Ophelia Northcross, August 19th, 1998


Ophelia Northcross, August 19th, 1998


In this interview, Northcross talks about her memories of the Boston-Edison neighborhood of Detroit and the changes she witnessed over time. She talks about the tensions between the Jewish and black populations in the area, particularly in the Twelfth Street area that she regards as part of the cause for the violence of the summer of 1967. She also shares her memories of the social scene of the black professional community in the area at the time.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Oral History

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Ophelia Northcross

Brief Biography

Ophelia Northcross was a registered nurse in the Detroit area. She and her family lived in the Boston-Edison area and watched the neighborhood change over time.

Interviewer's Name

Marilyn Mitchell

Interview Place

Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Julia Moss

Transcription Date



MM: …was five years older than Lisa and had a nervous breakdown.

ON: Yeah, after her father—you know, they were killed in that accident.

MM: Oh, yeah. And then Lisa—

ON: Lisa was the one where they live, and she married Henry Ford.

MM: Well, I don’t know if she married him, but he’s in the movement.

ON: Uh-uh. They’re married, definitely married. I have their wedding things in here.

MM: Oh, really?

ON: Their whole article and whatever. Yeah, they’re still married. They sent them to Switzerland, over the Ford Auto in Switzerland, and they lived over there for years. That’s the way they kind of squashed that out. But no, she’s definitely still married to them. When I see Lisa, I just say, “Cornbread muffins and twins,” and she says, “Oh my goodness, where are my twins?” And I saw her in the clinic at Metropolitan Hospital, and I saw her on another occasion. And so that’s—she remembers the twins. But she’s definitely a Ford.

MM: How much younger were your daughters than—

ON: About two years.

MM: About two years younger? Now, your children went to Roosevelt School?

ON: That’s right, Roosevelt.

MM: And then what was the—was there a middle school over there?

ON: Durfee.

MM: And what was the high school?

ON: Central.

MM: So did your children go to Roosevelt?

ON: Not at all.

MM: No?

ON: They went to Roosevelt through the sixth grade, and then I changed them to Visitation Catholic School, in the neighborhood. They were the first black kids in Visitation.

MM: Where’s Visitation? Is it—

ON: Visitation is on Webb. It had a complete complex up there. It had a school from grade one to grade twelve, it had a recreation center full-time, it had a large church, and on the corner the nuns lived and the priest lived. That entire block and half of the other block was all Visitation.

MM: Now, why did you decide to move your daughters to Visitation from—

ON: Well, the expressway was cut, and the influx of the group—the people that were displaced by the expressways were pushed up here, and they lived in multiple dwellings and they overcrowded the school, so the school was just 40 and 50 kids in a room, and the behavior and the activities and the—everything about the school was just not a good school.

MM: Would you say that the building of the Lodge Freeway damaged the Boston-Edison area?

ON: Absolutely. And the buying out of the houses for cash caused the people to have money to buy these homes that were at a lower rate—a low rate. And they had no way of maintaining them. And the same thing happened to the schools. They were pushed up here so fast and the way Detroit runs, people come from the country part of the South, and then they are pushed into the city and they have a cultural shock from just that, and then they leave the slums of Detroit and immediately come here because they like the way it looks, but there’s not enough cultural change for them to accept this kind of neighborhood. And they don’t have an income, they just have a large sum of money from a small home, and they couldn’t maintain the property. And this caused the physicians, the professional blacks, and the professional people to just leave. And then they opened up Palmer Park—well, first they opened Russell Woods and Oakland Boulevard and Palmer Park and Southfield and Berkley and Bloomfield. And so everybody that had money except, you know, me of course, moved.

MM: So is it fair to say that the Lodge Freeway really began the deterioration—

ON: Absolutely. And every—I would tell you this, every corner on La Salle Boulevard had a physician on it, a wealthy physician on it. And every block had all the professional blacks of the city of Detroit. Even if they were in the plants, they were the foremen, the plant managers, whatever. And the income of the average person in here, white and black, was substantial to maintain these homes, with the exception of the older senior citizens or people who inherited the homes and were not of that cultural background to maintain them, no matter what color they are. We had some people like that. Then we had people who were old and didn’t have the income. Like, ghost houses, and the grass would grow up and neighbors would have to chip in and carry them along, and they would be left in a state where they couldn’t be sold. These were the problems. It was never perfect, but it was at such a minimum that it didn’t cause the neighborhood any blight at that point. So the first ten years, in the fifties and even the sixties, we had some problems with the estate houses or with—but after the sixties and the seventies, the general deterioration of the neighborhood was just devastating. Because here we got people who did not culturally understand these homes, nor did they have the means, the money to maintain these homes. They had the down payment. Then we got that aluminum all on there—the aluminum—

MM: Siding?

ON: Siding, we got the aluminum awning, we got the fence problem, the cultural problem. You could just look at it and see. And then with the exodus of all of the physicians and the professional blacks, I mean, that’s what we got. We got factory workers, we got people of a lower income, and they had no idea what it cost to maintain these homes.

MM: Let’s talk about it in decades. Starting back in the fifties, did you experience any discrimination by the Boston-Edison—then called the Boston-Edison Protective Association, or your neighbors?

ON: No, because this had been broken down by the Jewish people. The real problem was back in—if you look in your deed you’ll see that it was written that it was never to be. And then the Jewish people had broken that down in the thirties, and by the time we—in the forties, we got here in the late forties. It was integrated to the point that the hostility had gone. And the Jewish people do not wear robes and cause problems, they just move [laughs]. But while they’re here, you just go to their bar mitzvahs and the cultural things, and we ate their food and they’re in and out while they’re here, but they’re ready to go. But they’re very pleasant to live with while they’re waiting to leave so you can help them sell their house.

MM: Now, did you have the impression that the Jews began moving out when people—

ON: Oh, definitely. There was a flight, a flight of them. They definitely did a flight I would say. That would be my opinion.

MM: So it’s your opinion that Jews started moving out because the blacks were moving in?

ON: No, I would not say that. There are a lot of factors why people do that. There’s the fear of real estate values going down, which they did. So that’s the money part. And then there’s the cultural changes. And I have to admit, some people that moved in didn’t act like the physicians’ kids or the dentists or the professors at Wayne State and their kids, they did not. And so you had a cultural problem here. And some of them didn’t maintain the property, you know, they didn’t understand that. And the parties and the kinds of things they had were—I guess the culture that they were used to, it seemed alright, but it wasn’t what we had bought the house for, or—and when I say we, I mean professional blacks, and we had come to this point where we wanted to live this way. This was not what we had in mind. You know, the barbecue in the backyard business and the food and smoke and everything. And I mean, just to put it like it is, we really didn’t have that in mind. And they brought that with them, a cultural shock in here.

MM: When did that type of person start moving in? Was that in the sixties?

ON: Yeah, when they cut the expressways and they were able to get the money.

MM: Okay, so back to the Lodge.

ON: The Lodge Freeway really did it. It really definitely did. I would attribute all of it to the Lodge Freeway.

MM: When you bought your house it probably had a racially restrictive covenant in the deed, didn’t it?

ON: No, that had been broken down in the forties by the Jewish. When they broke them down for the Jewish, they broke them down for the blacks.

MM: Because I have seen deeds—

ON: I have mine upstairs, I can read it to you.

MM: Yeah, we would like a copy of that also for the archives.

ON: I have the whole thing. And it did start out with that in there, and then it was broken down. When it broke down for them, you know, it went a year, a few years, and then it broke down into the blacks moving in.

MM: Right. But your deed did not have a racial or restrictive covenant?

ON: The deed I have upstairs, which is the original, that goes back from when Joy Road was planted? It has it in it. Very definitely.

MM: The deed you got from Mrs. Pinot, though, did not?

ON: When I bought from Mrs. Pinot we bought cash. We collected our deed when my husband came out of the army. He went in the army a year, and when he came out we went down to the mortgage company and collected the deed, and I’ve had it ever since. It’s upstairs.

MM: Now, did he go in the army for the Korean War?

ON: No, he went because Meharry was taken over by the army, just like Tuskegee was. And he had to go back and pay 18 months at Fort Riley. So we moved, like, one day—we bought the house and he was drafted. They gave him a year for us to get in here, and then the next year he had to go serve 18 months and come back. So the twins and I were in here by ourselves with a live-in maid.

MM: You didn’t go with him to Fort Riley?

ON: I went that summer. I was a public health nurse and I went that summer.

MM: Was that before the children, or—

ON: I had the twins.

MM: So, you had to serve 18 months at Fort Riley, huh?

ON: Uh-hm. Fort Riley.

MM: Let me back up a little bit. You were talking about your husband, Doctor Robinson, and Doctor Going? Goins?

ON: Uh-hm. Goins lived on La Salle Boulevard here and we all three lived in the Boston-Edison area.

MM: Okay, Goins was on La Salle, was that—

ON: Right here on La Salle, and between—at Edison. Between Edison and Atkinson. And Doctor Robinson’s up here, and then we were at six something or eight something. I don’t remember the number.

MM: What was the maiden name of their mother? Their mothers? Their mothers were sisters, right?

ON: Yeah. Their name was Hill. And the capital of Alabama is on Hill Street, which is their farm.

MM: Oh, is that right?

ON: Uh-hm. They have a very lengthy history.

MM: But the boys were all born in Detroit?

ON: Uh-uh, none of them. All born in Birmingham, Alabama, where their farm was. And that Hill Street, that’s their farm, and the capital of Alabama sits on Hill Street.

MM: Where did your husband go to medical school?

ON: Meharry.

MM: Where did he go to undergraduate school?

ON: U of D. [University of Detroit]

MM: So he was already living in Detroit then?

ON: Oh, he came here when he was six months old.

MM: Oh, okay.

ON: They were run out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan.

MM: Why was that?

ON: He scrubbed and he used to work for Doctor Kinney of Tuskegee.

MM: That’s your father-in-law?

ON: My father-in-law and his wife. And they had a drugstore down there, and they were run out of Alabama and they came up here. They had a hospital down there and an office, and he operated at Tuskegee and the Klan ran them up here, and they opened that hospital in 1917.

MM: So what year was your husband born?

ON: In 1917.

MM: Same year that they opened the hospital?

ON: Uh-hm. He came here on a pillow. On a pillow on the train.

MM: Okay, now his—let me see, his mother was a Hill?

ON: His mother was a Hill. She’s an MD. She graduated in 1910. She would have been the first woman doctor at Michigan registered, but a white woman beat her by six months. So she is definitely the first black woman ever registered in the state of Michigan, MD.

MM: Where did she graduate from?

ON: Loyola Medical School in Chicago.

MM: In Chicago? And when did her sisters move here from Alabama?

ON: After she did. She probably sent for them.

MM: Was your husband the oldest of the three?

ON: No, his sisters were the oldest.

MM: No, I mean of the three doctors?

ON: Oh, yeah, she was the oldest. They’re flowers. Daisy, Rosebud, Lily [laughs]. Daisy is the oldest and Rosebud is next, and Lily.

MM: Okay, who’s the mother of who?

ON: Daisy is David’s mother.

MM: That’s your husband?

ON: Uh-hm. Lily is Remus’ mother, and Rosebud is Doctor Goins’ mother.

MM: Is Doctor Goins still there?

ON: No, they’re dead. The only one here is Doctor Northcross. He’s the youngest though.

MM: Who?

ON: Doctor Northcross is the youngest. And he’s still living, 82.

MM: Your husband?

ON: Uh-hm.

MM: Oh, I didn’t know he was still living.

ON: Oh, yes he is, very much [laughs]. He’s not near dead!

MM: So, you’re divorced then?

ON: Yeah, we’re divorced.

MM: Oh, okay. I didn’t realize he was living.

ON: Oh, definitely, he’s out at his lake place. His mom’s lake home she left him.

MM: And he’s 82?

ON: Uh-hm.

MM: Now, Remus Robinson, is he the father of [Diane ____ ?]?

ON: Absolutely. Now, in your history, Doctor Remus Robinson, when they had the rock in his house, he was the first black to be on the school board. Elected to the school board. He finished University of Michigan. He finished Central High years ago as an honors student and he went to University of Michigan. And he was the one that I was telling you wants to be up here, he had his boards and surgery, he was a very well-know community person in Detroit.

MM: When you were—well, let me end here. Who were your good friends that you socialized with in the fifties?

ON: Now, this neighborhood, every corner had a doctor on it. Giving you the picture. Every block had two or three doctors on it. And in black society, doctors had the most money and had the most of everything, the dentists and the MDs. And these people—the Boston-Edison Dinner was a social affair. I mean, everybody in here, every doctor, every whatever—lawyers and doctors were the top  of the society, and the PhDs and the professors were at this cocktail party. And the social group, everybody knew everybody else, see. And that was the kind of thing that went on in here. This was a social neighborhood here. Old Bart Taylor, who later went to Washington, was in here, and used to run the block clubs, and he had—

MM: Was he a doctor?

ON: He was a lawyer. He was appointed by Johnson.

MM: And he was a representative in the House of Representatives, or—

ON: I don’t know what he was over there.

MM: He was appointed by Johnson to what?

ON: To some—whatever, that’s why he left here. Now, I’d have to look it up. I know some people who know Bart could tell me what he was—

MM: Is he still living?

ON: No, he’s dead. But Linette is still living, she was principal of the school. They were very active in the association and very good.

MM: Is Linette still in this neighborhood?

ON: No, Linette—they lived in Washington. See, when he was appointed, they would be Washingtonians over there.

MM: So they stayed in Washington?

ON: Uh-hm. No, this was the neighborhood of the fifties and the sixties.

MM: For black people?

ON: Absolutely. This was it.

MM: Did you know the Barthwells and the—

ON: Very well, very well. Barthwells owned two or three drugstores at [Dix ?] I understand. They made their own ice cream. She’s a pharmacist, he’s a pharmacist. They lived right there where they live now. They were the top whatever, you know [laughs]. Bridge parties, Kappa dances, from sorority, fraternity, whatever.

MM: Are you in that black sorority service organization? The Kappa Kappa—

ON: No. My husband is an Alpha, and my children are in it but I’m not.

MM: Well, we’re jumping around a little bit, but you had the twins and then nine years later you had another child?

ON: The little boy was born here.

MM: And what’s his name?

ON: Derrick.

MM: Derrick. Which one of your daughters was in the army?

ON: The doctor.

MM: That’s Gail?

ON: Uh-hm. She was army-trained and armed services. We’re all in the family, just about everybody who went into the army is an officer. My oldest stepson was an officer in the Marine Corps major, I was a second lieutenant, the doctor was a major, and she was a major.

MM: In the army?

ON: Uh-hm.

MM: Now, how old is Derrick now?

ON: Derrick is 40.

MM: And does he live—

ON: He lives in California. He’s married to a Dutch girl, so we have the interracial children.

MM: What does he do?

ON: A girl and a boy. He’s a builder. He came to the meeting to tell them why they should preserve the house, it’s more valuable, and he also told them the easy way to tell whether you’re getting the right thing on your house, because if it was after 1940—they didn’t make plate glass until after then, the plastic in the glass, with the wood and the metal, and he explained some of the things, so anything you look up and if its after 1940 it’s wrong [laughs]. That’s easy. I went and visited her, by the way. Took her a book and everything and sat down and talked to her, and I explained that to her, the lady that was so upset at the historical society—

MM: Oh, yes, I remember.

ON: And I said, “One easy way you can tell, if it’s invented after that, it doesn’t belong on this house. But you can feel free to call me and I’ll go and visit and sit down and I’ll explain it to you.”

MM: Oh, that was nice of you. When were you divorced?

ON: 1966.

MM: So you were divorced when the riots occurred?

ON: No, no, I was married—yes, I was! Yeah, I worked at Metropolitan Hospital, by the way. I had a special pass and I must have stayed up there about five days. Lived in.

MM: Where was Metropolitan?

ON: Metropolitan Hospital up here? You know, the casualties from it? I worked the casualties.

MM: Now, wait, Metropolitan. That was your husband’s hospital.

ON: Uh-hm. Oh, now that’s another thing that caused the white flight out of here. The riot. Because Visitation’s complex that I explained to you was bringing white Catholic families in here to get on that school and that rec center, and then they were busing their children down to their alma mater. They graduated from here and they were supporting that church and they were coming back, and the riot caused them to move. But we were getting new white residents, Catholic residents, in here. Quite a few, on the Monsignor Marquis.

MM: Well, you were living alone in the house in 1966 and you had children in the home. Were you terrified of the riot?

ON: No, not at all. No. It wasn’t that kind of a fright. I mean, the riot had its own intent. And it was a national thing. And they struck each city, and although it was supposed to not be planned, it was planned. And when they struck Twelfth Street, they intended it to strike the downtown areas where the Jewish people owned all the businesses and had control of all the money, and that’s what they burned down. So they would go through and mark the black-owned businesses, and they would burn down a store next door to a black business, and only by accident would they burn a black business.

MM: Is it your opinion then that the 1967 riot in Detroit was aimed against Jewish business?

ON: It was against the white economy, but the neighborhood where the Jewish person owned them—that’s what got burned down.

MM: But at that time in ’67 there weren’t a lot of Jews left living in Boston-Edison?

ON: Yes, there was. But they weren’t in the houses, but the entire of Twelfth Street and Fourteenth Street, all the businesses were owned by them.

MM: Right, but I mean we didn’t have Jews living in the houses in Boston-Edison.

ON: Yes, they were still here. Quite a few were still here. They had not all gone. They didn’t all go overnight either, it took like ten or fifteen years for anybody to rotate out of here, white black or any other color. They took a while. They didn’t go overnight. So it’s a rotating thing.

MM: Did you see a lot of for sale signs going up after the riot?

ON: Definitely. The riot feared people with children that were going to Visitation, that were back here, you know, and they definitely did leave.

MM: Did you see housing prices go down in the neighborhood after the riot?

ON: Definitely down. Definitely down.

MM: Now, it was my impression—see, we came here in ’72, and I lived here about five years before I figured out that the riot occurred just south of our neighborhood. Because--

ON: On Twelfth and Fourteenth?

MM: Yeah. I never would have known, I thought it was some other part of town—

ON: And it was confined there. Nobody came up here and burned your house up here. It stayed right there where they had intended it to be. They burned down every Jewish business on that street, and then they left every black business and hosed it down good and left it sitting there, and every church. Episcopal church is sitting there and not one spark.

MM: Why do you think they burned down the Jewish businesses? Were they unfair to the people who lived in the neighborhood?

ON: I think generally, and this is my opinion, is that the Jewish people are white when it’s convenient. Because they are white in color, and there’s no way except for their religion that you can identify them. So to be an opportunist, what they do is many of them don’t even practice their religion, so you can’t identify them, because it’s not expedient. And then when they live in the neighborhood, I found them to be very socially friendly. I mean, you went to their bar mitzvahs, you went to whatever. But when it’s time to vote or time to have any strength or time for—they are white. And in the business world, they run their businesses and they exploit blacks, and they know it. They will serve rotten foods and have dirty markets, and the Arabs are doing this now, and it’s going to backfire. And then they are blockers to anyone opening a business, and so they dominated Twelfth Street with their dirty markets and all their junk up there. And the blacks came in during the sixties, and they could open businesses. So they opened a barbecue rib and whatever right across from them, and it was an economic overtone to this. And it was not just here, it was all over the country. It was a restlessness.

MM: Would you say the 1967 so-called riot in Detroit was more economic than racial?

ON: Both.

MM: But it wasn’t really a race riot in the sense of what had occurred in the forties, was it?

ON: No one was actually doing anything to them, but they were finding it very difficult to economically unblock this Jewish dominance of the neighborhood, which we have again with the Arab. He’s coming in and all our filling stations have been sold to him. I don’t care why they did it or how they did it, they did it. And all of our stores and what not, if you notice, they’re being dominated by the Arabs. And so we have the same hostility growing now that grew over a period of long years against the Jewish merchant, that would not be a part of the neighborhood in any other way other than to run his store. And then he ran his store with rotten foods, and they’re dirty, they weren’t kept well, they were not a part of the community, and they lived generally out in another area. The ones that lived here had large businesses, were very rich, they were not merchants on Twelfth Street or Fourteenth Street, no. They owned large lumbar companies, and the Diamonds were very rich, had three homes. And Mr. Posner owned clothing stores out in another neighborhood, he was not into that. So it wasn’t against Boston-Edison residents, they were too rich for that. It was against the lowly merchant who kept these dirty stores down here, and exploited the poorer blacks who lived in those two-family flats and that moved down in here. It didn’t concern us. Because we were supermarket buyers, let’s face it. We go to better stores to buy, at Hudson’s and whatever and all that. It’s the people who live down in here who have to walk that were so hostile, and they were the ones doing all the burning, not Boston-Edison. Nobody in here knew anything about it except to go down there and look. Now, they burned Twelfth Street over here. I mean, Linwood was burned down, Grand River was burned flat to the ground. And Twelfth and Fourteenth was burned down flat.

MM: But they didn’t come north of Edison and burn in here at all?

ON: No houses were burned. There was no house burning. Only businesses. Only Jewish businesses were targeted. White or Jewish. But since most of them were Jewish, they’re the ones who got burned out. And there would be a filling station here, and they would mark it. They had an X, they marked it. And they would not touch that building. And then that drugstore burned down, and it was a man had a store—there was a filling station by a black guy, and that building on the end that still sits there, it was owned by a Chaldean that went to Visitation Church. And that man—to show you how they did it—that man had his NAACP life membership stuck up on the window, and he had his negro college fund checks—really, and he had a chair sitting there. And they didn’t burn nothing in his store. That man in that store right there. And they still own that store. And they lived on Chicago Boulevard, you know the house they just did over? The beautiful house across from the [Betty ?] house? In the front of it? That’s where those Chaldeans lived. And they went to church at Visitation Church, they were a very intimate part of this community.

MM: Do you remember their names?

ON: I can’t think of their names, but I know when Helen’s husband died I went way out somewhere to the funeral. And so this man walked up to me, this very attractive white man came up to me, and he said, “Hi, so you’re still pretty with your big dimples!” And I thought, who in the world is that? You know what I mean? And I said, “Why did they come way out here in Southfield, Berkley, whatever, to have a funeral? What’s the matter, Helen?” And so when they moved away, one of—the lawyer, the brother, he said, “You don’t even know who that is, do you?” I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “That’s that family that owns that store. Up there.” They grew up with my kids, that store right there.

MM: Linwood and Chicago?

ON: That’s the same people. And listen, I go to Grosse Pointe and there they are, “Hi, Mrs. Northcross!” I go to Bloomfield and there they are, “Hi, Mrs. Northcross!” [Laughs] See, they’ve grown up from Visitation, and they have those stores all over the Detroit area, and I see them, you know, and I say—and they did not touch that store. That’s what got me. To show you that was not a riot with no plan, see. And they had—they burned one and it could be, I mean, joined together, and they’d burn it and leave that whole.

MM: Well you mentioned Helen, that’s Helen Brown?

ON: Uh-hm.

MM: You know, you resemble Yvonne Fowler.

ON: Yeah, we do, most people think we’re relatives.

MM: Right. Now, Yvonne lived in here in the early fifties too.

ON: Yvonne did not, Doctor Shepherd owned that house. And later her husband finished med school—she’s about eight years younger than I am—and he bought it from Doctor Shepherd who fell dead on the golf course. And that’s where I met her, because her husband’s on the staff at my hospital. He was one of the first black interns at Receiving Hospital in residence.

MM: What’s his name?

ON: Doctor Thomas Ream. Very active in Boston-Edison, at every cocktail, a very community-oriented person.

MM: So Yvonne lived in here—

ON: He looked just like the husband she has now, only he was a little shorter. And I introduced her to that husband. And someone asked me, said, “Aren’t you--.” I said, “Listen honey.” [Laughs] I know you haven’t met him.

MM: Yeah, I know Ross.

ON: He has the most negative personality I’ve ever seen. I said, “No, no.” But Tom was a very personable—he was a surgeon. And he was a very community-oriented person.

MM: But he died?

ON: He’s Moroccan-Indian, so he looked like him.

MM: Oh, really?

ON: He was mostly Moroccan-Indian. That’s the father of the children. He was killed.

MM: Oh, he was?

ON: He was going on the underpass of Cobo Hall when a [Chevrolet] Stingray rammed into the wall.

MM: Oh dear.

ON: Uh-hm, he was killed.

MM: He was killed in a car accident.

ON: Uh-hm.

MM: I like Yvonne a lot.

ON: Now, Yvonne was married to him about 15 years before he died. And now they’ve been married about 27 or 28.

MM: And they have the two children?

ON: The two children. But Doctor Shepherd lived in that house before that, which was the cousin to Tom. And he died on the golf course.

MM: Was Doctor Shepherd black?

ON: Yes. Uh-hm. The cousin to Tom. The wife of the cousin to Tom, Bessie.

MM: Okay. I guess that’s how Tom came to buy the house.

ON: From the Shepherds, uh-hm. And she married another dentist and moved to New England.

MM: Oh, Doctor Shepherd was a dentist?

ON: Uh-hm. He was a dentist and Tom was a surgeon.

MM: Now, you knew the Bells of course.

ON: I know Iris, the Bells, Mendel. When I first came here they lived—the Bells lived on Boston Boulevard.

MM: On this side of the freeway?

ON: That’s right, in 1947. In the fall of ’46 I came here really, and I went to their house. The Burtons lived there, the Bells lived there. Cool B.L. Davis Jr. lived over there. Sugar Child, you know, the famous little three-year-old piano player lived over there, the Diggs who were the senators lived over there then. In other words, they had moved into Arden Park—the blacks had moved into Arden Park and Boston Boulevard, but they had not crossed Woodward. They didn’t cross Woodward, and I think that Earl Williams, the band leader-- she told me she came here in ’49, so she must have been one of the earliest ones. He was a famous band leader back then, when they had the bands like Ben Miller.

MM: Right. Earl Williams?

ON: Earl Williams. Was it Earl or Paul?

MM: Is his wife—

ON: Yeah, she’s still over there.

MM: Over where?

ON: Beautifully kept home on Edison.

MM: Is that Annie Williams?

ON: Is that her name? No, her name is—what is her first name? I can’t think of it now, but she helps me out over there. She calls up everybody.

MM: So Mrs. Williams is on Edison?

ON: Uh-hm. And I gave her a booklet and she does a nice job on there, replacing snowbrush and stuff.

MM: And she’s the widow of Earl or Paul—

ON: It’s Earl or Paul Williams, they had a band on television, you know, he was a very nation-wide—

MM: Do you think the Williams are one of the first black families here?

ON: That’s what she was telling me. I know she was here when I came, and I’m going to tell you, she was here, she and Sylvia were here first, and Doctor Goins moved before I did. Those three families were here.

MM: And who’s Sylvia?

ON: Because we had a bridge club. With Terry Snowten. Lived next door.

MM: Snowten?

ON: Uh-hm. And they were here before I got here. Actually in the houses. Because we had a neighborhood bridge club with these doctors’ wives and lawyers’ wives and whatever, called the neighbors. And I was not here yet, when I came out here.

MM: Was that bridge club an all-black club?

ON: Uh-hm. It was all black, and it was just professional people, wives and what not. Some people were in real estate or teaching or whatever. A lot of teachers lived in here, [unintelligible] teachers, professors or whatever.

MM: Did Ralph Osborn die?

ON: No, he’s not dead. He is in Mississippi.

MM: Is he?

ON: He built a home in Mississippi.

MM: Because I just realized I hadn’t seen him for a long time.

ON: Oh, they left about a year ago.

MM: Did he sell his house?

ON: Yes, he did. And the people that moved in, and don’t ask me who they are, because we’ve had—they were quiet, they left it neat, but nobody knows who they are, and they had something going on up there and all of them got upset. They’ve got a real big block club up there, and they called the police or something. It’s really quiet, whoever’s in there now, extremely quiet. And he lives next door to the man with the gun.

MM: Oh, yeah, yeah.

ON: So you get the picture. Down there. The one who had to walk—you know, Joe Louis’ nephew—the wife runs the block club down there.

MM: Oh, is that right?

ON: And she’s very good at it. And she had meetings and really has a real block club, between she and the Bonds and whatever.

MM: Right. Well, of course you know Wilma Bond.

ON: Yeah, Wilma had a house on the walk. She’s very good, she’s very active.

MM: She was my son’s preschool teacher, over at St. Agnes. What’s your church, Ophelia?

ON: None [laughs]. Haven’t you seen me down there at yours with Yvonne? I don’t go to church.

MM: Okay. Well you’ve got to come to Harrison.

ON: Now, I was a Methodist Sunday school teacher, and my family is split. We’re half Methodist, half Catholic. My sisters finished Zavier University and the Catholic Heart of Mary High, and I didn’t. I finished at public school in Tuskegee. So I’m Protestant more or less, but I don’t attend anything if you notice. I used to go with her.

MM: Well, I know, but—

ON: I was just going with her.

MM: Various people come to our church, so I didn’t know.

ON: And when she stopped going I didn’t go anymore.

MM: Well, she still comes, but we don’t meet in the summer.

ON: No, they have it in the parks, and I’ve been down there when he has that little skit he puts on. I find him very difficult.

MM: Who?

ON: Ross. I’ll put it that way. I like him, but I find him very difficult. I have to placate his personality, and it’s rather wearing, let’s put it that way.

MM: Well, Ross is kind of opinionated.

ON: Uh-hm. He’s got a lot of little things like that, and he’s difficult.

MM: How did you know Ross, to introduce him to—

ON: Well here’s something. I was a single person, and a dentist I know—when he got single, he was a friend of his, and he says, “You know a lot of attractive girls.” He says, “Give me the number of some of those girls.” And he says, “No, I’m not going to do that, I’m giving him your number.” So he actually gave me Ross’ number, and she wanted to go to Palmer Park to some big party or something, and she fell out with another guy, and I said, “Well, just take this number here and call this guy, he’ll probably take you.” And she did, and that was it. Just like that. Sight unseen. I didn’t even see him. Boy am I glad I didn’t [laughs].

MM: So you didn’t really know him, you just gave her a number.

ON: No, not at all. No, I just gave her a number and that was it. 27 years, so that was it.

MM: Why did you decide to move into Boston-Edison? How did you know about it?

ON: Actually—we never had a house other than this house. And for the first five years we lived—well, yeah, we lived in the hospital, except for that brief state--

MM: But I mean how did you know this neighborhood existed?

ON: See, I had gone, remember in ’46, to Arden Park.

MM: Oh, that’s right.

ON: And I had been a guest in those homes over there. See, I know Iris Cox. Now she’s Iris Bell, and Wendell and what not. They are socially—we were socially affiliated with them. So Iris moved over here. She should have been an early resident.

MM: Yes, I think she was.

ON: And in my age group the general trend was to move over here in this area, and as they speak in the United States, the neighborhood opened up or whatever. And I was looking near Woodward or looking near—the expressway wasn’t built then, you know, when I moved here this was a solid neighborhood, there was no expressway.

MM: Right.

ON: But someone said to me, “The houses are newer down near La Salle Boulevard. Go look down there.” And I came down here, and they are later built. And then we looked on Boston, and with him being drafted—the taxes were double on Boston. And the reason Boston was so well-kept was because you could be taxed for any flower or tree or anything on Boston Boulevard on the medians and you didn’t have any say-so, it was just put on your tax bill. And they were double what these are. And they still are quite double. Mine are 1250, the average tax over there is 2200. Yvonne pays 2200, I pay 1250.

MM: Per year?

ON: Uh-hm. So they’re still double. Now, with him going to the army and me having two kids, this house was sitting here and our radiologist lived on the corner. Doctor Mitchell, with that great lot. And we said, we’ll get the benefit of all this open space here without having that tax bill, in case my husband dies or something. He said, “Leave the money for this house so you can pay for it and raise the little twins here.” And I was an RN, I could run this house, but I couldn’t on Boston. The heating bills then, the oil furnace and the heating bills were astronomical. That and the median. You had to pay to keep that median like that. They weren’t joking. They changed those flowers and shrubs and whatever out there and it was put on you tax bills. So looking into that factor and the fact that I was an RN, I liked this house. This is an English house, and Mrs. Pinot always—only two owners, and this has been kept—the O’Connors stayed here six months and lost it, and Mrs. Pinot was an excellent housekeeper, and hers was decorated in Chippendale furniture, very well kept. And I liked it, I really like this house.

MM: Did O’Connor built the house?

ON: The O’Connors built it. And they lost it during the crash in 1922, they only stayed here six months.

MM: So they built it in 1920 or—

ON: That’s right. And Doctor Pinot and Mrs. Pinot—he was not a doctor then, she was a schoolteacher and she helped him through med school. And her family lived in here. And she had Karen who committed suicide. And the daughter committed suicide, she had one child. And she did my third floor over because he was a resident, and they did that to live up there. Then her son married [Tasty Brad ?].

MM: Oh really, Ms. Pinot’s son?

ON: Ms. Pinot’s son. And she used to explain all the beautiful weddings and showers, and the boy at Harper used to meet in this dining room. She had a Chippendale. And [unintelligible]. We were just friends. I would come over here, and I worked at Herman—I didn’t work at Herman Kieffer but I was a public health nurse and I worked out there and my kids went to Wayne State nursery school. So I would come through here and just talk to her about the house. And I didn’t buy any of her furniture, because this is the furniture we bought, the same furniture, I’ve never had any other furniture.

MM: He was the doctor who ran off with his nurse?

ON: He sure did. And she turned bitter. She was doing really good until that happened. And she turned so better, I said to my husband, I said, “What happened to Ms. Pinot?” And I’m a nurse, see. And then finally we found that he had run—she had run up in this house and asked Mrs. Pinot to divorce him. Oh, it was such a mess. I followed them in the paper. And then she had the tragedies, the resident divorced her daughter and they were never happy in Grosse Pointe, and she committed suicide. So she would come back and ring the bell and come in and cry.

MM: That’s too bad.

ON: She died. She’s dead and he’s dead.

MM: When were you a public health nurse?

ON: When I moved here I was a public health nurse.

MM: When you moved here, you mean to this house?

ON: Uh-hm. While he was in the army, see.

MM: I see. And you didn’t work out at Herman Kiefer or not?

ON: Uh-uh, I worked with [VistaNurse ?].

MM: Oh, okay. So while your husband was in the army for the 18-month period—

ON: Yeah, I went to Wayne State in public health and then I worked as a public health nurse.

MM: Did you get a degree at Wayne?

ON: Uh-uh. I just did—at that time—


Original Format



47min 33sec


Marilyn MItchell


Ophelia Northcross


Detroit, MI




“Ophelia Northcross, August 19th, 1998,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed September 24, 2023, http://oralhistory.detroithistorical.org/items/show/614.

Output Formats