“G” is for Grand River Avenue

This post continues the series using the Alphabet to go through streets that were significant in my life as part of the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge.

Grand River Avenue figured in my life in multiple ways.  I walked to both McMichael Junior High and Northwestern High Schools down Grand River. I took the Grand River bus home when I worked at J.L. Hudson’s Department store during several Christmas seasons.  In 1971 and 1972, the Black Conscience Library was located at 6505 Grand River and that is my focus in this post.

Grand River Avenue in 1967. The Black Conscience Library was at the far end of the block past the church on the right.

 In 1971 the Black Conscience Library relocated from temporary quarters to 6505 Grand River, the upstairs offices in a building right across the street from Northwestern High School. I continued as librarian for awhile.  This was around the time that the heroin epidemic hit inner city Detroit hard. Chimba, one of the active members of the Library, was from the North End community. I remember him saying that the year before they had a  baseball team, but that in 1971 there were so many heroin addicts in the community that they couldn’t get a team together.  It was Chimba’s idea to start a methadone program in the Black Conscience Library to help addicts get off drugs. This was before it was widely known that methadone was a powerful, addictive drug in it’s own right. Eventually, the drug program over shadowed all other Library programs. I spent less time there and eventually got a job as assistant teacher at Merrill Palmer preschool. I still came around but not everyday and not as librarian.  It was pretty depressing up there.

The scale is off. The “Doctor’s Office” was for Dr. Gerald, a lay doctor, not an MD.

There were lines of junkies waiting to collect their scripts, men and women. Some brought their children. In the beginning, I watched the kids while the parents went to the lectures. I remember one baby with a bottle full of milk so spoiled it was like cottage cheese.

We came to the Library one morning to find it had been broken into the night before.  All of the printing equipment and the tape recorder were securely locked up. There were no prescriptions laying around. Nothing was stolen, but we couldn’t figure out how they got in, until I noticed glass from the skylight on the table.  They had come through the skylight. One night someone was found hiding in the Men’s room hoping nobody would notice they were there so they could rob the place. Another man tried to break in one early morning. Luckily, he couldn’t get through the front chained door. I remember a junkie who nodded off and fell out of his seat during the planning session for a radio program.

There were a few non-drug related activities.  One I remember, was a panel discussion on the role of the father in parenting that was presented by several ex-members of SNCC (Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee). There were karate classes.  One night I had come back after a particularly trying day and a car crashed into the shop downstairs. I caught a plane to visit my sister in Atlanta the next day. Those were the days of cheap standby tickets. I remember The Last Poets record playing over and over and over.  The relief when the drug program ended.

The Black Conscience Library was in the dark part of the building on the far corner. There seem to be vertical blinds on the windows. The Lucky Strike Bowling Alley was next door. You can see part of the sign “…TRIKE”

This is a police memo from my husband Jim’s police file from October 23, 1970.

The poster in question.

Memo #2 about who rented the building.

This is one of a three page surveillance report from October 29, 1971 is from Jim’s police file.  We knew they were watching,  but when we got this report several years ago it was still creepy to see how much time they were actually spending watching, following, keeping track. “N/M” = Negro Male. “N/F”  = Negro Female.

Staff – Dr. Gerald, Sam, Miriam, Chimba, Me & Jilo, James Williams

The Methadone Program – Thoughts 35 Years Later.

Kris: When did you realize you had to leave the library?
Jim: You know that’s a memorable moment I don’t know who it came to, but as I recall it, and this is the way I would put it in the movie, the book, the story… we were all sitting around…
Kris: who’s “all”.
Jim: Seems to me Miriam was there, you were there, Chimba was there, I was there… there were other people there…Sam…maybe not Sam…there was another guy, Sam’s friend Kenny,..you know how we were reaching out.
Kris: At the library?
Jim:  That’s what I would think and I even have a picture of that long room.  I don’t know, like we were having a meeting.
Kris: We usually had meetings around that big table that was in the front.  When you first came in there was a big table there, remember?
Jim: In the middle, right?
Kris: Yes, it was in the middle, right under the skylight.
Jim: There was a desk up there too, right?
Kris: Yes, a desk for the librarian and that tall table for literature with the collage wall.
Jim: Right.
Kris: Okay, so we were sitting around that table?
Jim:  Well, I don’t know if were sitting around the table. We were relaxed around the room.  I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it seems like, it seems like somebody said something about taking a break.
Kris: Was this before or after it had been agreed to offer to help anybody who wanted to go cold turkey, but there was no more methadone coming in that Library?  I remember that. It was in the front room.  I don’t remember all those people but I know I was there, you were there, Chimba was there…
Jim: It seems to me, Chimba was coming… I don’t know if he caught Sam using the methadone or what, but he was coming away from the methadone because something about the people were coming back.
Kris:  They were coming back for the third time with all kinds of bogus reasons, like “the dog ate my methadone.”
Jim: “Welcome back, but no more methadone. You can go right over to this room.”  And that was the juice room.  Dr. Gerald was into the juice thing, you know?
Kris: Dr. Gerald was there.
Jim: That was an alternative treatment to the methadone program but then we said… we were talking about it, about people coming back again and I think we said we were going to take a break. Somehow from taking a break, we ended up stopping.  We would still deal with the cold turkey but we would stop with the methadone. (pause) Wasn’t that interesting how we could write those prescriptions?
Kris: Wasn’t it? Totally illegal, I’m sure.  Right across the street from a school.  Who sets up a drug program right across from a school?  We could have been selling it.
Jim: And they wouldn’t have cared.  Talk about distributing drugs.  I mean, that Doctor (the actual MD who gave us prescriptions) was a pretty good guy, I’m not against him, but strange enough. I mean, they’d get you for anything they wanted to, right?

 

The block where the Black Conscience Library once stood. That end is now a vacant lot.

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6 Responses to “G” is for Grand River Avenue

  1. Sharon says:

    A very interesting post. The things you must have seen and experienced. It is so foreign to me. Your comment “full of milk so spoiled it was like cottage cheese” made me shiver and gasp out loud.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jasia says:

    Living in the suburbs back then, we often heard about the drug (heroin) problems in Detroit on the nightly news. But we didn’t see any of it in our neighborhoods. Not then anyway. Sadly, heroin has become the drug of choice in the Detroit suburbs now, especially in the more affluent areas. How bizarre is that?

    Very nicely written post about those dark days on Grand River Avenue. My maternal grandmother lived about 1.5 miles from the area you’re writing about. She died in April 1970 and she was the last of my relatives that we visited in Detroit. The rest of the families had moved to the suburbs by then.

    • Kristin says:

      That is bizarre indeed. I can’t explain drug use anywhere. It was amazingly depressing to see the community go to pieces like that. It was this experience that precipitated our move to Atlanta not long after the Library closed.

      I wonder what street your grandmother lived on. My father grew up on Scotten and I lived on Oregon for years. My uncle had a doctor’s office on Lovett for years. He retired after being robbed at gunpoint for the umpteenth time around 1974.

  3. I’m amazed at your posts, they’re always so detailed, and even if recalling something from years ago, you include all the details.

  4. Pauleen says:

    Oh me oh my! What a life you’ve led, and the challenges you’ve faced up to. I can of course believe the surveillance though I want to say ” I can’t believe that they’d have done that.”. It must have been very spooky indeed to know you were watched so closely. I’m so glad you’re documenting your life in this way.

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