discrimination issues that were happening, maybe, then. And again, I was very young so I don’t remember everything. This is how I analyzed it.
AO: How do you feel like the experiences during the riot affected your life at all?
AT: Well, even a year—probably a year later, it was still—like I said, maybe there weren’t people killing as much and having all these—it was more controlled because of all the police force and everything else that was there to control everything, but there was still fear. And I think I had a fear at that time, because I had to walk back and forth to school, and I was always supposed to be with my elder brothers, and I always had a fear that something may happen to me for the few times that I had to come home alone. And there was a constant fear factor after that, if I ever had to be alone or I ever felt—I always felt like something would happen. So life wasn’t the same after that. It wasn’t the same.
AO: So what message would you like to leave for future generations about your memories of Detroit before, during, and after the event of July?
AT: Well, before the riots, it was beautiful. Like I said, we had a beautiful childhood there. We really enjoyed it. After the riots—the period of the riots was really fearful and scary. I think because I was young I really had a lot of fear. But—again, I think the message that Detroit was beautiful at that time. I was in Highland Park. During the riots it did get a little bit ugly, a lot of people were killed and bad things happened to people. And it was a fearful time, you know, that’s the message I want to say, it was a very fearful time. And at the same time, it was due to some reasons that we were too young to understand at the time. So I don’t know if that’s why they ended up calling it riots, or—but there was some other factors that contributed to this happening. Like I said, not just because—so it was a bad time, the message is it was a bad time, it was a fearful time. But then after I think—I left the country. So I don’t know what happened after that. We moved out of the country, we went away for seven years. And when I came back the first place my brothers took me was back to our old address, because I wanted to see it again, and we did go back to Allen Park. And this was in 1976. It was different. Our house was gone, there was no house, it was burned down. There was no house. But, I mean, the message for Detroit—I think Detroit is right now doing very well. I think that the revitalization of the Detroit area needs to get attention from everyone. We need to revitalize Detroit and make sure that it’s one of the best cities in the country. I love Detroit. I don’t like Highland Park too much because of my experiences there, but I love Detroit and I think we should all work hard on trying to make sure that it is revitalized and becomes one of the best cities in the country.
AO: Is there anything you feel we haven’t discussed or should be added to the interview?
AT: No, that’s good.
AO: Well, thank you for sitting with me today.
AT: No problem.