Art of Uprising in Detroit
|Wow, Detroit in the 1960ís was a pretty scary place
to be. I was not brought up with an awareness of cultural distinctions
of color as much as a respect for oneís ancestry. I was 9 years old
and in the fourth grade and excited about a painting I had prepared in
art class. My painting was among those chosen by the school board
members, and my parents allowed me to attend an award luncheon held at
the Shelby Plaza in downtown Detroit. My first bus ride revealed
long streets lined with old decaying buildings, rusted freeway over passes
and deep pot holes in roads long over due for repair. Upon reaching
the Shelby Plaza we were quickly ushered into the most beautiful building
I had ever seen. I felt thick carpet beneath my feet, as I loosely
slid my fingers along the golden colored railings that lined the walls.
I saw long flowing deep red velvet drapes that hung from stately windows
that overlooked the gardens in back. After the luncheon the award
presentation began. My painting won second prize consisting of tickets
to the movie theater and a large rather heavy art book called ìThe Renaissance
Sketches of Picasso.î
Ms. Bursett taught my fourth grade art appreciation class for Kosciusko Elementary School. She also chaperoned our class trip to the Shelby Plaza in downtown Detroit in March of 1965. During the award presentation Ms. Bursett received word from the authorities that all ëhellí had broken loose in the city, and that she should get our class back on the bus. At first I didnít understand what I was seeing. Everything moved so fast, yet it seemed as if we were in slow motion because my mind couldnít comprehend, couldnít understand. It seemed as though our very presence tipped off the sudden burst of explosive anger, a chance for the repression to be set free. All of a sudden, crowds and crowds of black people quickly circled our bus. Next, shouting and finger pointing erupted into bottles, stones, and shoes being thrown through the windows of the old decaying stores fronts. Crowds of people were screaming, crying and running everywhere. As I looked through the back window of the bus, I can still remember the flames coming out of an appliance store, as black people ran away with whatever they could carry. The Police expected the violence to continue and the National Guard was called out to help. I didnít realize it at the time, but this civil unrest preceded the 1965 march directed by the Black community of Marion, Alabama from Selma to Montgomery on the day deservingly called ìBloody Sunday.î
My class will probably never forget what happened that day. On the rest of the drive home we all sat quietly and tried to understand what the radio announcers were saying about the riots. That people on the east side of the city were losing their jobs while educated middle aged urbanites on the west side lived in brand new subdivisions as their kids attended brand new schools. The fact is the city was losing the respect of its people. Since the Supreme Courtís decision to integrate, people were all up in arms about busing the kids to different schools.
As a child growing up in Detroit City, I never really ventured out of our neighborhood to personally experience the way people lived in other parts of the city, much less outside of the state. One would consider the neighborhood I lived in a melting pot filled with Austrians, Germans, Irish, Italians and Polish immigrants, but until this point, I had never met an African American. I was a naive sheltered child growing up in the middle of an economically depressed
From Left to Right: In the back: my brother Howard and me, my cousins Ernie and Delores. In the Front, my father Howard Macreno, and Grandma Anna Macreno with my cousins Lewis and his brother.
atmosphere ready to boil over. I remember my mother talking about a specific area in the heart of the downtown Detroit, called ëThe Projectsí. The projects were slum clearance programs created by federally subsidized urban renewal plans, designed to segregate minorities into small, pocketed areas. These pocketed areas kept low-income poor people in their place while allowing a greater supply of housing for economically affluent up-scale suburbanites. Highway construction coupled with the processes of urban renewal, established the byproduct of ëWhite Flightí, which led to a terrible cycle of destroying and disrupting the life of minority neighborhoods. From 1950 through 1960 liberal legislatures tried to justify the renewal program by claiming it was designed to build more housing for the poor, but it eradicated more housing than it created. Instead of building more affordable housing for the inner-city community, commercial, industrial and municipal projects were implemented in place of housing.
I lived within a melting pot the first nine years of
my life. The aroma emanating from Italian pasta sauces, Polish bratwursts
made with sauerkraut, German goulash, Swedish meatballs on top of homemade
buttered noodles bring back memories from my neighborhood. The first
home I remember moving into was on 8074 Patton Street in Detroit City.
It was the middle of winter, bitter cold, and about 3 feet of snow lay
like a soft baby blanket along the walkways. I used to watch my mother
light the pilot to the gas stove, door left ajar. She often kept
us in the kitchen --she said to keep an eye on us, but in reality the stove
kept us warm. For the first couple of months we lived on 8074 Patton,
coal was a luxury we could not afford. I spent many warm, loving
days in the kitchen on 8074 Patton. Then again I had no idea how
much hate, repression and social conflict lay beneath the city. My
family watched in shock and horror the news that night, and at the end
of the school semester in the summer of 1965, we headed west to Arizona.
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