IN 1972 James Edward Williams was arrested for driving without a license in Detroit, in March of 1972. This mugshot was included in his ‘red file’ which included local police files and FBI information from the 1970s. He was regularly arrested for driving without a license or minor traffic infractions in those days. Although he didn’t spend time in jail, there would be bail and fines to pay. Don’t ask why he didn’t keep up with his license considering he kept getting stopped. Some 50 years later, he just shakes his head when asked.
Below is a record of the police surveillance of James Williams on October 29, 1971. It happened about a year before the mugshot above was taken.
At 10:33, J. Williams and that could be my name blocked out as we went to my apartment in Brewster Projects and didn’t exit. I didn’t know they were following us, sitting down there in the parking lot in the fog, watching and waiting.
Why would they go to all this trouble. Because he was a black activist. Here is a letter sent to the Atlanta police department in 1972 as we were relocating from Detroit to Atlanta.
We got this information by sending for my husband’s Red Squad File. You can find more information at the link below.
“Editor’s Note: For more than 30 years (1944-1974), the Detroit Police Red Squad, a secret arm of the Detroit Police Department, was tracking citizens to “root out” and “expose” subversives. Their targets were political activists, Vietnam War opponents, Black nationalists, labor unionists, civil liberties advocates and many others engaged in social, cultural and other dissent activities.
Names of approximately 1.5 million people and organizations who either lived in or visited Detroit appear in secret files kept by the Detroit Police Department’s Red Squad. The Detroit files were also made available to the Michigan State Police and much of the Red Squad’s surveillance was coordinated with federal agencies, other state and local agencies and private organizations.
The Red Squad files are now being released to the public as a result of court orders issued in a lawsuit begun in 1974 by plaintiffs who argued that they were subjects of illegal political surveillance.
The case was finally resolved on April 23, 1990, when the Detroit City Council agreed to a $750,000 settlement which would cover costs to notify and deliver copies of retrievable information to those individuals and organizations who were under surveillance.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the spring of 1970 the Black Conscience Library was evicted from 12019 Linwood so that the League of Revolutionary Black Workers could have the space. We temporarily moved into the basement of friends, Stu and Gloria House. They had been members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and worked for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama.
That summer, we had high school students working with us. One of their tasks was to sell the Malcolm X posters you can see on the wall behind me in the photo above. Sometimes on Saturdays there was an organized trip to the rifle range so people could learn to shoot. I never went due to being in the last months of pregnancy. I remember all those steps from the basement to the attic and how many times I climbed them. We had received a grant from somebody and that summer two of us got paid.
Our living quarters were in the attic. I was about seven and a half months pregnant with my first child. My bedroom was in the cedar closet up on the third floor. It was large enough for a bed and the baby’s little crib later. I remember the light from the streetlight on the trees below my window those warm summer nights. There was another bedroom towards the front of the house. Phil had that room. Phil was a former Black Panther who worked with the library. He kept playing “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis all summer long.
There was a claw foot bathtub and a window that looked into the neighbors attic. We had globe top refrigerator and a hotplate in the hall that the two bedrooms and bathroom opened out to. I babysat the 2.5 year old when his parents were at work or school. There wasn’t a lot of library work to do aside from running off flyers and newsletters because we weren’t really open to the public. I remember lots of meetings. Meetings between the people that shared the house. Meetings between members of the library staff. Meetings about meetings.
Usually the house was full of people but the night that I went into labor, nobody was home. Jim was teaching a “Survival and Defense” class somewhere else. I don’t know where the other 5 adults and the 2 year old that lived in the house were. I waited and walked around and waited. Finally I called my doctor to say the contractions were 5 minutes apart and he said to come to the hospital. It was 10 PM. I called my mother and she came and drove me down and waited with me until Jim arrived. Baby Jilo wasn’t born until noon the next day so I could have waited a bit longer.
One night soon after I came home with Jilo and everybody had gone to bed, neither Jim or Phil were there, but the downstairs people were. A woman started to scream for help from the alley behind the house. Stu came upstairs looking for one of the rifles from the trips to the range. As I remember they had been broken down and cleaned but not put back together. He went back down and hollered out of the back door that he was going to come out there with a “30 aught 6” and shoot somebody if the woman wasn’t released. She was and she came into the house and the police were called. I learned this later because I was upstairs in the bed with my new baby girl thinking about the dangerous world and glad that Stu had been there to shout out the door.
“I was happy to hear that Jim and Chris (sic) were well. In the times when I question my own dedication to the struggle i remember them up in that loft, with the child, cooking dinner on a hot plate. It is something i can never forget and it brings me back home when i begin to trip too hard. It is a constant source of inspiration.”
We were there about 6 or 7 months before a new location was found for the library. By that time everybody was happy to get their own space again.
This post continues a series using the Alphabet to go through streets that were significant in my life as part of the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge. I can’t believe we are half way through the alphabet already and that I have found a street for every letter so far.
Today I’m going to write about living on Monterey Street on the west side of Detroit. The house was between LaSalle Blvd and 14th street and in the same area as the Black Conscience Library’s Linwood location. Unfortunately by the time I lived here the library had moved to Grand River which was a bus ride away. Living here is one of those situations where I am thankful we made it out of there unscathed. It included living with supposedly reformed junkies who turned out not to be, a wandering wife, explosives in the basement and finally a beating of the wife. That was the day I left that house never to return.
This song always reminds me of that couple and the spring of 1971.
Linwood was woven through my life from the time we moved on Calvert, between Linwood and Lawton, 1954 until I moved from Detroit in 1972. If I have done blog posts on the spot already, I will provide a link to the earlier post.
13211 Linwood – Toni’s School of Dance Arts I was about 9 when we started taking Saturday ballet classes at Toni’s School of Dance Arts. They went on for several years. We wore blue tutus, black ballet slippers shoes and white ankle socks. There was a bar and a wall of mirrors. I learned the five ballet positions and to point my toe. Each year culminated in a big recital at the Detroit Institute of Arts. On the Saturday before the recital all the students spent the day at Toni’s so that the entire program could be gone through. Those not performing would wait outside in the walled in yard of the studio. It was crowded and hot. For the performance one year we wore white calf length dresses, net over satin fabric. The next year we wore net tutus. I had bright blue. My sister’s was bright green. My mother thought the costumes were getting too expensive. I don’t remember minding when we stopped going about the time we moved off of Calvert. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of myself wearing a dance outfit but I picture the me in this photograph wearing a black leotard and blue tutu, white anklets and black ballet slippers.
12019 Linwood – Black Conscience Library The Black Conscience Library was located here from the winter of 1969 to the spring 1970. In addtion to a small collection of books there were classes and movies related to black history, culture and freedom struggles in various parts of the world. For more read – Once I Worked In A Sewing Factory.
Roosevelt Elementary School I attended 2nd through 6th grade here. My mother taught Social Studies there from 1954 through 1965. We also cut across the athletic field from Linwood to get to and from Roosevelt. The building is no longer there.
Durfee Junior High School I attended half of the 7th grade at Durfee. I learned to swim in the pool. The school address is not on Linwood but, the back of the school is.
Athletic Field We walked across here to get to school when we lived on Calvert between Linwood and Lawton. I remember a neighbor lost her boot in the snow cutting across this field in 2 feet of snow. Once my sister and I went with our mother to fly kites here.
2705 Calvert between Linwood and Lawton. I lived here, from 1954 to 1959. We bought penny candy and fudgesicles (ice cream on a stick), from a store on the corner of Linwood and Calvert, walked to school down linwood and at times walked blocks and blocks to activities at church. Read more here – “C” Is For Calvert.
Linwood and Chicago Blvd. – Detroit Rebellion Journal – 1967. During the 1967 riot, this statue belonging to Sacred Heart Seminary was painted black. It was repainted white and then repainted black. It has stayed black right through to the present. You can also find more photographs of the statue here.
Street crossing I crossed the street here at Linwood and Joy Road when I attended Brady Elementary School for kindergarden and part of 1st grade. There was also a block with the bank my mother used and the dime store we spent our pennies, one block down. The photo is looking across Linwood to Joy Road. Read more here “A” Is For Atkinson.
Shrine of the Black Madonna. Formerly Central Congregational Church. The church I grew up in, pastored by my father Rev. Albert B. Cleage,Jr/Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman Read more here – “H” is for Linwood and Hogarth.
In late March of 1969, I moved into my first apartment. I was in Detroit. It was located at the corner of Elmhurst and N. Martindale. I was 22 years old and so happy to be in my own space and not to have to answer to anyone. My rent was $80 a month, utilities included. I earned $50 a week at the Black Star Sewing Factory.
Journal entry – March 29, 1969 reading back (in my journal) is strange. I don’t feel that way any more. Living alone takes the pressure off. What you do, you do for yrself not through fear of displeasure and endless discussions.
Not surprisingly, the building is no longer there. Neither is the short row of store fronts behind it. I found the apartment building below using Google Maps. I moved it to the empty lot at Elmhurst and N. Martindale using Photoshop. The size and layout of the apartment is about the same. I had to change the color of the bricks from red to yellow. My apartment was #304. You can see it on the top floor. The first windows on the right were my neighbors bathroom and bedroom windows. My bedroom window is next, the short window is the bathroom, then my living room and last the eat-in kitchen.
Journal entry July 28, 1969 (Monday) I’m so skinny I wear a size 10 and this kid said “hi twiggy” as I walked by. I am trying to get fatter. My hair is 12 feet tall.
My furniture was basic and made or found, except for the mattress. It was new and sat flat on the floor without spring or frame. I made curtains out of burlap which gave the rooms a nice orange glow when daylight showed through. I stacked a pile of shag rug pieces for a couch. A piece of green fabric was stuffed with fabric scraps made a pillow to sit on. It was heavy as lead. Jim found an old table and some chairs somewhere for the kitchen. I used a box for a bedside table and the phone sat on that too. I kept my clothes in the closet or in the old trunk at the end of the bed. I had a nice round table top but I never got any legs for it. I had an old combo radio/record player that had once belonged to my parents and had passed on to me.
I bought a sewing machine from Sears and returned it because parts were missing and it wasn’t what I wanted after all. Eventually I ordered a “Hudson” sewing machine, from J.L Hudson’s. It was a Japanese made machine and just like the one my mother had, except they had replaced some of the metal parts with plastic.
One night I was awakened by a loud crash and a flash of light. A car had crashed into the telephone pole across the street. It was horribly crushed. A small, silent, crowd gathered. Everybody cheered as the driver climbed out of the window, unhurt.
Journal entry June 30, 1969 Last night cooked cabbage and pork chops and rice at 1:00AM. it was the first decent meal I’ve had in a month because I didn’t have any food and have been eating rice and beans. I kept burning them and scorched black eyed peas are no treat. I guess things are going to be o.k. for a while again. It’s really nice outside. Sunny, windy instead of 98 and muggy.
I remember the joy of going to a supermarket instead of the mom and pop store across the street and laying in a supply of groceries. Eating wasn’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about, planning for, or doing at that time. Eventually my mother gave me a copy of “The Joy of Cooking” and I started making my own bread.
Journal entry July 15, 1969 Saturday 2:10PM I got another job after sewing It’s from 6 – 8pm , organizing teenagers. some Methodist 5 week “imaginal education” program in Highland Park. for reasons unknown, they made Jim director. $30/wk for 6 weeks plus a $75 bonus at the end. supposed to be with black teens but one center was mixed and I’m in it. luckily i have Arthur, a 17 or 18 year old black-panther-cass-dropout and his girlfriend to work with me. he’s actually good at working with the teens. he gets on very well with them. he got them all het up yesterday about organizing their community. they’re 13-14. only about 12 came. first 2 days NOBODY came and we were afraid we’d be fired, but then one girl came and the next day, three came. out of the 12, 2 are Mexican, 2 black and the rest white. it should be interesting. hardly ever get home before 10:00pm.
I spent a lot of time thinking about Jim and wondering about where we were going and where he was and when he was coming by and why he hadn’t come by and how long he was going to stay and on and on and on.
Journal entry June 4, 1969 i’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen’s new record. two days over and over. at first it was tired, but now i really like it, after the 2,000th revolution. i like the partisan song best, about coming out of the shadows.
I graduated with a BFA in December of 1968 and caught the Greyhound bus out of town right after Christmas. At the time, it was the only way I could figure out to leave home. My true love was living with someone else. My parents would not look kindly on me moving to my own place in Detroit, so I hit the road. I first went to San Francisco. Stayed about a week. The person I knew out there had returned to Mississippi. Decided to head to Washington D.C. where my sister was a student at Howard. I hadn’t enjoyed the 5 day bus ride out so I caught the train east. I stayed in my sister’s dorm room for a week or two, until one of her play writing teachers hooked me up with a friend of his in New York City, a woman from Belgium who taught French at Columbia University.
I caught the train to NYC and took a cab from Grand Central Station to her apartment on Riverside Drive. I remember looking out of the apartment window one evening, listening to Joni Mitchell singing “I’ve looked at Clouds” coming from another apartment. I stayed with her a week or two, got a job doing clerical work. Met some of her friends. Tried hash. Whoa. Moved to the YWCA when her mother came for a visit. Went through the blizzard of 1969. Got a letter from Jim and decided to go back to Detroit. I took a plane.
Some first thoughts on arriving back were that Detroit was the dirtiest place I’d been. Gray and dirty. I moved back in my mother’s and got a job at the newly opened Church sewing factory. It was just the sort of job I wanted. I didn’t have to give it any thought so I could devote my mind to planning and plotting other things. There were only about 4 of us working there, sewing African print “mod” clothes. I felt a connection to my seamstress ancestors while working there.
Several weeks later, I moved out, much to the consternation of my parents, especially my mother, who would have rather I discussed it with her first instead of the late night call I made telling her I wouldn’t be coming home. After staying in the Black Conscience Library for a few days (there was a living quarters), I found an apartment and discovered it wasn’t that hard to move out and be on my own. I felt a great weight off of my mind, being on my own. I worked there sewing for almost a year before leaving to become a revolutionary librarian and have my first daughter. I was 22.
While looking through a box of photographs the other day, I came across some negatives from the 1970s.
The first strip was taken in 1970, when I was a revolutionary librarian at the Black Conscience Library in Detroit. I was pregnant with my first daughter, Jilo. Uri grew up to be an engineer. Phil later confessed to being a snitch, Miriam is Tyra’s mother. I was 23.
The second strip was made in 1974 in Atlanta. Shirley was visiting from Detroit, as was Tyra. Jim, my husband, was a printer with the Atlanta Voice. I was at home full time. Ife, my second daughter, was about to turn one year old. Jilo was 3. Tyra was 2. I was 26.
Although this is not a clock, which was the theme for this weeks Sepia Saturday, it does reflect time. You can see more timely entries here.