Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Detroit Dark

This is the first part of a book I am toying with. Don't know how far, how deep and how long I will work with this as I have time.

Detroit Dark

By Pete Klein


The day I was born, December 14, 1942, the Germans were experiencing heavy losses in Russia. Despite an airlift of supplies, the German Sixth Army remained trapped, inadequately equipped, and under siege in Stalingrad. The airlift was hindered by the weather, the Red Air Force, and the need to use many transport planes to support Axis forces in Tunisia.
A year and a week earlier on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was soon at war in Europe and the Pacific.
Somewhere around the middle of March, 1942, my parents, Joseph Nicholas Klein and Mary Louise Lutz Klein, who had married each other on July 4, 1941, made love (I hope it was wild and hot), and I became the result of their passion.
Before I was born, my father left to serve his country in the Army Air Force and my mother spent the war years living with her mother, my Grandmother Lutz, on Algonquin Ave., just south of Jefferson Ave. in Detroit.
That day in Detroit, the high temperature was 23 F and the low was 5 F. Maybe because it was a cold day the day I was born is one of the reasons why I have always had a love affair with the cold.
So now with those basics of my beginning laid out, why do I call this whatever it is and may or may not become “Detroit Dark”? The answer is simple. All my earliest memories are of darkness. Darkness because my Grandmother Lutz’s house where I lived during the war practiced a form of blackout nights. Drapes and blinds were drawn shut come sunset. Basement windows were darkened with paint and the basement was often used for socializing.
I don’t know if there was an official blackout law in Detroit but considering so much of war effort took place in Detroit where automobile plants were converted to become arsenals of democracy, it seems only logical that many individuals and businesses practiced blackout, law or no law.
Of course I could just as easily and logically have called this story “Detroit Black” because the seeds for the death of the Detroit I knew and loved were first planted on June 20, 1943.
I was just a baby, just six months old when on a warm Saturday evening on Belle Isle, a beautiful island park in the Detroit River, a fist fight broke out when a white sailor's girlfriend claimed to have been insulted by a black man. The brawl eventually grew into a confrontation between groups of blacks and whites and soon spread into the city. Rumors had started that a white man had thrown a black woman and her baby off the Belle Isle Bridge. Another rumor was that a white woman was raped and killed by a black man on that same bridge. Blacks and whites began battling each other in the streets of Detroit. Stores were looted and buildings were burned in the riot, most of which were in a black neighborhood roughly two miles in and around Paradise Valley, one of the oldest and poorest neighborhoods in Detroit. The clashes soon escalated to the point where black and white mobs were “assaulting one another, beating innocent motorists, pedestrians and streetcar passengers, burning cars, destroying storefronts and looting businesses. Both sides were said to have encouraged others to join in the riots with false claims that one of "their own" was attacked unjustly. More than 1,800 were arrested for looting and other incidents, the vast majority being black. Thirteen murders remain unsolved.
None of this was I aware of at the time (naturally) and the total stupidity of it remained hidden from me during all my years of growing up in Detroit. No one talked about. It was never mentioned in any of the courses in history I took in either grade school or high school. Maybe because I was so clueless about the riots in 1943 that when the more famous riot in 1967 came, best known as the 12th Street riot that began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, that I was so shocked when I heard the news.
By that date, I had long since moved from Detroit, was living in the East Village of NYC and around that time or shortly thereafter I met my future wife, a beautiful, young black woman, a naturalized American from Barbados, WI.
I was shocked! I was pissed! How could this happen to my Detroit?
Looking back, I should not have been shocked. There were signs I could have picked up on even then and are more evident to me now.
Into the fog of the past.
I remember being in the car with my mother at a very early age. We were driving through a mostly black neighborhood a few blocks closer to downtown when my mother remarked something along these lines: “You should never be prejudice. They are people just like us except their skin is dark.”
I don’t recall anyone in my family being overtly bigoted. The words I recall hearing to refer to blacks were darkies, Negroes and niggers. Not being black, I never gave much if any thought to those words and probably dumped them in with ethnic slur words heard more often to describe friends and classmates, words like Polock and Diego or Whop.
Being German, I knew some people called Germans Krauts but that term was pretty much confined to movies.
So what’s my point? Only that slur words didn’t mean much to me while growing up. People were just people who came from different races, creeds, national origins and color. People were either tall or short, fat or thin, good looking or not. I never knew nor did I associate with any black people until I joined the Navy.
Probably the very first time I gave any thought to black people was when in the 7th grade and Rock & Roll first burst upon the scene. One of the first black groups I liked was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself when I start talking about Rock & Roll. More on that later.
What I did began to notice in the 50's was more and more Detroiters, white Detroiters, moving to the suburbs. This was facilitated by the construction of freeways.
Not until I was in high school did any of my family live outside the city limits of Detroit. For maybe a year or two after my dad returned (safely) from the war, we lived in an apartment I have absolutely no memory of. Sometime in the late 40's my parents bought a small house at 12953 Duchess were I lived until my mother died in 1954. That house was within walking distance of 7 Mile Rd, also known as Moross Rd. Just over the line was Harper Woods where my high school was located. A short distance south-east down Moross Rd. would take you to Lake St. Clair and Grosse Pointe Farms, one of the several Grosse Pointes where the “rich people” lived and still do, although Bloomfield Hills is another hotsy-totsy place where the rich live. I believe Mitt Romney grew up there. Maybe I saw him when I visited Cranbrook Academy while on a field trip in high school. Never met Mitt but did shake the hand of his mother when I was a Boy Scout. It was some sort of an award ceremony where she showed up instead of her husband, the governor.
I’m drifting again. You will just need to get used to it as I meander around in the fog of the past. I do not posses total recall. I never kept a diary or a journal. Thought of one incident leads to another in much the same haphazard way that a dream will jump from one outrageous scene to another.
If you don’t like it, tough and nuts to you. But I’ll bet your mind is an disorganized as mine and if you will only put up with my vagrant ways, the journey might trigger some repressed thoughts in your own mind. And wouldn’t that be fun!?
Don’t expect this to be an entirely truthful account of my life. This is not an autobiography or even anything close to a memoir. It’s not that I have things to hide. Liar! It has more to do with my desire to tell a truthful fictional story, loosely based on my life