Daniel Jennings, June 19th, 2015


Daniel Jennings, June 19th, 2015


1967 riots-Detroit-Michigan
Breitmeyer Elementary School—Detroit—Michigan
Jennings, Daniel
Stanley’s Patent Medicine—Detroit--Michigan


In this interview, Jennings recounts the day his father, Reginald Jennings, was killed during the 1967 civil unrest. He also discusses growing up in Detroit and attending Detroit Public Schools in the 1960s and 70s.

***Note: This interview contains profanity and/or explicit language.


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Daniel Jennings

Brief Biography

Daniel Jennings was born September 2, 1956 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. On July 24, 1967, the second day of the unrest, Daniel’s father, Daniel Jennings, Sr. was killed when he was suspected of looting Stanley’s Patent Medicine, a liquor store at John R and Harper Avenue in Detroit. Jennings was ten years old at the time and had 13 brothers and sisters. Jennings attended Detroit Public Schools and has worked in film production.

Interviewer's Name

Noah Levinson
Lillian Wilson

Interview Place

Detroit Historical Museum 5401 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Michael J. Lake and Mark Kwicinski


NL: Today is Friday, June 19, 2015. This is the interview of Daniel Jennings by Noah Levinson and Lily Wilson. We are at the Detroit Historical Museum on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society and the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. Daniel, could you start by telling us where and when you were born.

DJ: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, September 2, 1956 at Mercy Hospital, which is right down the street—along this way—off of Woodward Avenue.

NL: And where were you living in July of 1967?

DJ: July of 1967 I was living at 403 Mount Vernon—which is roughly three blocks—three or four blocks northwest of East Grand Boulevard.

NL: And what were you doing at that point? You were a student?

DJ: Pardon me?

NL: You were a student?

DJ: Yeah, I was a student.

NL: Okay, where at?

DJ: Breitmeyer Elementary School—I was just going into the sixth grade that summer—because this happened in the middle of that summer. Do you want me to continue?

NL: Absolutely.

DJ: As a matter of fact, I had a neighborhood job. I was ten years old, this was about a month or so away from my eleventh birthday on the day that my dad was killed which I believe was a Monday and I was working. I actually had a job at the supermarket around the corner. So I was around there working. I was a stock boy—stocking the shelves, taking the garbage out, burning the trash, stocking the return bottles. And I was back there working, matter of fact, and one of my friends—this is the second day—let me start from the first day of the riot. The first day of the riot I believe was on a Sunday. I was riding my bike—I used to ride over to Hamtramck regularly. So we was over there near the Buy-Low's store and I was riding over there and we were—friend end of mine—a couple of friends of mine—we were riding over there and what happened was that I had gone over there several times ever without incident so on this particular day we were riding the bikes, coming home and all of a sudden, the people who usually were always friendly—the guys rolled by and they were shooting bean-shooters at us and "Niggers get out of here," you know this kind of thing and I had never experienced that before so I was like, "What's wrong with them? What's going on?" So we kept riding and one guy rode by in a convertible and threw a piece of fat meat—and I'll never forget—like barbeque fat and hit my friend in the face real hard. And we thought it was funny, we laughed and we just kept on riding and wondered, what'd they do that for? And so by the time I came home—this was the first day—and then I heard about all the burning and the stuff had began to escalate and didn't pay it much attention; I was a kid. Next day I got up and went to my job at the grocery store around the corner. My dad, I think he got up and had gone to the—it's a union hall office, I forget the local number, right here on the Boulevard and John R. I beleive, or Brush. So anyway I was at the store working and then I think around two o'clock or something like that. Two o'clock, two-thirty, three, a friend of mine ran over there and said, “Well hey, Reggie”—that's my nickname—my middle name Reginald. He ran over there and said, "Hey man, we just heard on the news—your dad's been shot." And then I said, “Well no, that's a big mistake.” I said my dad should be home now because I know he had gone to the union office earlier that morning. So anyway my friend left to go out—then he came back and said, “Well no, man, it's the facts, I'm sure—your dad's got shot and I think he's dead." And so I ran home because I live right on the corner. The market was around the corner and we had a recreation center on the corner and our house is on the very next corner. Very short block, maybe about ten, eleven houses. So I get home and I see my sister just over me—and she's in political stuff—now with the president, and ran the city—Democratic Caucus—her name was Cecelia Walker. So anyway I ran into the house and she's there doing handstands on the couch and I grabbed her legs and pulled them down and I say, “Well, where's mom and them at? Where's Daniel?” We called my daddy "Daniel." She say, "Well, Daniel's been shot. Mom and them have gone to the hospital." And then at that time I say, “Well he's dead,” because I said I heard he's dead. And then at that time she jumped up and started just beating on me because they used to beat on me regular. I had six older sisters—and I had to throw this little part in but, I was the oldest of seven boys and a man that had six girls first. So, when I came along I was really spoiled. I got bicycles, regularly went to the football games, you know, wherever I wanted because I was the first son and he had to wait more than eight years before he had a son. And so when I wanted to watch the football game—they wanted to watch Shirley Temple—and we had one TV to share between all of us and my mom and them had the TV in their room. So when I went back in and told my dad they didn't let me watch the football game—they want to watch Shirley Temple. So he come in there and then say, "Turn this TV and let him see some of this football game." So when he left out the room, I got the beat-down. I got hit with four cans of pop, high-heeled shoes, telephones—and this was on the regular—but I was never allowed to hit them back. So, I didn’t—but see—I would just curl up and take the beating and then, you know, they'd turn the Shirley Temple right back. But—see that was the last time I got hit—the day that my dad died. And I told my sister then—because she used to beat me—I say you're never going to hit me again. I say because I'm the man of the house now. And they never raised a finger at me again after that. And so when my mom and them came home and I saw her doubled over, crying, you know—I knew it was true then. So I immediately stepped into manhood that day, and I was not 11 years old yet. But I knew that I had to. Maybe my dad had a premonition that his time was going to end early because he used to constantly—and still until this day I live up to it—he constantly told me "I want you to promise me that you're going to take care of your mother and your sisters and brothers because I'm not always going to be here." And see, especially the younger ones, they play on that. Because they come to me and, you know, I've had four or five brothers live with me in the last couple of years. And the baby sisters, they call me, "We out of toilet paper, we need this, we need money, we need gas, we need—" and they still to this day, in my heart, won't let me let them grow up. And I still sacrifice to do that to this day so that was something that was always there. And one other thing I appreciate what my dad did is when the snow—see to this day even the complex I live in with my mom in Taylor, Michigan—when it snows, they come and do all snow, and lawn, and everything. But I always get up and shovel the snow at mom's place and the place next door to me on both sides because he told me—“Don't you ever let me come home and see snow out there on the ground and your mother and sisters have to walk out there on some ice because he said I'll get out the grave and come whoop your tail." So I always do that. Just to be safe. But after that, like I said, I grew up and I became the man of the house. Like I said I already had a little job—and I was all for other little jobs in the area. I mean I would go around and hustle. I became a natural hustler. I would go up and down the street. I would rake leaves, I would take garbage out for people—but I had—I was a boy scout too. I wasn't old enough to be a boy scout but I wanted to be a boy scout when I was eight years old. And my dad went up there and told them, “He wants to be a boy scout. He's 11 years old," and I joined the Scouts. So I already had three years of experience by the time I was legally old enough to be a scout. And I wanted to be a boy scout not so much to be a boy scout but having eight sisters and a lot of girl cousins—and back in the sixties you usually saw a lot of military personnel walking around with their uniforms on. That was regular. All up and down the street, they would march up and down the street with their uniforms on. Something you don’t see today. So when all my sisters was on the porch and my cousins and their girlfriends scream, “Oh, look at how cute they are. Oh, they look so good in their uniforms." That's why I wanted to be a boy scout. That was my main reason so I joined the Scouts. But I have a lot of those values and morals in me. I still remember the Scout Law and things. So that was good. As life changed for the family, I always had a job. I always got little jobs at the school. When I came back to school I was already an "A" student and had perfect attendance but that really escalated because— I didn't think so then, even though I felt I was deserving of all the positions that I got because when you walked into the school the first day you saw a big picture of me: Daniel Reginald Jennings, safety patrolman of the month, first lieutenant, president of the student council, vice president of the career-study club, sergeant-at-arms in the future-teachers club. We had an explorers club where I had a rank in that, I don't remember what it was but we went swimming out of the school because we didn't have a swimming pool in our school, Breitmeyer. We used to come up here to the white school. It was over here somewhere off of Beaubien, back at St. Antoine somewhere. And so I had so many activities at school that I never got home before six or seven o'clock. And I this singing group—everyone sung The Temptations—so we practiced and sung The Temptations—and all of these things. My childhood was—I seem to have gotten a lot of special attention. I remember when the teacher—when I was in the seventh grade—the year that my dad died and the teacher asked us to write down where we wanted to sit—if we specifically wanted to sit next to someone, and the compliment to me was that there were so many people—I think it was more than half the class wanted to sit next to me that the teacher actually put me up at her desk and I had to sit down facing the class. And not that I think much of it then, but as I reflected back on it, I kind of realize wow, that was really a compliment to me. And so the brothers and sisters, we all got together and we supported one another and I kind of took care of them. I just remember working and helping to take care of the family and stuff. And one of my oldest sisters, grandparents, they helped contribute. Neighbors, they would bring over food. We didn't really have lack of. So we had gotten a lot of support from the neighbors and the community because this was a worldwide story then. Everyone knew about it; my dad with all these kids. I got a lot of handmedown clothes from my cousins and they were nice. Those are some things that I grew to remember. I think by the time I was 16—I think that next year when I was 12, it was one of the best summers of my childhood after my dad died because I took off my gym shoes and I started wearing street shoes and dress clothes because I said I'm a man now and I am not going to be playing or running ball—I still played baseball but I actually had the job at the store, I was doing that. And the lady that lived upstairs, she asked me to walk her kids home at lunchtime. And she paid me five big dollars. That was a lot of money. Because they were mixed; her husband was black and the kids—she thought other kids would mess with them. So, I would bring that money home from the store. I would get $15 a week which was good money. Because I can remember you could get a can of soda for ten cents, you could get a loaf of bread for 25 cents. I used to go to the store with a dollar and come back with a lot of goodies. I had a loaf of bread. I remember a pack of cigarettes was about 32 cents because my oldest sister always wanted some cigarettes so I would bring her some. But it was just a lot of good times. That summer we went on a lot of trips. My dad used to always take us all out to Belle Isle—and that was a horrible two years for me—that year, I think it was '66 and '67, because my favorite idol Chuck—what's his name? A hydroplane driver at Belle Isle. He drove the Miss Pepsi boat. His name was Chuck Thompson. He died the summer before on my baby brother's birthday. And that was a horrible, horrible day for me and then that was on July 12 and then almost a year later I lost my dad. And my whole world seemed like it was coming to an end. I got past those times and the next year the rec center on the corner, they took us on trips. We went to all of the local parks. One day we would go to Metro, the next day we'd go to Belle Isle and we'd get to stay out there all day with lunches and by that time I was interested in the girls—they had been chasing me a while before that, but I wasn't interested until I was 12. And we went to Stoney Creek and all of the Metroparks—Kensington—there was about five of them but we went each day of the week and we would go and we would play all day. So, to me that was the great escape for what I had to deal with when I came home. Because there were times at home when having that many brothers and sisters, my mother, thank goodness, she always looked at me as a little special I guess because she used to always hand me a little piece of chicken. Because if you weren't there for dinnertime sometimes, you'd miss out. So those are the things I remember. I was a child—I remember the city—like before the night my dad died we were sitting on the porch and I didn't really understand what was going on. I know the city was in a blaze and everything but that was something that we never ever spoke about at my house about the race relationships or anything of the political stuff that was going on. That night, I’m looking up. I remember seeing the sky bright orange and red from the fires because Twelfth Street was on fire. I used to go over there with my friends. We used to—because we were fascinated because it was hustle. You'd see pimps and prostitutes and all up and down and all the pretty colors and the nice convertible cars and they were shooting dice and playing cards and there was something for us to run over there. We ran and played at the GM building, with all the cars in the showroom. We went underneath the tunnel to the Fischer building. And this was something regular. They had a nice restaurant there on the boulevard called—it wasn't the Chin-Tiki. I think the Chin-Tiki was downtown—but they had tiki torches burning in the front and they had a nice little lake—so these were things for us—we played in the front. That's what my childhood was like the time that my dad got killed. My Easter Sunday, after we came from church, we'd get on the bus. And that's something a lot of youngsters nowadays don't do at least in the inner city. When I was seven or eight years old, I used to catch the bus all over town by myself. For Easter Sunday our thing was that after we had gone to church and colored the eggs and visited who we had to visit, me and some of my friends, like the single group that we had, we had a gang but we had a good gang. Our good gang was called the "Young Leaders." And now that I think back, the guy who had started this gang was at the barbershop. We used to go across the street and shine shoes at the shoe shop parlor. That's one thing this guy named Red—wonder if he's still around—his shop was right here on Oakland, over here near Clay Street, over in that area. We used to shine shoes and he would always tell us if he saw us coming down the street and our shoes wasn't shined he'd make us come in there and he'd make us shine our own shoes and say, "You've got to keep your appearance up." Saying that if the rest of you was looking a little tossed—keep you hair combed and keep you shoes shined. That's what he told us. So we would shine shoes but it was the guy at the barbershop—we always kept our hair as if it were cut. So the guy over there, he told us—well he knew who I was from my riot days. I didn't think about it then, but he said, "What are you guys doing?" We'd say we were doing just little kid stuff and he'd say well I want you guys—and say, “Well who is the leader?” And everybody looked at me and said, “It's him." And so—he say, “Well, you guys got a gang.” And I say, “Yeah we're the gang—we’re the North End Gang.” He said, "Nah, I want you guys to become the 'Young Leaders,' a good gang, I want you all to go around and do good things." He bought us t-shirts. He bought us all t-shirts, had them printed "The Young Leaders." And we'd come in and get a free hair cut every other week and then we'd go across the street and get our shoes shined because we were wearing the dress shoes—we was out of the gym shoes except from when we was playing basketball, playing baseball. And so those are good things so they're was a lot of people—and now that I think back he was probably doing that—and even the days when I was in school with the Future Teachers and everybody hands down voted me as president to the student council and now that I look back I believe they was trying to prepare me for the position of leadership. Because today, I got my company—I'm struggling with it right now but my camera—that's my Jim Reg Productions where I do television, video. I mean I know how to do it all. I went to the film school. I lived out in California. So I toured a lot of the studios out there, learned how to build the sets, you know, just about everything involved with the business. I went out there back in 1997 trying to produce a television show and I left away because my grandmother was sick—I didn't really go back after 2000 but my vision—it just evolved to the point of whether I wanted to build a complex here, in Michigan, to teach people film, television, because they have an idea of doing music video and TV show, film, I bring to the table what someone must have and teach them of how to go from an idea from concept to conception basically. So that's basically what I want to do. That's my vision right now. I want to get a whole school and basically turn that into an entertainment complex—because the school—I hope I didn't drift too far off the course.

LW: No, I think it's important to know, sort of, the positive things you’ve done over the past several decades.

DJ: I worked at Chrysler—I skipped over a lot of stuff. When I was 16 I worked on the parking lots down here. Right over here, next to Wayne State. I Parked cars for two or three years, worked all the lots downtown. We ran the Silver Dome parking lot when it first opened. And then after that there were little odd jobs like I was always working since I was ten. The Raleigh House, a restaurant, I'd wash dishes, bus tables. I worked at the Bed & Spring Company. I worked at other companies. And day jobs where I'd actually scrape up soot from the floor. I worked, I worked, I worked. Then by the time I was 19—when I just turned 19, matter of fact, I had just put in an application in at the UAW for all the plants—they called me at Chrysler. And so I worked at Chrysler for 20 years. I went to an early retirement in 1994this was my twenty-first year out of there. I came out of Chrysler the next year so my ex-wife and I broke-up and so I ended up traveling. The next year—I broke up in '94 with her, because I wasn't working and she was and she was feeling like she was the man—but it didn't work, so I ended up going to the Million Man March. I went to the Million Woman March because I had a lot of lady friends bordering of me and another friend buying the company—they barely had—they had a lot of products to sale and they were scared they were going to get ripped off without a guy. So I went to Philadelphia, to the Million Woman March, Washington to the Million Man March. I took my son—had one son and six daughters. And so we went to the Million Man March, Million Woman March, and after that I just traveled around the continental United States. I went just about everywhere something was happening. I've been to New York and all the surrounding states. Washington, Philadelphia, all up and down. Went to Atlanta, Georgia. Got family in the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, went to Florida for film-stuff down there. Went out to California, went to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Milwaukee to the Miller Brewing Company. Went to—in California I was in San Diego. I went to Tijuana, Mexico. I went to Malibu—everywhere. Everywhere I out there I just went, I was out there for a month or something and I just traveled—Texas—there's not many places—Arizona, Palm Springs—so I had a good time after I left Chrysler. I just traveled. And I met people. In California I went to the studios. I was at Spielman's set—well I can't say on the set—I was there—well I was on the set but I was not in the picture-that—90210—that movie—that show—we would watch them make it rain and it was interesting to see how they did that. They had tall sprinklers over the buildings. Like water sprinklers, regular water sprinklers, lawn sprinklers. And they turned them things on and turned on a big fan and it was raining. It was interesting to see a lot of stuff like that. So I had that experience. That was great. Met a guy who was friends—Denzel Washington's partner—they owned the restaurant—out at the LAX. And then a little kid that was saying the Michael Jackson movie, he was the little kid that sang, playing Michael Jackson—just met everybody. Guys who was producing the Tree Stooges movie. I was just meeting everybody. Everywhere I go I ran into people that was doing stuff. We was on the set of Freaks & Geeks—that was a show that came on. I went to a place. They had a show called Quantum Leap. I don't know if you remember that or heard of that but I was in the producer's house. He was a music producer and they kept introducing me to people that are producing shows for Keenan Ivory Wayans, the Wayan Brothers. People from Biloxi, Mississippi, they produced Eddie Murphy when he first got out to California so it was exciting because that was when I was learning TV and wanted to do this stuff so I learned so much about the industry and after I learned all the ins and outs it made me want to come back here and do something. That's why I endeavor to write today—to build a studio. And my brother-in-law is a master electrician, they carpenters, they plumbers, they learn how to build houses and so I could take any old abandoned lot or building and learn how to work them buildings that was burnt up—how they cut the old steel out—I mean the old wood out—replace the wood. So, that's why I said with me getting the studio thing down the road, that can help a lot of people. I want to give back to the city. That's my main thing because I want to be in a position where I can give back, where I can help people who have any type of goal or desire to do something positive. Because almost anyone who wants to do something positive—that's good and positive—I'll work with them. We need truck drivers, caterers, makeup people, photographers, writers, visionaries. So this is something I want to do for the city. Because it's not about the money for me, or even the recognition. I could be in the background. But the one thing, I don't know if I talked to you on the phone—is the day that they brought my daddy's bloody clothes home.

LW: Yeah, why don't you tell us about that day and what your dad was doing that day.

DJ: Yeah, well that day that he left home and he went to the—I told you a lot about me, I'm sorry. Let me get back. But that day he went to the union office—and the story that they told us is that at that time, but I learned later on because I did a CNN story and that time my dad left and went to the union hall and then they said he had got tied up with some guy that had just got of jail and they went and broke into a store. And that was an embarrassment I had for a long time because I know we didn't need any food at that time because that night before that he died, my sisters' boyfriends and some other guys they broke into a store—well they didn't break into it. Someone else broke into it but the took advantage of it—because there was a store—I remember the store. It was right here on Euclid because it sat right in the neighborhood. And they went down there because they were looking at the folks running in and out—just a little neighborhood small ma and pa store. But they went down there and they came back with baskets full of food. And then some of the other neighbor people, they came with all these baskets. They kept just bringing us food because I had all these sisters and these guys wanted to talk to my sisters. They was nice looking—they kept bringing us bags—“What y’all need?”—and I remember sitting on the porch and they brought all this stuff and we had so much food that it was in the neighbor’s house upstairs and across the street and all of that. And it was almost like a prelude to your daddy's going to get killed and you all are really going to need this. I didn't think of it at that time, but when I reflect back, it was like wow, the universe knew and it made sure we had enough stuff until the monies came in that helped tide us over. But like I said he went to the union hall, I went to my job. That was the last time I saw him in the morning when he was getting ready and I went, “See you dad," and I left and I went out and I went on, and I went to work I when I came home he was gone. And so I don't know when they brought his clothes back home. I don't know if it was that next day or whatever but I remember then in the back room and I saw his clothes I was looking at his—because he had blue jeans on and looks like a plaid shirt kind of like the style you have. They were covered with blood because he was shot in the forehead. And what happened is that he and his half-brother who I didn't know abut at that time—none of us did—he had a half-brother. And I think it was my granddad that was with them, and they was riding around by the store. And somebody else, what they said because I went over there and the guy—people who lived across the street, they told me my dad was riding—I guess they were in the area and somebody threw a brick and broke a door and broke a window but the owner was in the store. Okay, and it wasn't my dad or the guys, but they end up—they didn't break the window—but my dad like after he saw it he was going at—not at no food probably some liquor. That's probably what he was looking for. Because he peered through the door, he didn't even get in. I think he stepped the first step and then got in and got shot down right there as I heard. I did a story back in '87 that the twentieth anniversary with CNN and what they told us was that the guy who lived across the street—he was staying down the street—we had taken photos because they used the photos on the CNN interview and the World News. Front page in the newspaper, and that went all over the country to my understanding. I didn't know that at the time. The guy said, "Who are you guys, what are you doing?" I told him my father was killed here. He said, "I saw the whole thing, I sat there right across the street." And I said well I want to talk with you when we finish this photo session. So I did talk to him and he told me what had happened and we didn't know but I believe the car—because when he described the car—and he described older gentlemen. The older gentlemen was my granddaddy—that's what it sound like. My grandfather drove a white Falcon and his hair was white. Well then that is my father and then he said the time the story was said an old man was the daddy and his two sons and I kept saying that couldn't of been right because my father didn't have no brother because his brother died when my father six years old. My daddy used to remember telling us that he would remember they lived upstairs over a confectionary or something. And the story he told us about his brother was named Frank, his half-brother named Frank, he said that he saw an ambulance come—the people downstairs would never turn the heat up and the brother caught pneumonia from that. He said he remembered the ambulance came and took his brother away and he never saw him again.

LW: But he had a half-brother he was with the day that he died?

DJ: Right.

LW: How did they get together that day? Do you know?

DJ: I don't know.

LW: But you had never heard about this half-brother?

DJ: No, I had never heard of him.

LW: Until after you heard that your dad was dead.

DJ: I didn't hear about it until the day I did the interview—maybe members of my family might've known—maybe one? But he had a half-brother—I checked it out. I asked my mother, and she really didn't know about it, but I asked one of my cousins that knew something about it. I still never met this guy until this day.

LW: Until this day?

DJ: I don't know him.

LD: You don't know what happened to him after '67?

DJ: No, I don't know, I never heard of him. But I asked my cousins did they ever hear that my dad had a brother or half-brother and he said, "Yeah, I know something about that but you would have to ask your grandparents." That was the story.

LW: So, based on what the neighbor across the street said, your dad was with two other men—

DJ: Right.

LW: We think the half-brother and your grandpa?

DJ: I believe so. Just from his description.

LW: Based on the description of the car.

DJ: Because my grandfather and my grandmother have passed away—and my mom is gone—so I had nobody to substantiate that story.

LW: Right.

DJ: But as young as I was I remember at that time—and then when we did that story—I think I was in my thirties. I still say that my granddad drove a white Falcon and I was telling my sister and they was saying, "No way, no way it was him." But it sounded like him to me.

LW: And what do you think they were doing that day after your dad left the union office and then the store was on John R. Is that right?

DJ: Stanley's Patent Medicine. My only guess would be these fellas was trying to get a drink. But I don't know, I wasn't there. But that would be my only—something to try to make sense of it—I don't know what type of mindset they was in and that was them that was with them. But my thinking is that maybe they were going in there to get something to drink. The story that they came and told my family at that time is that my dad had got hooked up with someone who had gotten out of jail—which wasn't true, I don't think. Not from what this guy said. Then this guy might've been to jail—I don't know this other guy.

LW: The half-brother maybe?

DJ: Yeah. And then he said they just got into something and that's the story that I heard. I'm like some ten-plus years old. But I never heard anything else about it until the day that I did that interview. And that was in 1987. And I remember them telling me that this is going to make the front page. But I didn't know it was going to make the world news. I wasn't prepared for that.

LW: So at that twentieth anniversary, the story—you sort of think it was rewritten so that it wasn't—

DJ: I certainly felt better about the story that I had been told—that that was truly the case of what really happened. My granddad would never talk to me about it. And that may have been him, because—the reason why I think it may have been him is because that when they tried to contact him to try to get some information about the story—and my grandma—they wouldn't talk. The day that my grandfather—on the day that my daddy died, my granddaddy quit work. He used to work at Chrysler—was it Hamtramck?—Dodge Main. He retired, he never went back to work after that.

LW: What did your dad look like?

DJ: I got a picture over there if you’re ready for you to see it—it's on the computer. I had some other pictures of him. He kind of looked like a black Elvis Presley. He had his hair processed from the thing.

NL: Sideburns?

DJ: Well, I don't know about the sideburns, but, you know, back in the day, we wore the processed hair. We had all of the looks—had your hair permed and waved and that kind of thing. This thing come up—I hope my battery is good, because I leave this thing at home and someone is at the house with it. Here it comes. I don't really know what happened, but it was certainly—when I heard my dad wasn't the person who broke the window—they was going to the store, the guy that I talked to, he asked me, he told me, he was running and telling my father "No! no! no! Don't go in there, don't go in there, the owner's in there and he got a rifle, don't go in there." And so they said my dad looked back, and he just stood in and “pow!” and the shot rang out.

LW: Was there a lot of riot activity on that strip in that neighborhood along John R? Do you remember? Because you lived very close to there, right?

DJ: Yeah, we were close but I mean that's John R and Harper's right over here.

LW: Right.

DW: I lived several, several blocks away.

LW: So, he was driven there, because there was a car.

DJ: Right.

LW: And there—you're not sure about the amount of riot activity along that street.

DJ: There was rioting throughout the city.

LW: Okay.

DJ: It was on fire. The whole sky was red, black, even in the daytime.

LW: Okay.

DJ: I remember that because around me—the store—it was about three blocks up—the store they hit, someone had broken into that night and people just coming out with stuff. I saw them running because I was looking but I wasn't allowed to leave the front yard. But three blocks down you could see people running up with all kinds of stuff. I do remember hollering,  “Bring me an ice cream!” [laughter]. That’s what I was thinking. But I never got the ice cream.

LW: What did your dad do for a living?

DJ: He mostly did demolition work I went on several job sites that he had—where they tear down the building and stuff, he dad that work. He worked at Ford once upon a time. We was talking about how he was bouncing out the plant; it was a Ford plant. It might've been the one out here—Wixom? Yeah, Ford Wixom. He worked there. He worked at that Wixom plant. And he also used to work on the docks. I remember he was an excellent swimmer. I remember one night he was knocked off the boat and I remember the police coming to our house. He had arrived shortly before they had got there and my dad was in the tub and when the police came they actually told us that our dad was lost and he was feared to be dead because he got knocked off the boat by a crane or something. And what he did was that he swam up onto the ship and he crawled up—and this was in the wintertime—and he came home. And then the police came. And so when the police came and they was telling us we need to talk to your mom and they was saying, "Sorry, we got some unpleasant news for you." Something about "We think your husband is missing. He was knocked off the ship, we searched for him but couldn't find him." Then my dad came out of the bathroom, towel and all, saying that everything was okay, what's going on? And they was—"Who are you?" "I'm Daniel Jennings." And they said, "Oh, okay sir, you was supposed to contact some folks,” and they went into that.

LW: So, when your dad did die, and the story that you told was that he had been looting a store.

DJ: Right.

LW: That what your mother was told?

DJ: Right.

LW: And what was her reaction to that?

DJ: She was sad. I didn't see my mom crying at all. She was just sad, shaking her head, and I remember that I didn't know what looting was. And that was the word that they used. We were like we don't need no food—they said he was just going in there to get them babies some food. And I didn't understand these patent medicine drug store. Knowing what I know now, and knowing that he did step in the door—they were probably going to get some liquor. I mean truth is truth—that's my analogy of it right now. Like I said, he did step inside the door and the guy did tell me he was trying to warn him, "Hey mister, hey mister, don't go in there!" And they said he stepped in and didn't get a step, and the shot rang out and then he told me they brought him outside, when the police came, they laid him on the sidewalk, on the stretcher. Just laid him out there for a couple hours or more, uncovered and everything. Just like they said this is what you all will get if you come and mess the businesses or something like that. Now that part was hard for me, I really didn't like that, at least they could've covered him up. When I was looking at his bloody clothes I couldn't understand why wouldn't the guy shoot him in the arm or in the leg or something, or fire a warning shot. I guess it's just the heat of the moment or whatever because the guy that had no idea that this guy had fourteen kids at home, and had been struggling that morning just to find work. That’s what he was at the unemployment office for, to register for a job. So I say why did he have to kill him, and I went up there, I went up to the store as an adult, I wanted to see the guy, I didn’t know if he was in there or not. But I would go visit that corner many times, almost once a year and just stand there and one day I just walked in the store and I just stood there by the door but this was when I was in my twenties and thirties when they was still open. And I just looked and I saw a guy standing back there, working, like it was a drug store, a liquor store slash. I think they sold liquor there. And I was looking and I was a saying, “I wonder if this is one of the guys who shot my dad?” I didn’t have any ill intentions or anything but I just—it gave me some kind of comfort and some type of closure and understanding. And I still go there. I just rolled by last week—they building a housing complex. I get this certain feeling when I go on that corner. Is this the corner that my dad took his last breath? And I got closure a couple of years ago when we were in Virginia. I did a story on Virginia, I don’t know if you all saw it on the Internet when you looked up the riot, but it WHSV, when it say, “Riot victims remember son,” ["Riot Victim's Children Remembers Father's Legacy"] and you Google that. We did an interview down there, and I was down there because they was having the Martin Luther King march. They wanted to turn one of the boulevards to name it after Martin Luther King. It was a main boulevard in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I was going to move down there so, and when they was able to change that name to the Martin Luther King Boulevard, that gave me a sense of closure for what happened to my dad. For some reason, I don’t understand it, but it did. Because I know that they died in the same type of struggle. My dad wasn’t out there marching for a cause or anything but it was just the times, he got caught up in it. That moment, I don’t know what led him to go to this store that day. I don’t know what brought that on and as I reflect back that is the only thing I can think of why would he be going in the store like that. I went down there and when I saw that it was Stanley’s Patent Medicine, but I believe they sold liquor. I said maybe he was going there to get a drink. I don’t even remember my dad drinking a lot. He liked black label beer, Pall Mall cigarette, and I don’t even remember seeing him drink any liquor. Maybe it was the other people that were with him, I don’t know.

LW: You mentioned that you didn’t talk much about race relations in your house—

DJ: Never.

LW: But you mentioned that your dad was sort of caught up in the same struggle. Can you talk about what that means?

DJ: Well, what I mean by that is the struggle of the times. I remember riding with him in the car one day and some other brothers and sisters and our house was the last house on the block. They took it out— it's the last house— and put in this Chrysler, 75 Freeway in right here. I remember they were tearing down everything in the neighborhood. I lost a lot of friends. When I say lost, I mean they moved away. I was a boy scout, I would go away to camp, I would come back and they gone, my friends that moved away. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them. Some of them I never saw again. But I remember I would ride down the street and I remember my dad stopping and just saying— and I didn't understand why he asked the guy—“Can I get some work with you? All you’ll have to give me is  50 cents an hour.” They were tearing up, and demolition is what he did. I don’t remember what the minimum wage was, I imagine it might’ve been a dollar and some change. This was back in 1964-65, a few years before he died. And there is just so much bulldozers and construction everywhere and he was trying "Can I get some work?" and they was like “no.” He’d say, “I’m looking for work.” But that’s the one good thing I say about my dad is that he always was there. I know a lot of guys—I got kids—a couple of them outside my marriage but I always took care of them, child support, had them with me every minute, but the thing is he always was there. He could’ve easily packed. The ways the times was back then. If you remember that movie—I’m trying to think of it. You would have to leave. Back then, the way the welfare in the eighties system worked—they had a movie with James Earl Jones and Julia, Diane Kearle. You might not remember. Julia, she was the first black TV star, female. But they had a movie called Julia. But they did a movie in the seventies that was depicting the times, the situation. I’m trying to think of the best way to say this without it sounding—if you was on welfare, ADC, you weren’t allowed to have new stuff in you house. Like a new iron, or telephone, or car. That’s what this movie was about, I was trying to think of the name of it. I remember when my mother used to call when my dad didn’t find work and she was calling trying to get some work—saying I’ve been trying to get some assistance from the ADC and they told her—“Do you have a man there?” And she’d say, “Yeah, I got a husband here,” then you couldn’t get no help. So the only way that a family could get assistance was that the man had to leave. He had to leave the house. And that’s the only way they’ll help give you food and assistance that you need. I remember us getting the Goodfella Boxes, every Christmas, with all the little toys and trinkets in it. That’s what I’m saying. My dad didn’t leave. He stayed there and struggled through the times and went to find work and stuff. It was the riot times, is what I’m talking about. My daddy wasn’t out there marching against the cause or whatever. He did step into that store, that’s undeniable. So my thought process when I kept going over and over why would he go into this store. And the only thing that I could think of is maybe they were trying to get something to drink. I think my dad probably did take the liquor-drink. I never saw him drink liquor, but I know he drank beer, I know he loved the Pall Mall cigarettes and the what did I say—the Lucky Strike—no, Pall Mall cigarettes and Black Label. There was a beer called Black Label. Oh, that beer, I tried it when I was grew up and it was nasty. I don’t know if it’s still out there, Black Label, but I just didn’t like it. That’s what I meant being caught up in the times—Martin Luther King was caught up in the times—trying to struggle for equality and justice. And this same event that took my dad—was the people was struggling for equality and justice that he just a victim that was caught up in-between it and lost his life. He may’ve been out there just trying to get a drink or whatever. That’s what I mean by the same because it was the same set of circumstances and it was that day, you know, when people lose someone, and they don’t have all the answers. And like I said when I was down in Virginia that day, I felt a sense of closure when they gave him that. This was something the people wanted so bad. I probably wouldn’t even sense that type of feeling but since there was so many people against it in the area, saying, “Well, maybe we can put his name on such-and-such a playground way back over here behind Julio’s farm or something. And I was like, “Wow,” what is so bad about this man having his name up on the boulevard? With so many people, it would bring comfort to them and honor to them. And when they finally won it over, that’s when it made me feel good. I didn’t know I was down there—they put my picture on the front page of the paper. I mean it’s small—with my sister and then they had me on several news clips, and they kept calling me—“You’re on the news, you’re on the news, holding up a sign.” Maybe it was because I was parked right in front of the police station and so maybe they search my license plate and say well who is this guy? Dan Jennings from Detroit, maybe they put that together because they treated me like a celebrity down there, but I didn’t expect it, I didn’t know why. Here’s these pictures I wanted to show you all, together for you to see. This is little short video of my family. This is when we was doing the thirtieth anniversary for my mom, that’s my company Jim [unintelligible] Productions [music in background]. I had better pictures of him but I didn’t get a chance to get them. When he was younger he used to be a paperboy and things like that [music in background]. These are all of my brothers and [unintelligible]. Actually, my mother had one son after all of us—my other brother—last one by my father—he’s deceased—this is at his funeral [music in background]. This is my brother: he’s the one who died. We was at his funeral, the last picture you saw with all the brothers—that’s the last son of my father [music in background]. That’s my mom. I got another picture of my dad, and that’s who all the sister—down here—she died—that’s the second oldest girl, that’s when they was babies. This had to be maybe three or four years before I was born [music in background]. That’s my dad. Right there. That’s him. Again, his dad--his mother, his dad’s twin sister, he had a twin sister, another sister, he had a—my granddaddy, my grandaunt and sister. My dad, my older sister, but she died in 1971. She had a brain tumor; she was twenty-two years old. That’s my mom over here and that’s my dad’s momma—my grandma—right here. And this had to be—looking at their ages from the picture—I’m guessing this is from 1950—Donna was born in ’50. Yeah, so it was 1953-54 something like that [music].

LW: Thank you.

DJ: I know I probably have a ticket down there because it was over with—two o’clock I think. So I just have to deal with that. So I probably left out some stuff because I’m kind of jumping back and forth. But then again—

NL: Do you, because you said you didn’t talk about race relations in the house where you grew up. Is it something you ever discussed with friends or people in the neighborhood?

DJ: I never did. Not during those times. We never—

NL: Were you thinking about it very much at those times?

DJ: No, I never had any problems. Like I said, I had the neighbors and stuff and I didn’t have a lot of dealings with the opposite race or the Caucasian race. I mean, I went over to Highland Park, Hamtramck. There was the Polish over there—but never had any problems. We had a supermarket that was around the corner—Joseph Campau and Holbrook called Buy-Low’s, and I lived over on right [unclear] and Davidson. Which was a nice, little distance. We would venture out as kids. I would ride my bike all the way from the state to the State Fair, and to Belle Isle when I was eight, nine years old. But there’d be groups of us. But we was very responsible and I didn’t have any issues with any of the races or anything. And like the first incident I ever had was the first day before my dad was killed when they was throwing at us and cursing at us and calling us niggers, I never had nothing like that happen. What did they do that for? You know, we never bothered anybody. We were kids. Like Alice in Wonderland and Leave it to Beaver—I was a boy scout and I was raised up—and for a scout, you had to do a good dead for the day. And everyday that I woke up, I had to go out and ask someone, “Can I rake your leaves, cut your grass, wash your windows, you need something from the store?” I had to do that everyday and wasn’t allowed to accept anything for it. Couldn’t accept any money. That was a condition of my parents, my grandparents, and the Scouts. I always had to say, “Yes sir, yes ma’am” to adults. That’s the way I grew up. I remember I was doing the interview in ’87 and I was telling the guy this and he said, “Man, that sound really corny.” And my answer to him was it was the corny truth [laughter]. And it was, the guy who was doing the interview for the news—when I told him that I watch Leave it to Beaver—he said that it sounded really corny and I told him it was corny truth though. That’s the way it was at my house. And I still have a brother to this day, and he was born 1960 so what that make him? Fifty-five years old? He still, wherever he’s at he still—if he find an episode of Leave it to Beaver, he’ll watch it. He will. Just like we got the computers right now, I still love my, because the music. The GunsmokeThe Fugitive, David Jensen—I don’t know if you heard of that or remember that was a popular show. But just me hearing the soundtrack and the music to these songs it makes me, reminds me of my childhood when I was at home with my mom and dad was right there and we was all watching TV, that’s the only link I have to them right now—is to sit and watch a certain show, and I hear the music playing, like the Gunsmoke music. Because I know my dad loved watching Bat Masterson and Gunsmoke and I hear that music playing and that inside, there’s something that reminds me of home. I get that warm feeling like he’s still a part of me. I know it may sound corny but that’s the truth. It really is. But I didn’t know what they was rioting, looting for. This is the real confusion to me, because when I heard later on that it was about the races—it was white people and it was black people coming up and down the street with baskets of stuff together on my block. And my dad used to ride us downtown—a big thing for us coming up is he’ll pile us all in the car and they’ll get a couple of big bags together and fill them up with tuna fish and bologna sandwiches and jelly sandwiches. And the big thing for us was to ride out to the airport, the city airport, and watch the planes take off. Or to ride up and down Palm Street over here near the old Tiger Stadium because a lot of hippies was there, back then. I mean, you see the psychedelic colors and there be plenty of black folks over there too. So the races was always intermingled. So I didn’t have any recollection—I never was mistreated or called out my name by the whites back then. Not only when the riots started, but then it was a long time after that. I was grown almost, working over here parking cars before I had any understanding—the white races being careful—because I never heard that as a kid. We never talked about it in my house. We played and we had a good time. I did my scout stuff, did my good deed, did my chores. When I rode my bike, and I got to throw this in before we go. One day, my big thing was to come home, ride my bike, play with my football—loved the Lions. Matter-of-fact, the day that my daddy died, the night before, we was sitting on the porch and we was watching the people come up and down the street with baskets of stuff and everything. And he said—he used to call me “June-sack.” I don’t know why because it has nothing to do with who I am or a nickname or whatever. But he’d say, “June-sack, this year we going to catch every game.” He was talking about the Lions and I said, “Yeah,” and that’s why I really felt cheated. The guy who killed my father cheated me out of making every game—we had never been to every game. Those are the things we talked about. And the one thing I want to say is one day I was living on [unintelligible], the street before they tore down—and my dad—he got into the habit—there was so many of us, and we would have stuff just thrown all over the house everywhere. And he’d get up at three, four o’clock in the morning and wake everyone up. “Get up, clean up!” The boys—I was never allowed to wash dishes—because of all the sisters. That may be chauvinistic but there was so many sisters. The girls had to wash the dishes and they had to sweep up. The boys, we had to clean the yard, wash the woodworks around the edge of the floor, I think and do the windows to or something. He would wake us up to do all of that and he took me out in the backyard and said, “I want you to clean up back here in front of the garage,” took me on the side, “I want you to clean up all this trash, clean up the garbage stains.” I learned a valuable lesson that day that brought me to tears—the day we did the twentieth anniversary, because it gave me “stick-to-it-of-ness.” He said, “Have all this done by the time I get home from work and I ain’t got to tell you twice.” And I said, “No, you don’t.” When he came home, I’m outside throwing my football, just having a great time. And then my daddy call me—“June-sack, come here boy, Reggie come here.” And so when I go in the house he say, “You do everything I tell you to do?—come on, let’s go see.” So I went back to the backyard, all straightened up, all neat. “Good job son, good job.” And then he said, “You burn the trash like I said, you set the cans up on the thing like I tell you to do?” Go back there it was all done, everything. I knew I hadn’t done it so we go into the house, “I got one more thing to show you.” They used to throw away a lot of refrigerators, stoves, and washers and dryers, they had the big boxes laying on the curb. My dad had got one and laid it out all flat in our family room. My bike, which was a pretty, red, Schwinn racer. And I had all the toys. I had mirrors on it, hub-a-light,  streamers, siren, saddlebag in the back—pretty. I mean all the girls wanted me for that bike. It was in a thousand pieces. He had took the chain link off my bike, the handlebars off, the gooseneck, the paddles, the spokes are loose. He just took everything off. The fork was off, and it was just laying there neat in a hundred pieces and say, “Now put it back together.” I didn’t know what to do. I was maybe seven or eight. And he gave me a pair of pliers; he gave me a crescent wrench, and a screwdriver. I never will forget them three because I didn’t know what to do with them. And he said, “You’re not leaving this room until you put this back together.” For three days, all day week-ends and after school I had
to come in there and sit in that room with that bike. I’m crying, hair knotted-up, snot running in/out the nose; and he came and showed me a little piece here and a little piece there and I end up fixing the bike because it had handbrakes and he took all that lose. But that was such a valuable, valuable lesson to me at t hat time I didn’t realize it. Once I got this bike back together I became the bike repairman in the whole neighborhood. I would put the bikes together-the double bikes they had at Belle Isle that you had a seater-heater, and I’d take the front wheel off of this one and put it on the back of that one and even in my business, when I endeavored to do my magazine and no matter what type of challenges that was thrown at me and I kept remembering you better not quit, you had better stay to see it finished even if the day you finish you walk away then but you don’t quit, you don’t stop short. He taught me that and the day that we did the twentieth anniversary, you know, my picture’s in the paper and they had a little picture of him I think. I cried when I saw that for some reason because for some reason it made me think about that day that he took that bike loose. I was dealing with so many challenges at that time—they trying to force me out of business—I say negative forces. And trying to shut my office down, they had [unclear] and my car up got blown up and all kinds of crazy stuff. There was people who saw this business stuff and didn’t want it to happen. But I didn’t deter from it. I just kept going strong. That’s probably the last thing I have to say about it but it gave me strength and a sense of closure that day. The city, I want to see it flourish, I want to see it happen. Even though I’m out in Taylor, Michigan right now--’m getting ready to move back to Detroit—possibly in the next couple of months. Hopefully, or it may be a little while. I want to build a complex here. I want to build something that will help the people—just create jobs and teach people. There is a lot of talented derelicts out on the street. Not to take away from anybody, I can’t compete with any of the major studios or the entertainment complex that they’re putting down here—Ilitch and all them guys—but I want to be able to help create something that could compliment what they doing. See, if I can create something that can compliment it. The existing infrastructure, then these people won’t to worry about people coming to rob them or hit them in the head, because they got a legitimate skill. I’ve worked successfully so many times with the neighborhood gangs down here where I used to have a store down on Joy Road and Evergreen, a sportswear store. They got themselves a couple of little gang factions—they call themselves the Bloods and the Crips of all things. I had come up with an idea because they had broken into my store, broke into a couple of businesses next to me—so I started calling them guys over into my sportswear store—I wish I had brought my portfolio, showing I had my prototype magazine and was setting it up for worldwide distribution and showing them pictures with [unintelligible] and Leon Spinks and Hearns and all them guys—I had Hearns products in my store. I was telling these guys—“You all living this life out here, robbing and breaking into these stores,”—I thought of an idea, I said, “You know what you guys could do, for as little as fifty dollars, or twenty dollars, you guys could start a business. Think about it. Get you a wagon, get you a bucket of water, some vinegar, and some newspaper.” That’s what my grandma used to have us clean her windows with and say, “You can go up and down Joy Road here and get twenty businesses and they’ll pay you fifty dollars to clean they windows every other week; that’s a hundred bucks a month.” Then I say, “You can clean they awnings also.” And now I say, “What if you got twenty businesses? To do the windows and awnings. Just do four hundred dollars, starting out, that’s two thousand dollars; then if you get a mobile on Warren and over on Clement. That’s six thousand dollars, instead of you breaking into these businesses, now they are a source of revenue.” They listened. They all came to my store and then I said—I talked to all the stores and businesses around there and they was agreeing to let these guys do this instead of breaking into they place. I said we’ll design you a little logo—if you picture the Pepsi-Cola logo—it’s red and blue—that you guys—different gang members that are fighting each other—will represent one of these businesses. I said, “Instead of you going up and down the street running—imagine you being chased down the street—but not by each other with knives and guns—but being chased by people because you a celebrity. They’re chasing you with an ink pen because they want your autograph. You a celebrity now, because you was able to start that little musical group thing you was trying to do—you was able to open that little bakery for your mother—that she want a little bakery shop up here. You were able to open up a little sewing shop, because now you got money going into the bank. I’ll show you how to set up a bank account and get going.” They had all the gangs in my store—my store was no bigger than this room—a little bit—but one morning they all peeking around the buildings and—I had started talking to them and their parents started coming up talking to me—but they snatched me off the scene that day because I went into a divorce at that time. So they forced my store to close and I kind of lost contact with these kids—this was back in ’95. But they would really listen, and they would say, “We been listening to you, and nobody else talked to us like you do.” And that’s all these kids in the gangs want. They want to feel a sense of belonging, that somebody like them, or show them something because I kept talking to them. I would even give them money sometimes—four or five dollars—I’d ask, “What are you all going to do with it?” If it’s going to keep you from going and hitting somebody in the head or whatever, I’d give them twenty dollars and go—“Well come back and see me. I got a little chore I need you all to do.” And the chore was Charles Costa. You all know that name? Chuck Costa, he used to have a paint shop—he ran for mayor a few years ago. He used to have a big paint shop on Grand River. I think he still may be around somewhere but originally he was from Canada. He had a paint store it was called “The Paint Store.” He ran for mayor sometime in the nineties. He said he’d donate all the paint that we needed. I promised them kids that if they would come and paint the graffiti off the buildings. If I get the paint and you paint the graffiti off the buildings then I’ll take you to a ball game. We’ll have a car wash and help raise some money, wash the cars, then I’ll print, I was giving them t-shirts out my shop, printing nice stuff it—positive. They agreed to do the car wash, they wanted to go to the ball game, but a broke-up in my marriage and that kind of stripped everything away from me. I took years trying to get back on my feet. But that process of work, today, still, it’s still work. I talked to them about instead of you robbing the businesses and having graffiti, I say, “Think of what it would be like if your moms could sit up here at one of these restaurant-shops in an open area with chairs and at night they could come down and you guys is watching and helping patrol the area, I ain’t saying like gangsters but now you all grew up. You got on suits and ties, but now instead of you breaking in, every business you look at, you got a source of revenue coming from it, that’s helping you out. And then, up and down your block, this is the stuff you have to do. I said I could get you all, actually, to meet with the mayor, to probably sit at the White House someday. We could make this work. Go up and down the block, talk to the block club leaders, go up to Evergreen and Reynold, we’ll rent the lawn mower, and we’ll go and cut all the people that can’t afford to get their lots.” And this is the type of stuff that I’m into. They were starting to do it, and I asked each of them to write me at least a one page letter about what they wanted to be when they grew up—what you all want to start doing positive once you all start making money. And I had a stack of letters this thick. But the system took me away from all of that. I was trying to help these kids and they was starting to listen, but I know something like that’ll work. They’re still reachable—it’ll work. These youngsters out here want to do something positive; they just don’t have guidance and leadership. But I showed them success, I had my book, I had pictures with me and a lot of celebrities, pictures I had taken from traveling around the country, and pictures with mayors and all different people like that. Oh, you know so and so and you did this and that—I was driving a nice car—and I said you can have these type of things without cutting and shooting one another. But like I say, that’ll be a great feeling for me to be chased, but not by someone with a knife or gun but by someone with an ink pen—hey, can I get your autograph. They like that. That’ll work, and I’m going to make it happen one day when I get this studio. What I’m going to do when I get this studio all set up. I looked into the possibility of bringing in—back in ’95—I still got the book at home—they had to pay like all these hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits. Like the Philip-Morris Company—all the tobacco companies, right—millions. I thought about building a facility—I’m so loaded with great ideas. I thought about them building this infrastructure—this facility—somewhere in the heart of the city—and they can have their names on it as contributors of—my brothers could even build it—they got the background—journeymen, and master electrician brother-in-law—and we’ll bring in other companies too. In the center I want a place where the youngsters can learn computers—or even the elderly people can learn computers—they can learn skills. I want them to bring in the local police chief, the pastors, everyday people with businesses and talk to them. And I want then to go through a seminar—orientation—that was the word I was looking for. Like they go through an orientation for a week or two weeks. First they talk to the different businesses—they talk to the people from Habitat For Humanity—talk to people like myself that would be interested in doing a video—I was printing t-shirts. We can teach you all these different ways you can be successful out here. And then after you graduate, I’ll have a jacket printed for maybe twenty students at-a-time. I can get Pepsi-Cola, or one of the local companies help contribute to the jackets—to purchase them—and I will print them—give them a wholesale price or whatever. I would take the loss—just getting them out here. And people like stuff like that and this would help them. Because when each one of them left there, they would have a positive outlook on what they could be. If you want to do music, if you want to do writing, photography, you want to be a law enforcement officer, or pursue a career in the military. I would have all those officials and individuals come there and speak to them. I would try to have some type of incentive program, an award program, and hopefully when they left they would leave with a positive attitude toward doing something positive in the city. And if we could reach just one, that would have been a great benefit because they’ll go out and reach others. And lastly, I used to talk to these kids—when I started dealing with these gang members coming in—because all this was in me from what happened to my dad. I didn’t want him to go out there—because, you see, he lost his life.

LW: Mmm-hmm.

DJ: Maybe they probably had a few beers and they let’s go to the store—whatever the situation—was that they wouldn’t have to look for that as a resource. When they got finished in the class that we taught them constructive—no matter what was happening in society—they would always follow a positive way out of any negative or financial situation they was in. And that’s basically the message I wanted to give them—the ammunition that I wanted to give them is that you don’t have to pick up a gun or a knife. You don’t have to steal, you don’t have to rob—you can get it positively. And that’s the main message I wanted to put to them. I still see this facility existed today. I used to talk to them, I used to say, “Now, when you go to school”—I was watching this movie the other day—Dangerous Minds—you probably saw that. I thought that was a great system where she gave them an “A.” And it’s harder to keep it, it really is, than it is to earn it. Especially when you haven’t done the things to earn it. You really got and go extra-study—I used to tell them about the attitude adjustment. Those were the things I was teaching them. I would tell them, “If you came home one day and, say, someone tore the curtain up. Say your sister tore it up and she told them—“It was you” and you came in and told them “I didn’t do it, it was her, here’s the proof.” So the next day you come home—she took your favorite white basketball outfit or favorite white walking suit and she took it out back and she slushed it in the mud and got the basketball and dribbled all over it and then she threw it down at your door. When you walked in the door, I said, “What’s going to be your reaction to that.” When you walk in your reaction is going to be I’m going to kick her so-and-so—not there. I say, think about this, I say what if you was able to come in and you see your suit right there and your attitude was different. What if you said, “Oh, clumsy me, I left this suit out in the mud and it got all dragged and messed up.” And you picked it up and you dusted it off in front of her and said, “I got to take this coat to the cleaners, I got to go wash it, do you need anything washed sis? I could wash yours, take it to the cleaners. I’m even going to pay for it.” I said, “What do you think would happen to her mindset after that?” You just blew her mind because she didn’t get the reaction she was expecting. I say people do things because they want a certain reaction. But I said, what if someone did something to you—they hit you or they ticked you off or got you mad—embarrassed you in front of the other person? What if you didn’t react the way that they did? What if you turned around and said, “Well, yeah man”—even if they were wrong—what if you say, “You might have a point there; let me shake your hand,” and turned and walked away from it. Then maybe at a later date you came back and dealt with that person and said something positive like “That wasn’t the way to handle that.” I said, “You wouldn’t be dead, and that person wouldn’t be in jail for killing you, or vice versa. You need to think about those kinds of things—learn how to control your reaction, and you’ll live another day.” I still want to do that. Okay, I’m going to get ready to get out of here, unless you need something else.

LW: No, thank you so much.

DJ: I hope that I have answered all your questions. See, because I can go all day; we’ll be here past midnight. You got to stop me. So I’m going to get myself out of here.

LW: Thank you, Daniel. That was really nice. Thank you.

DJ: Thank you all. I was glad to say all of the memories that I have for that time.

LW: Good.

DJ: Because everything I said to my knowledge is true, and just--and that’s all I can say. It’s true, I can remember that happened.

LW: Thank you very much.

DJ: But you’ll be hearing about me, soon. Because I’m going to do this video, production company and all positive stuff. Trying to help make a difference out here. I know I talked a lot today but—it’s my dad—I just want his name to remain alive. Whatever accomplishments I make out here—they’ll ask—“Well, who is this guy? Where did he come from?” And mentioning my name they’ll have to remember him. And that’s basically what I want—his name to live. Okay, thank you.

LW: Thank you.



Jennings, Daniel

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Breitmeyer Elementary School, looting, Stanley’s Patent Medicine, Mercy Hospital, Reginald Jennings




“Daniel Jennings, June 19th, 2015,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 12, 2024, http://oralhistory.detroithistorical.org/items/show/72.

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