John Porter


John Porter


John Porter was a college student living in Albion in July 1967. He and a friend came to Detroit for the day on July 22 and saw folk and blues bands play at a nightclub called The Chessmate.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI


text/MS Word document






Southeastern Michigan, Detroit, 17126 Livernois Ave


I was born in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. My parents lived on Crawford Street in Delray, apparently where the new bridge to Canada is to be built. It is maybe coincidental that a popular restaurant in the neighborhood was a Hungarian restaurant owned and operated by Rozi Butka. Rozi moved the restaurant to a location on Fort Street in Wyandotte in the late-1950s or early-1960s. I worked for her washing dishes at the restaurant 25 hours per week (for $35/week) almost my entire senior year of high school and was very gratified that she and her chief cook wrote messages in Hungarian in my high school year book.

My dad grew up in Ecorse and met my mom when he was in the military. He was traveling out west with his military unit, having been drafted into WWII. She was born and raised in Omaha. After the war, my dad worked at Great Lakes Steel downriver until he started an electrical contracting business. My parents moved from Delray to Riverview right after my sister was born, when I was two. That was in 1948 that we moved into a brand new home on Brinson Street in Riverview. It was tiny and was heated with coal, but it was new and it had an extra lot.. It was a part of the residential building boom that took place in downriver Detroit after WWII.

Between my sophomore and junior years at Albion College, I was living with friends John Crews and Dan Eaton at an apartment located at 115 N. Huron Street in Albion. We all had motorcycles so Crews and I decided to ride to Detroit on June 22, 1967 to see Tom Rush play folk music at The Chessmate. The Chessmate at that time featured primarily folk singers but on Saturday nights after the folk singers were done, it became a jazz club. With some holdovers remaining, a new set of customers arrived and jazz was played into the early hours each Sunday.

Earlier in the day, John and I had visited a Coast Guard recruiting station in the Federal Building on Lafayette. I was getting tired of school and was considering joining. John had nowhere else to go so he observed my interview. When the recruiter became disappointed that my vision would keep me out of the Coast Guard, he turned his attention to Crews who was not interested in joining at all.

We then went to a Planned Parenthood office where I spoke to a pregnancy counselor because I had a paper due for my sociology “Population” course and she gave me information and an IUD to use in my research.

Then on to The Chessmate. After the Tom Rush sets were done, most of the folkies left but about a fourth of them remained. There was an influx of blacks and interaction was free and open. We probably had somewhere between a 50/50 to 75/25 ratio of blacks to whites. Sam Lay got set up to play and he talked about Chicago blues during this process. I’m not sure if his blues band had been formed by that time but he was backed by other jazz players. Everyone enjoyed the music and everyone was very congenial. I thought later, and talk about it to this day, that it was the picture of harmonious racial integration in The Chessmate that night. It was energizing. It was fun.

Crews and I left around 2AM. We didn’t want to but we were dead tired. We got home and immediately crashed at our apartment. We awoke late-morning on Sunday the 23rd. We turned on the television and were shocked to see coverage of the rioting which had begun in the middle of the night of the 22nd/23rd. The pictures on the television were so diametrically opposed to the scene at The Chessmate!

A couple weeks later, John and I were having a midnight breakfast at a diner west of Albion just off I-94. We were with one of our co-workers from Union Steel Company in Albion where John and I worked that summer. One of the co-worker’s friends began telling of his experience while being called to duty with the National Guard in Detroit during the riots. The only thing I remember that he said was that he was so confused and terrified when he was expected to act tough that he just pointed his gun straight up, waved it around in the air a bit and shot bullets like crazy so he could claim to his superiors that he had participated and hadn’t panicked. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, he just wanted to be back home.

Original Format

MS Word Document, submitted via email

Submitter's Name

John Porter

Submission Date


Search Terms

tourist, National Guard, Albion, The Chessmate, jazz, blues,


JMP Fall'66.jpg


“John Porter,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

Output Formats