In this interview Carolyn talks about growing up in a diverse neighborhood right off of Six Mile. She highlights the easy-going nature of her neighborhoods which made her want to live in Detroit and raise her family. She discusses many things regarding the nature of Detroit and how things might get better for the city in the future.
Detroit Historical Society
Detroit Historical Society
Carolyn Sanders was born in 1966 right outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. Her family moved to Detroit in 1969 to the Northwest side of Detroit. Her parents worked for GM which is a classic story of people moving to Detroit. She raised her family not far from where she grew up on, on Six Mile and now resides in Southfield, Michigan.
JH: Hello, my name is Jacob Hrcka I’m interviewing you for the Detroit Historical Society Oral history report, what is your name? CS: Okay, my name is Carolyn Jean Sanders JH: Alright where and when were you born? CS: I was born in 1966 in a small town in Dumas, Arkansas which is maybe about an hour and a half away from Little Rock Arkansas. JH: Okay, when did you come to Detroit then? CS: Ummm my family we moved to Detroit in 1969 you know and at the time I’m the oldest I have two younger brothers and my parents and me and my two younger brothers all moved to Detroit in like I said 1969. JH: Why did you come? Do you know why your family moved? CS: We came cause my dad found a job here working at General Motors JH: Okay CS: A lot of people during that time you know they moved to Detroit, he had an uncle here who was able to help him get a job at General Motors. And then maybe a year later my mother got a job at General Motors as well. JH: Oh, nice you were pretty young when you moved then right? CS: And so when we first moved we stayed with my uncle about a year. And then my parents you know they were working so we were able to get a house and that’s when we moved over on Tracy the address was 17165 Tracy the address sticks in my mind I was five years old and that house was located right off of Six Mile near Schaeffer. JH: What was your first impression of Detroit if you had one at that age? CS: Oh goodness ehhh I can’t remember you know it’s been so long so I am trying to remember and compare what some of my earliest memories were and well I remember being in Kindergarten and I was 5 and the school was maybe about a half a mile away so we would walk back and forth to school, and my neighborhood at the time was really diverse um we lived on a dead end block so I would say that there was probably about 20 houses on the street, and so it was a close neighborhood, all the neighbors on that street knew each other. JH: Did you have a specific name for the neighborhood, or what neighborhood would you consider yours? CS: No we didn’t have a theme or anything but you know back then most of the neighborhoods had a school and mine was Winship and so we lived in the Winship community and that was my elementary school, and I went to that school all the way from Kindergarten all the way up until 8th grade. JH: What was your neighborhood like what was it like living around there. CS: Mmm I guess back then it probably was just a regular neighborhood and then when I was young I really didn’t watch the news much so I don’t know I couldn’t tell you if we had a lot of crime going on, and also I was telling you I was 5 years ol when we moved um in that neighborhood and that was after the riots I am sure you have heard about the riots that occurred in 67’ but that was a year after I was born, we weren’t even in the city at that time and so um you know like I was saying it was diverse and so I remember we had different ethnicities and all of the kids would play together and I didn’t you know if you’re thinking racism or something like that I didn’t experience any of that growing up. JH: Yeah, okay CS: So yeah and some of the landmarks I remember in that community, we had Mount Carmel Hospital which is now um grace Sinai or is it Sinai grace I always get those mixed up and then we had a movie theater it was the Mercury movie theater that was in walking distance that was right there on Schaeffer on Six Mile it took two or three minutes to walk to the movie theater and then we had a wool worth store and a Federal’s Department store, so that area kinda had a lot of stores in it you know when were growing up and I remember one fast food restaurant and a gas station over there as well. JH: Okay, yeah I think maybe so if there was crime happening it wasn’t happening to your family or neighbors or anything like that? CS: No we didn’t hear of anybody breaking in back then we didn’t have alarm systems on the house. JH: Yeah so it was an integrated neighborhood there was a lot of diverse? CS: Mmmhmm and I would remember that me and my brothers would walk to school you know by ourselves and we were little kids so it was really safe back then mmhmm yeah JH: What did you do for fun in the neighborhood? CS: You know the typical stuff ride our bikes and you know the thing about being on a dead end street, well sometimes our parents would let us ride in the street but most of the time we were on the sidewalk, but we spent a lot time playing in the backyard we had a swing set and of course or parents, they would take us to the park cause I remember my mom was really active in sports so she would always play on baseball teams at work we would go there to picnics and visit relatives see cousins, you know they would come over and during the summertime we would always go down south and stay with our grandparents so when school was out me and my brothers would go down south and spend about two months down there. JH: Nice, where did you go shopping in your neighborhood, or did you take your shopping elsewhere? CS: Ummm uh we would I remember going to Sears, uhh I remember going to Hudson’s you know that was downtown on Woodward and so that was a long time ago, and I also remember my mom ordering a lot of clothes from catalogues (hahaha) that was way before the internet days. JH: Did you have a local grocery store you could go to go shopping at all? CS: mmm it seems like the earliest memory I have is my mom would go to A&P and that was before Farmer Jack’s and so that is where I remember going to the grocery store and then there was also a neighborhood grocery store she would go to, it was located on Six Mile not too far from Meijer and as a matter of fact that grocery store is still there it just has a different name. JH: Oh okay yeah that would be interesting so where did you go to school and tell me a little bit about it? CS: I went to Winship Elementary School Ummm it was a small school it was in the neighborhood and so if you were driving down main streets you wouldn’t see it because it was on Hubbel and I can’t remember the cross street but it had a separate elementary and it had a middle school and a junior high and so like I was saying I went there from Kindergarten all the way up to the eighth grade and again the school was diverse and the teachers Im trying to remember, I can remember some of their names like my Kindergarten teacher Miss Terrence a really really old to me it seemed like she may have been in her 70s I don’t even know if teachers teach that long anymore. But umm I had a good education you know I was a very bright student so I would always get awards like citizenship, attendance and honor roll. JH: Nice CS: Yeah and um when I graduated from Winship I went to Cass Tech which is one of the better schools in Detroit JH: Yeah yeah Cass is still and so you didn’t think it was bad school growing up, you thought it was nice? CS: Yeah I thought it was nice and clean you know my brothers went there also and you know it’s hard to compare to any other school because that the only one I had gone to JH: yeah right, exactly um are there any stories from your childhood specifically about your neighborhood that you would like to share? CS: Mmmm I’m trying to think anything about the neighborhood that I would like to share, mmm trying to think, that’s a good question. Can’t think of anything in specific, we can come back to that question? JH: Yeah did you venture around the city growing up you mentioned going to Hudson’s or did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood around your parents? CS: Umm yeah I mean I knew how to catch the bus now and so during the summer I would go to different summer programs like they had one at U of D, so I would go to that, I would go to the libraries on the weekends me and my friends would go down to the festivals, they still have those nowadays. I remember when the Renaissance was first built that was in the early 80s so we would just go down there and hang out in Hart Plaza, that was before the Riverfront was all remodeled like it is now. And so yeah that was just something fun that we would look forward to in the summertime because we would go almost every weekend. It gave us something to do. And one of the malls we started going to was called Northland it’s closed now but that was near 8 Mile of Greenfield. JH: Right yeah they mentioned the Northland Mall CS: Yeah that was our shopping center JH: So you felt comfortable in the city for the most part? CS: Mmhmm yeah and then in the eighth grade ummm not the eighth I am trying to think of when I got my first job, I was in eleventh grade and I started working at McDonald’s and it was brand new and the built that right there on 6 Mile and greenfield JH: Okay that’s not too far CS: nope and so I worked there all through my senior year in High school before I went to college JH: Umm what were the decades like that you grew up in in Detroit 70s 80s? CS: Right the 60s not so much uhh I remember in the 70s we would wear a lot of bell bottoms you know I kinda remember some of the clothes we would wear you know a lot of jeans with different studs on it platform shoes what else different hair styles we had, I’m trying to think what else like I said my parents both worked at General Motors so me and my brothers would walk home from school usually, you know we were considered latchkey kids because our parents were never there when we got home but my mom would always have dinner prepared for us because she worked afternoons you know so she would leave before we got home from school and once we got home from school my dad would be home in about an hour later yeah so. JH: Has your neighborhood changed over the years or has it stayed the same? CS: It has definitely changed because I am trying to remember when I was around 16 years old umm that’s when Mount Carmel hospital wanted to tear down all the houses on my block and build a new parking lot, so that happened JH: Woah CS: They gave every family a great deal! They gave everybody a great deal so they paid off the mortgage, and they gave us a home on snowden and you know Snowden is about two blocks three blocks east of Schaeffer and we were halfway between Six and Seven Mile, so less than a mile away. And so know they gave us the title the home was paid off and they did that for all of the families on the street. Paid off their mortgages and offered them a new home and most people moved, kind of within that neighborhood. And so they did demolish all of the homes, and you know the homes were in excellent condition too and then they made that parking lot and you know that parking lot is still here today. JH: Wow CS: And then movie theatre is gone, the grocery store is gone. You know I notice there is a litter strip mall over there now with a little… JH: With like a Metro PCS or something? CS: CVS, and some kind of restaurant I don’t know what restaurant it is, some kind of fast food (chicken) place, and an auto supply store, auto part. JH: Oh nice CS: And there’s a nursing home, but I think that nursing home has always been there. And Winships School, there still around, they are still open. J&CS: (laughter) CS: I Know! JH: Have you been in there since you went there? CS: No I haven’t been in, I just drove by it, you know I still see it standing and it looks like it’s being taken care of. JH: So you actually did think of moving away at some point from Detroit, why did you want to move away? CS: You know after we moved from Tracy, you know my family we moved over to snowden and I was only there maybe less than two years because you know then I went off to college I went to Western Michigan University and that’s where I met my husband there. So after I graduated from Western you know we moved back to Detroit you know we weren’t sure where we were going to live but you know he had family here also. And so we lived over on clover lawn, that’s over near Chicago and Wyoming area. If you are kind of familiar with that a bit. JH: No CS: Ok, and that area you know and I really wasn’t too familiar with that are growing up because you know I was more over by that, 6 mile and Schafer area and we stayed over there, we came right back to Detroit, 1990 and then we had our kid you know our home was very small you know but it was nice very close knit close community. You know the neighbors looked out for each other, but it was only two bedrooms and then we had two kids we had Sharnay and Victor, we had him in 92 and Sharnay in 94 and so we needed more space and so eventually we moved over on Fielding that was in 1997. So we were there a good 7 years almost. A good 7 years. And now Fielding that was 16877 Fielding and that was one block South of 6 Mile and it’s between Evergreen and Lahser if that gives you an idea. JH: Yea I mean I have mapped that one out, its technically part of old Redford, because they annexed it from Redford in 1926 CS: You know we always loved Detroit and never thought about moving to the suburbs or anything we stayed there until about um hmm 8 years ago and like I was saying the only reason we started looking for other homes, was because we had got broken into. JH: Were you home at the time? CS: No we were gone and something tells us it was our neighbor. You know they knew our schedule and they knew we were be gone you know because it was kind of predictable every Thursday we would go somewhere. And then we started thinking about insurance rates and homeowner’s insurance. And then my husband had a friend that is a realtor, and he said “why don’t yall look outside of Detroit, you might get more for your money” and that was really the first time we ever considered moving outside the city. JH: Yea so it was more monetary probably focused. CS: Exactly JH: When someone says ‘the neighborhoods” what does that mean to you? CS: Just neighborhoods? JH: Your neighborhoods, what does that mean to you? CS: If they say neighborhoods, you know I’m thinking your surroundings the area maybe within that mile because we know neighborhoods change even within a neighborhood its different from block to block because you know when we lived of Fielding, that was a nice street, you know we had that little isle in the middle but then you know when you went across the street, across 6 mile it was totally different. You would see some boarded up houses you like I’m saying just like a block away. But that neighborhood has changed too. Cause you know we had a library, police station fire department, all that within walking distance. And now they have a Meijer, strip mall, they didn’t have that just 8 years ago. All of that is new within 8 years. JH: Yea that’s a lot definitely. How do you feel about the state of your neighborhoods today? Well your one that’s a parking lot, so your probably feel a sad about that maybe. CS: Yea but you see Detroit is so different from neighborhood to neighborhood. The last neighborhood we lived in Detroit, I think it’s still good, you know I think I’ve seen some improvements in that neighborhood. JH: The fielding one? CS: Yup over on fielding, you know compared to some neighborhoods where you see burned down houses, boarded up houses I really don’t see that, over on that street, in that particular area that I was staying in. I think that area is getting better. Anytime someone sells, moves out, that home is quickly sold. I think the property value is increasing because when we moved we owed more than the house was worth because the values of homes dropped so dramatically. JH: Yea, so you pay people to move in. CS: Even when we purchased a home, I think it was overpriced, because I think we purchased a home, we paid like 80 something for it, and you know like I said we weren’t even there 8 years and when we moved and that home was resold, I think that family only paid like 16 thousand. Values had dropped so drastically. JH: Wow, 16 thousand?! CS: Yes! But now if you go over there now I’m sure the value has increased. JH: Yea, it at least has to be worth half of what you paid right? CS: Right I know! JH: Is there anything you would like to see happen to your neighborhood? Do you think it’s already on the right track? Do you think it could be better in some ways? CS: I think it’s on the right track. The only thing that kind of disappointed me on Fielding is that we had an island in the middle… JH: Oh like a cross or whatever? CS: You know how you go to some streets you go down it has an island and it has those flowers and trees in the middle I kind of felt like it would have been better if the city had taken care of that, but the neighbors had to do it and the neighbors on that street did not believe in doing yardwork. And so me and my husband ended up doing it most of the time. If you know what I mean. You would think that the city would of taken care of that like they take care of parks but they didn’t. So if you wanted flowers planted, or if you wanted the weeds dug up, you wanted that island mowed, you had to do it yourself. JH: That’s so weird. CS: Yea depending how we felt so we would just do half the island because you know the stretch from one end of the block to the other. JH: Just do your half. CS: Yea and you know sometimes the neighbors would do that, they would just do that one section of their house. J&CS: (laughter) CS: You can picture it can’t you? Kind of tacky. JH: that’s pretty funny. If you could get a project done in your neighborhood, what would it be? CS: Hmm, that is a good question, I’ve always wondered what is lacking in that community. JH: Here I’m just going to check the time really quick. CS: You know I would like to see a movie theatre, and more entertainment for the kids, like a Dave and Busters you know including the restaurant, bowling alley, movie theater all in one location. Because really that area doesn’t really have anything when we went to the movie theatre you had to go all the way out to Southfield. That was like the closest theatre. J; Yea even now you…. CS: You know they had old Redford movie theatre out on Lahser, but they show older movies you know classics but you know as far as the movie theaters they used to have one on Grand River near Southfield, I cannot think of the name Northwest movie theatre I believe but that closed down over 10 years ago. Yup so no entertainment, no movie theatres for the kids. Maybe even um, a roller rink, they have one over on 8 Mile. But that this is so old because we used to go there when we were kids so you know that was one of the activities my mom, you know she would drop us off for a Saturday and come pick us up later, and it’s still there. JH: Yea it is, I still drive by it. CS: Yea we used to go there growing up. So you know I would like to see something new, recreational for the young people. JH: Did you think of any stories from your childhood that you would like to share or about your neighborhood growing up? We kind of skipped that question earlier. I don’t know if you were giving it much any thought or? CS: Right I’m trying to think of some fun story from my childhood. I used to um, me and my friend for the 4th of July we would go down to the fireworks. Now that was one of my fun memories, I would enjoy doing that. And also I had my license, I had my own car I was a lucky child. I got that when I was oh how old was I? 17? I think I was 17 so me and my friends you know we would drive down to the fireworks and stay down there and just eat food and look at the fireworks. JH: Were they friends from your neighborhood? C Mhm JH: Ok so yea just… CS: Yea yup my neighborhood friends JH: So yea you just stored them as you know.. CS: And so growing up you know my brothers you know they did more exciting things then I did you know they’ll say. Because I didn’t really go out partying, drinking and doing all that fun stuff, you know and coming home late, you know missing curfew. I was a good child. (laughter) But you know my brothers they would have some more stories to tell. JH: OK. CS: You know they did some wild things growing up. J&CS: (laughter) JH: Yea you know that’s ok, you know you just very much lived in your neighborhood. CS: I did I did JH: You met the people, you’re you know, friendly with them that’s yea so we’ll wrap it up with this question how do you feel about the state of Detroit today? CS: I think it’s getting better at some areas but not all, and I think it depends. Seems like it’s based off on income, you know the neighborhoods where people earn a little more or if the houses are worth a little more, of course they’re getting more services, um the property is being better taken care of. JH: Yea like you had to mow your own strip of land in front of you. CS: Yea but compared to some neighborhoods where you know they might have a large population of unemployment and a lot of abandoned homes, you know I wouldn’t they’re getting any services. JH: No CS: You know they just have an abandoned house next to them, that’s probably banked owned and supposed to be taken care of by the bank but it’s not. JH: No they just want to sell it for a couple of thousand dollars. CS: Yea but you know I still see some growth, of course you know people always talk about the Midtown and the Downtown area where you know they see the most investment and most jobs. But I think overall you know Detroit some of the wealth is getting spread around but some of the things I would like to see, is insurance rates being decreased and property taxes being decreased because it’s ridiculous I mean um the amount that we pay for auto insurance here compared to what we would be paying if we lived in Detroit it would be over double. And the rates here are high. JH: Yea C; Yea because we checked it out, you know for example where my daughter paying, based on her age, she would be paying 500 dollars a month, you know for a car that’s not even new just to have full coverage. And she doesn’t have any points, no tickets, good credit, but still her insurance rate, they say 48207 I think that’s her zip code, they say that is a high theft area. But still doesn’t make sense does it? JH: Yea you pay off your car in like three months or something like that, with you know like 500 dollars. 1500 in three months that’s… CS: 500 dollars a month. JH: Yea, oh my gosh yea no I think a lot of people would agree with that. CS: That you know if she lived here you know it would be, her insurance it would be 150? 150 a month, but you think about it 150 times 12 that’s still overpriced for a car that’s a 2008, but it’s a lot better than 500 dollars a month JH: Yea that’s a lot better CS: Yes yes yes. It doesn’t make sense. But I would like to see that decrease and you know like I said property insurance I would like to see that decrease. JH: Yea just insurance across the board needs to probably go down. CS: Right and even water bills, I mean were surrounded by Great Lakes. JH: Right, yes CS: So water should be a little less. JH: Alright well thank you very much for your time, I greatly appreciate it. CS: Oh no problem JH: Thank you
“Carolyn Sanders,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed October 1, 2023, http://oralhistory.detroithistorical.org/items/show/721.