Ann Byrne


Ann Byrne


Ann Bryne was a child in 1967 and remembers watching the adults around her react to what was happening that summer.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Written Story


Living two blocks West of the Southfield freeway in an original farmhouse on a hill, we sat higher than our neighbors in the surrounding bungalows of the newer subdivisions and had a bird's eye view of the freeway.

Us kids had spotted the tanks from the West Eight Mile armory rolling South on the the not quite five year old freeway. We called our Mom up to see this oddity. Mom had brothers serving in Vietnam so we had to be very quiet when there was news coverage of the war on our tiny black and white TV.

Also being not quite five years old I knew what I knew with a child's clarity. I knew that tanks and soldiers meant a war. I had seen that and the news so I asked my mom why we were having a war too. She explained the difference between a riot and a war but I wasn't buying it a war was a war and I knew one when I saw one.

Mom was a bleeding heart liberal who taught us Joanie Biaz protest songs on our bike rides and excursions on Dad's poker nights. She also taught us about Dr. King and the Movement. Viola Luizzo had attended our same parish.

So somewhere within a week either side of the tanks I was out in the garage singing "We Shall Overcome" at the top of my lungs when Mom came out to quiet me. She told me the neighbors were on edge etc. And my very tan, half Italian, nearly five years self protested, " but Dr. King said..." And as Mom was dragging me from the garage into the house she said "yes, that's right and when you're 21you can join whatever protest you like; but right know you look like the only millstone kid in this neighborhood and I'm have to keep you alive until you're 21 so get inside and hush.

Between shutting down my protest songs and splitting hairs over war vs riot my mom and 1967 erroded my childhood innocence and a lot of the trust I had in adults to do the right thing in the face of crisis.

My uncle had graduated from the Detroit Fire Academy in June and had been assigned to the Engine Company at West Chicago and Livernois just before the riots. He was a changed man and bitter racist after that who told stories of all the stupid things he saw the "N"words do during the riots.

As I grew into an adult I met black friends who had lived through it in the same area my uncle's engine co. served. One such person was my friend, Tyrone, 12 years my senior. He told me how upsethis neighbors were with the fools burning down the neighborhood and how frustrated they were that the fireman kept having to back off because they were being shot at (this was before the National Guard had arrived) Tyrone and several other young men of color took up arms, went to the fire house and rode shotgun on the trucks so the fireman could do their job. This was a story my uncle never mentioned of course. Years later I had the distinct pleasure of reintroducing Tyrone to my Uncle and watching the ackwardness that comes years of bitter bigotry justifying the telling of only part of the story.

Original Format


Submitter's Name

Ann Byrne

Submission Date





“Ann Byrne,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed February 24, 2024,

Output Formats