Felicia Tuczak, August 11th, 2016
HS: Hello, this is Hannah Sabal. The day is August 11th, 2016. I am in Clinton Township for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project, and I am sitting down with Ms. Felicia Tuczak. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
FT: You’re very welcome.
HS: Can you start telling me where and when you were born?
FT: I was born in Detroit Michigan November 21st, 1937.
HS: Did you grow up in Detroit?
HS: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
FT: I lived in what was considered northeast Detroit; Davidson- East Davidson Avenue between Joseph Campau and Conant.
HS: What was the neighborhood like?
FT: My parents had a grocery store on Davidson. You’re talking ethnically?
HS: Yeah was it integrated or was it white?
FT: At this point, it was white. It’s interesting because the south side of Davidson was predominantly Polish whereas the side where my parents had the grocery store was a mixture: Italians, French, German. Every other house would be two or three of the same nationality, and there was only one black family on one street. However, if you went west, a half a mile to the other main street- the main streets seemed to have been the unofficial borderland, somewhat. Davidson School, in that section, you had a black neighborhood. The first few blacks would be half and half, and then black. The reason I’m very aware of that is because we lived on the Eastside, and all our relatives lived on the Westside. So, when you traveled, you traveled through black neighborhoods. You went to school. You went through black neighborhoods. We were bus riders in those days. So, you took the bus. We stopped through black neighborhoods. The situation was different though because you weren’t afraid to do this. This was pre-drugs, pre-carjacking, pre-shootings. It was nothing. You just went through the neighborhood, and you came back through the neighborhood. Me and my parents had the grocery store on the main street. Many of the Black children travelled east to Cleveland Junior High—Cleveland Intermediate it was called at that time. So, we were used to black and white people going forth, back and forth.
HS: Where the schools that you attended integrated?
FT: I attended a parochial school. Davidson School was integrated at that time because if you were a Catholic you attended either Our Lady_______(??) where I went to which was you might consider predominantly Polish ethnic. But, if you were and Italian, German, etcetera, and you attended a Catholic school, you went farther east to St. Augustine. So, as I say my school was predominantly—it was all white and predominantly and Polish-ethnic.
HS: What was it like growing up in that neighborhood?
FT: I had the best of two worlds [chuckles]. I had—me and my parents were in the grocery store. I had advantages, which many of my friends didn’t have. We had a car—which gave us—and clothes and food all the time. Whereas some of my friends did not have cars. Their parents took—their fathers took the busses to work, etcetera.
And, I had the advantage—I wasn’t home. I wasn’t cooped up in the house with just the neighborhood kids. I played with the neighborhood kids. But then growing up behind the counter, you got acquainted with diverse people. Elderly people came to the store. And, when you’re behind the counter, the customer is always right. You just learn courtesies for everybody and anybody.
HS: Did you venture out into the other parts of the city at all growing up?
FT: I went to high school on the Westside—take two busses to get there. Again, it was all-girl parochial school. It was predominantly white. We had maybe two or three back gals in each class, junior, senior, etcetera. I walked to the Six Mile Road bus- McNichols bus, and the next bus stop were a sister and a girl friend, Margarite Johnson and her sister, Shirley, Shirley and Margarite Johnson. They were on the same bus with us, back and forth.
HS: So, what did you do after high school?
FT: I went to college. I became a teacher. I graduated from Wayne State. I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Education. Then I worked in the Detroit Public Schools. I started out at Cooper Elementary which was at—on Miller Street in the Harper-Van Dyke area. I taught sixth grade. I was there three years. This was the time, I guess, where they wanted to give teachers, particularly white teachers, an experience of being in the inner city, which was kind of funny because our school had seven busloads of children who were brought up from the inner city. So, you were just used to black children and all that. I mean—it was no different. But, nonetheless, I was then—three people from our building were sent to the inner city, and then I was at Pingree Elementary. It was at Mack and McClellan, south of Gratiot. I was there for three and a half years, and I left on maternity leave.
HS: So, you married at this point?
FT: Yes, I married—right—went to Pingree. I was there two years and then I married—and then a year and a half later—
HS: Did you live with your parents until you got married?
HS: What year was that? Do you remember?
FT: In 1964, I got married in 1964.
HS: Where did you and your husband live?
FT: At first, we lived with my parents. There was—we lived in the upper flat. It was a large room etcetera. But, it was like a private apartment because we had the front bedroom. And, my mother cooked in the kitchen downstairs in back of the store. It was like a giant family room. So, we had the front bedroom if we had company there was a swinging door. My parents in the evening—the last bedroom was made into a TV room. And so, they’d say hello to company and then we’d swing the door and then we had—they had their privacy and we had ours. It was like a separated apartment, so it worked out great. And then, we wanted to travel before a family, and it just so happened that I was expecting. And, the Davidson Freeway came through—the extension of the Davidson Freeway. With that, we said okay, the deal was I would stay—we would stay with my parents etcetera—and then we bought a house—and then they would stay with us. Because after they sold the building etcetera—they needed a place to go. They were going to stay with us for a year while they travelled. So, they did their travelling for the year. And, at that point in time, they found a little brick house over on Charest and Eight Mile Road. So, we stayed with them.
So, I was born on Davidson, Davidson and Gallagher. I stayed there until ‘64, so let’s say ‘66. Moved to Seven Mile Road and Van Dyke area.
HS: Leading up to the events in ‘67, did you notice any tension in the city or anticipate any violence that summer?
FT: No. No. No. It was—we were home, and I had just had the first baby the end of May—the new baby. That was the end of May. The baby was baptized in early July—then it was the middle of July. What was the date?
HS: The twenty third.
FT: The twenty third, okay. The week prior, the baby was baptized, a christening party. Well, tradition was in those days you didn’t take the baby out other than the doctor until it was baptized. So, once it was baptized, the following Sunday this began. We took the baby to church—I’m going to cry [chuckles] and then we were going to visit Grandma. Well, Grandma Tuczak who lived in Dearborn. So, we went to church. And, we’re usually radio listeners. But, with the baby going to church and all this, we didn’t put the radio on. So, our plan was: we go to church, come home, eat something. And, then my husband, we were reading the newspaper. He was an avid newspaper person. And then, about twelve thirty, one o’clock we start heading towards my mother-in-law’s house. The reason I say that is we didn’t put- we didn’t have the radio on, and we didn’t have the TV on. Because that was just—we were too busy with other things in the morning. So, we get in the car, and the radio goes on. My husband’s ears sort of perked up and says, “Hmm.” But still, we weren’t worried because it sounded like the little confrontation, was in the core of the city where we were travelling elsewhere.
HS: What exactly did you hear? Do you remember what they were saying on the radio? Where they saying there was a disturbance, or there was a riot going on?
FT: It wasn’t—it was more of a disturbance. A speakeasy was raided—I guess I that was—I really don’t remember. I guess I was fussing with the baby or whatever. So, we traveled from Seven Mile, Van Dyke—our usual route: Davidson Avenue through the Davidson Expressway. The other side of the expressway was a black neighborhood: Linwood, Dexter, Livernois through Wyoming. Here again no disturbances, no problems, no nothing. That was visible. Then we headed south to Warren Avenue where my mother-in-law lived. So, we visited there. Well, as soon as we walked in—this was shortly after one o’clock, we walked in and the television was on. So, we saw—oh my goodness—what was going on here. Then, my husband said, “You know, I think we better leave earlier.” We intended on staying two or three hours. But, after seeing what was on TV, we decided to leave earlier. So then, we did. But, on the way home, we followed a different route. Because we were afraid that that might have—the disturbance might have expanded to get too close to Davidson, which we would use. We came down Livernois, north to East Seven Mile Road because we lived off of Seven Mile Road. So, we took Seven Mile going home. Well, about quarter of a mile east of Woodward is a fire station. And, all the trucks were out. It was empty. It was July. The doors were open, and, there were a few firemen standing outside. And, they just kept on looking at the sky to the area where the disturbance was. My husband says, “Gee, I wonder if they’re looking for smoke.” How far the smoke—from the burning—had it travelled to?
So, we just continued home, and watched the TV. Not too long because my husband had to take a nap. At that point in time, he worked for Burroughs Unisys. [Chuckles] He worked at East—pardon me—West Grand Boulevard and the Lodge Expressway right across the street from Henry Ford Hospital. And, he worked the four o’clock, in the morning, four in the morning until noon in maintenance—mainframe—computer maintenance. So, he took a few hours nap. And then, he got up and he called somebody: “Are we coming to work?” “Oh yeah, we’re coming, Joe. Don’t worry about it.” So, he went to work, but he was let out early. He was there maybe four hours. By eight o’clock, they said you better go home for safety reasons. So, he came home, and he didn’t go in the next day. Then, because they were shooting in the area—then, when he went to work a couple of days later, there were bullets being shot into—bullet holes were in the glass. That’s the actual day of it. That’s what I remember.
HS: And then, during the week, did you just stay home with the baby?
FT: No, we didn’t venture out at all. Fortunately, we lived in an area where everything was in walking distance; the supermarkets, etcetera. Called your relatives, “Is everything okay?”
HS: What was your mood like during that week?
FT: I guess I was worried because you didn’t know how much this looting was going to expand. Because later that first evening, that Sunday evening it had extended north. And, it was getting close to—it even hit the fashionable area, Livernois. That was when it really hit, Wow this is really bad: looting.
HS: How did you feel when the National Guard and later the federal troops were brought in?
FT: I felt safer—that they would take care of it. It would be handled very shortly.
HS: Do you think that it was handled quickly?
FT: I guess. See, I respect the military and people in charge of that. So, they know how long it would take and I trust their judgement that—yeah, I’m sure they did.
HS: So, looking back on the events, would you classify them as a riot? Or would you call it say a rebellion or civil disturbance?
FT: Well, in those days, they called it a riot. Today, they call it a civil disturbance. No. Even though I worked in predominant black neighborhoods, I really didn’t expect it. I guess my connection was people had children. It was just different. I just didn’t expect the black situation that was—when I went to work everybody was friendly. The children were well-behaved. It was the sixth grade.
HS: Did the events change the way you looked at the city?
FT: Well, after that, Mayor Young was elected, and I voted for him. I thought, hey, we’re predominantly a black city. It’s only right. If there are people who were disgruntled or anything, perhaps having a black mayor would just improve things. And, he makes them happier again [Laughs]. But, it seemed okay for a while. This really antagonistic, negative type thing didn’t happen until the sixties when the drugs set in. Once the drugs set in, that’s when people just got mean: black and white people. Black people—that would be described as rebellious. Then the whites, white people, just fought back like billy goats [laughs] that was the sad part.
HS: Did you continue to live in the city?
FT: Right, we lived there until—our neighborhood was mixed. Our street was salt and pepper, I used to call it: black, white, black, white. And, we liked living in the city because we had a school close by. We had grade school and high school. Being Catholic, we were looking for a parochial grade school. So that was in walking distance. And then, the high school our sons went to, De La Salle, that was within bus or car distance; not far. Low taxes, the library was on the corner, the shopping, all sorts of shopping: dime stores, drug stores, everything. Athletic recreation; the recreation center, they had summer concerts. It was a beautiful neighborhood, and everything was in walking distance, even the movie theatre. And, all sorts of small shops: bakeries, bowling alleys. It was a thriving community, low taxes. At that point and time, we only needed one car. [Laughs]
HS: What year did you move out of the city?
FT: We moved—let’s see. It was ‘85-‘81, I’d say ‘80-‘81.
HS: [Speaking Simultaneously] Early 80s.
FT: [Speaking Simultaneously] Could get back to you, but—[Speaking Simultaneously]. What happened there was our son—okay—at that point and time, I was working at the school our sons went to. It worked out great. That was another reason for wanting to stay there because I worked there, go to school the same time as the boys would leave home. And, the school was integrating. Our Black neighbors had a little girl, and she was working at King, down on Harper. And, she was attending our school so she rode with us in the morning. And, we drove her back. But then, when our son was in high school since we just couldn’t maneuver with—the high school was moving.
HS: It moved up to Warren, correct?
FT: Yes. So, they moved, and my son—so eventually, they had a shuttle bus. Not a shuttle bus but a school bus that would go out to the different areas and pick up the kids from the suburbs and bring them to Detroit. Then, somehow he said—I was picking him up after school, and I said, “Well, Joe, what’s with the bus?” And this and this and that. So, it turned out that when he would walk home, and he’d have gang of kids come from the elementary school down the street. And, they’d hassle him. He didn’t have to walk that far but it was just the idea a group of kids would hassle him. And so, every time he stayed after and said, “Oh I was busy.” But then, _______(??) Something’s fishy here. What’s going on? So, when I heard about that, maybe it’s time to go. When your children are affected.
HS: So, you were [Inaudible]
FT: So anyhow, we still had thought about it. But then, it was St. Patrick’s Day—St. Patrick Day’s weekend. My husband always went to Talladega. He and his friends from work went to the races. They were NASCAR fans. So, they were gone, and I was home with the boys and they were shooting baskets.
HS: So, essentially, you moved. You felt that your children may have been unsafe.
FT: Yeah, and then, a bicycle was stolen. It was in the backyard. I was in the basement washing clothes. I heard the gate open and the dog next door barking. I didn’t think anything—well, I foolishly did not go up and check. Then when I did go up and check, my son came out of the house and he says, “My bicycle is gone.” They come right in, the two kids I guess, and taken off with the bike. So, between the bike and then the harassment walking home, and then coming in to shoot baskets even though no_______(??) It’s just time to move. When your children are—it’s just mother instinct. Mother instinct.
As I said, the block, I had very nice neighbors. The block was salt and pepper. We loved the house. We really did not want to go. But, once it’s your children, you just feel differently. So, we had to find a place that was the other—plus and then De La Salle moved. So, when they moved, we wanted to find a place the other side of De La Salle. So that either my husband or I, whoever was coming in, could drop the boys off. Because then I was still working at ________(??) and my husband was coming to town. So, we moved.
HS: Are you optimistic about the future of the city?
FT: There’s a lot of building growing on. I do hope. I hope for it. I remember Detroit was—it was just the fashions, the cars, the clothes. And, I don’t see—getting to the black issue—well of course I don’t live there [laughs]. But, I don’t see the black newspapers. I mean you had—when we lived in Detroit, you had the Michigan Chronicle. Fabulous paper and I always read it too because I wanted to be knowledgeable as to what was happening in the black neighborhoods. We’d been to black weddings, and they had the Urban Club. We went to a reception there. Then you had the Wolverine Club which is an association of black lawyers. It was in a comparable elite black section too—not just poor people. I would like for that to come back and I’m glad that there are—the neighborhoods are coming back. Everything is not just put in the name “Woodward Corridor.” Of course it’s pricy etcetera. I would hope to see that. But, to me the sad part is political stuff is infiltrating, which is antagonizing people. They’re just being agitated.
After Dr. King, I thought, this is great. Black people are just going to come forth etcetera and this is their time. Because every nationality, we’ve all had our time being low man on the totem pole. Discriminated against, laughed against, not given chances, etcetera. I thought this would be the time. We had a black mayor. But it didn’t happen and the drugs kicked in. Once those drugs kicked in, and then—I hate to get political but when Johnson—President Johnson—was giving all these extra helps people didn’t have the incentive anymore. Because when I was growing up Davidson—you had Joseph Campau. Joseph Campau had stores—automobile. Now you have to go buy on Eight Mile Road or out west. But Joseph Campau had dealerships—car dealerships: Buick, Oldsmobile, Mercury. I remember one time a salesman said, “You know? Many Black people, they save their money. They save their money and they come and they buy that Cadillac, cash.” It was not heard of. So, Black people did accomplish and do quite a bit. Then you had Conant Gardens which was maybe a mile and a half from us. Beautiful brick homes—not Mansions—nice, small three-bedroom homes. But that’s when people did their basements. What was unique about that was the curbs—it was called Conant Gardens and the curbs were painted white. It was just—I don’t know if it was a southern thing or where but the curbs were painted white. And the bottoms of the trees up about maybe three to four feet high were painted white. It was just beautiful. I don’t think—I mean I hope— but all these demands and then the lowering of standards. But it has to do with drugs—It’s not there and then they get hooked and then they—that’s it I guess.
HS: Is there anything else you wanted to share with me today?
FT: I pray.
HS: I’m sorry? You pray for the city?
FT: I pray. I do. I saw this—I wish I could meet with some—a group of black girls you know like 14 in through there—and say, please go to school. Please. Please don’t follow along with this stuff. Because they’re missing their chance—getting back to Dr. King—I thought this is the chance. Then two months ago–a month ago they have a—oh my goodness—who’s the gal on the bus?
HS: Rosa Parks.
FT: Rosa Parks. [Laughs] How embarrassing.
HS: Oh, no its fine.
FT: They have a Rosa Parks scholarship, and they had a picture of the girls who were the recipients of the scholarship. I’m looking at it and I would expect—I know I can’t be prejudiced, not only black girls—but I would’ve expected the majority to be black girls.
HS: As would I, honestly.
FT: And I’m looking and I’m thinking.There are a few white girls. I don’t know if there—I don’t recall any Asians but some girls wearing the hijab. And I thought, Darn, these—they’re missing the boat again. Because maybe ten–fifteen years ago I thought, okay blacks, you had your chance. You missed it. Because now the Hispanics, when they’re coming in, they’re going to school. They’re starting little businesses. It’s their time on that totem pole. They’re working their way up. And, they’re going to be—they’re just going to sit back and complain and make demands and it’s not going to happen. They’re going to be disgruntled again. The political situation, they’re just agitating them.
So, amen. [Laughs]
HS: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I really appreciate it.
FT: I know. You probably want to edit out.
<End of Track 1 [34:19]>
<Start of Track 2>
HS: This is a continuation of Felicia Tuczak’s interview.
FT: I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with black people that it really hurts me that things have not improved. I think it’s self-inflicted that they’ve not improved.
I lost my train of thought.
<End of Track 2 [34:50]>
<Start of Track 3>
HS: Further continuation of Felicia Tuczak.
FT: There are times when discrimination comes up. Or, just something happens and it triggers our prejudice, our bias: whites against black and then black person against a white person. Somebody might say the wrong thing, or they should know better—stuff like that. And so, whenever that used to happen to me, I used to say—I used to talk to myself and say, Okay girl do you think that way? And, I would think of all the wonderful people I knew. Would they do this? Would they say that? Would they act in that way? Probably not. So just that happens to be that person who said that or that person who did that. But when you start counting the wonderful people you don’t have enough fingers or toes.
HS: So, you think that people paint to broad with a brush sometimes?
FT: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. That’s a good way of putting it. You have to take each individual incident on its own. And many times like now with the present prejudice against the police. We don’t know all the stories. With Facebook and everything, we just see one side of- presumably, if you take pictures with the camera, you don’t have a 360-degree angle lens where you see the other part of what you- just flat in front of you. So, I still try and do that though if I get personally insulted by somebody, I just say, Okay god, let me think of the wonderful people I do have. The wonderful kids and the wonderful this and the wonderful that.
HS: That’s a great philosophy. Thank you.