Eyes on the Prize One Interviews
Washington University Digital Gateway Texts
Interview with Helen Kelly

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Interviewer: Sam Pollard
Production Team: C
Interview Date: June 6, 1989

Camera Rolls: 2138-2139
Sound Rolls: 265-266

Editorial Notes:


Interview with , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on June 6, 1989, for . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of

QUESTION 1

SAM POLLARD: OK Mrs. Kelly, could you tell me about the urban renewal that affected your neighborhood, er, many years ago?
HELEN KELLY: Oh, you mean when they put the expressway--
SAM POLLARD: Yeah.
HELEN KELLY: Call it, that's the four way now.
SAM POLLARD: Right.
HELEN KELLY: It used to be, ah, different streets, Henry Street and, ah, Mulberry Street, and all these different streets was in that area. So where the expressway is now, my house was sitting right in, in there where the expressway, so when they asked us all to, to move, I didn't want to move because I liked the location. I was right off of Haston Street, middle ways the block off of Haston, and that's why I wanted to stay there. But one day, one morning the bricks start coming through the window and I knew it was time to go. So that's why we left from there. So they, the urban renewal run us all out of there.
SAM POLLARD: OK let's cut. Let's do it, do it, well that was nice. Let let me do it one more time. OK, I want you to speak it up--
SAM POLLARD: OK, Mrs. Kelly, tell me about where you lived when the city started to do some urban renewal in your area.
HELEN KELLY: I was living at 949 Henry Street, that's off of Haston and Russell, and, ah, at the time, the people's talking about the expressway coming through, that is, that's before the expressway, what it is today, ah, we didn't want to leave from there but one morning I woke up, the bricks start coming through the window and I know we had to leave from there, but it was, it was, it, the place, the reason we wanted to stay there due to the fact it was, ah, right off of Haston Street, middle bl- ways the block, and we was, ah, we had access to bus, the Oakland Avenue bus going, ah, north and, ah, and south. That's why we really wanted to stay there but, and the schools was close, both schools walking distance for the children, the church was, ah, they had a hospital, children hospital was right there on, ah, ah, Frederick and, ah, and, ah, I think Kerby, in that area, so everything was right there what you need--the stores was there and everything.

QUESTION 2

SAM POLLARD: And so you had all this stuff happening in one day, you were in your apartment, tell me, tell me a little bit about what happened that day, that morning the bricks came through your window.
HELEN KELLY: Well, they was tearing the house down next to me and, ah, one of the, two or three bricks come through the window and I was still in the bed and I jumped up to see who was out there fighting but, ah, I found out they was tearing the building down next-door, I called my husband and said you better come home because they're tearing down the, this building next to us, we'll be next. So we finally moved from there to where we at today.
SAM POLLARD: OK, let's cut, that was good, that was good.

QUESTION 3

SAM POLLARD: OK Mrs. Kelly, tell me about that Sunday morning and how you heard about the riot.
HELEN KELLY: Oh, I got my kids ready for church, for Sunday School rather, and the bus, ah, came by, came, they walked from, ah, Highland and, ah, to, ah, we lived on Highland and they walked from Highland and 14th to, ah, Lynwood and Highland, to catch the church bus and they went to school and So when my daughter got to church she called back and said, "Momma, it's Judgment Day." I said, "What you mean?" Said, "Everything is burning." I say, "Why?" She said, "They say there's a riot going on." And I almost had a fit behind that[1] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 202-36. And I was worried until they brought them back home after church, 'til they come home, thank God, in one piece.

QUESTION 4

SAM POLLARD: And what did you do after the children got home? I mean--
HELEN KELLY: We kept them in the house, uh--
SAM POLLARD: I'm sorry, just start again.
HELEN KELLY: We, we k- we kept them in the house and told them that you couldn't go outside because we didn't want nobody shooting to hurt them and so, everybody stayed in the house, my husband and all of us, we stayed in the house.
SAM POLLARD: I'm going to ask you that again so you can say, "When my children came home, I wanted to keep them in the house, I didn't want them to go out there, I didn't want them to get hurt, I was concerned about what was happening out in the street."
HELEN KELLY: Well, I was concerned about what was happening out there in the street.
SAM POLLARD: I know, I know, I just need you to say, "When, when, when my children got home--"
HELEN KELLY: From the church?
SAM POLLARD: Yes.
HELEN KELLY: OK. Now when the children came home from church, they was telling me how so many things was burned up on--ah, coming home, what they saw on the bus coming from, ah, from church. And I said, "Well, the best thing we can do is stay in the house." And they said, "Well, we can go in the back yard." I said, "I don't think you all should go nowhere because it's too bad out there." So I was very much concerned, I told my husband he couldn't go to work, we all had to just stay there in the house, so we, so when the, ah, the troops came in and they was riding those trucks, you know, what you call them, with the guns on them, up and down the streets, and they housed them over on Central High School playground, that's where they were. And they was up and down that street all night and all day, going, when they come down 12th St., 12- 12th Street is one way going north, and they would turn when they get to Highland and go back over to Central High School to the parking lot where they was housed there. So, and those guys they'll say, "Get off the porch!" And so, ah, people on the porch, they run in the house, so that's the way that went. It was very devastating watching all that kind of stuff.
SAM POLLARD: Let's cut.

QUESTION 5

SAM POLLARD: Looking back on what happened when you, oh OK. Going back to the story you told me about when the expressways coming through your house--what do you think it did to the community, the expressways coming through that section of town?
HELEN KELLY: Well, it divide the people--when you put a, when you could go right cross the street to visit somebody, you had to go cross a bridge. That divide the community, you see. And so a lot of time you hear that, ah, these things was done that too many Black people, didn't want too many Black people together at one time so, and they done a good job of that, dividing so they could conquer.

QUESTION 6

SAM POLLARD: If you, if you could tell me again the story about when you were watching the troops come up and down the street and you would be out on the porch and then they would yell and stuff. Tell me that, tell me that story again you told me earlier, during the riot.
HELEN KELLY: Well, when they said, ah, go back in the house--
SAM POLLARD: If you could just say, "When the troops were going up and down the street--"
HELEN KELLY: When the troops was going up and down the street they had a bull horn, say "Go back in your house." And so people went back in the house because they had guns. That's one thing we do know, the damnation of a gun. So--

QUESTION 7

SAM POLLARD: OK, well you told it to me a little more fiery before, you know, when they came out on the street, when you were out on the street and the troops came by, what did they say, what did they actually say?
HELEN KELLY: Well, they just told the people to go get off the streets, get up, well, we was on the porch, we wasn't out on the street, we was on the porch and they said, "Get back in the house!" So everybody went back in the house. So, ah, you be nice, we be nice, so, we could throw some bad bricks, if we had to.

QUESTION 8

SAM POLLARD: All right. When New Detroit came about, what did you think the new goal of Detroit, the goal of New Detroit was going to be?
HELEN KELLY: The, it was supposed, and, and it still is, to build a commun- help build a community back, give the peop--
SAM POLLARD: Excuse me, I just need you to include, "The goal of New Detroit," say "the New Detroit" in your answer.
HELEN KELLY: New Detroit goals--
SAM POLLARD: Yes.
HELEN KELLY: --is to help to give people grants, to, ah, do things they want to do when they didn't have the opportunity to do before - that's, that's what self-determination is all about. That's the arm of New Detroit.
SAM POLLARD: OK, let's cut a second.

QUESTION 9

SAM POLLARD: OK. OK, Mrs. Kelly, what did the expressways do to your community?
HELEN KELLY: The expressway divided the community. When you could walk cross the street and talk to your neighbor, it's no longer there. You gotta go cross the bridge, and after you go cross that bridge you ain't going to find that same neighbor because that space, street, is gone - all those houses in that neighborhood is gone[2] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 202-30, and the people scattered every which way but where they were in, before they put the expressway.

QUESTION 10

SAM POLLARD: So the city was doing what in terms of the Black community, as far as you could see?
HELEN KELLY: I guess that you'd call it urban renewal and, ah, rehabilitation of the community of, I don't know, I say it was divide so they could conquer, that's what I would call it.

QUESTION 11

SAM POLLARD: OK, that's good. Now after all this was over Mrs. Kelly, did you think that the riot accomplished anything? Did you see Detroit in a different way? Did you think it was different after the riot?
HELEN KELLY: Well, people realized they hadn't, ah, done what they should have done with the community but, ah, I don't see where it accomplished that much myself because you couldn't buy a gallon of milk nowhere around in the neighborhood 'cause everything was closed up or burned down, so, uh--
SAM POLLARD: If you could just tell me that one again, but just include, "People thought that after the riot," I need the word "riot" in your answer.
HELEN KELLY: They would do what?
SAM POLLARD: I just need to have you say "riot" in your answer, the word "riot." People thought that after the riot, that nothing had been accomplished, whatever you feel, however you felt.
HELEN KELLY: But you asking me, did the--
SAM POLLARD: I'm asking you how you felt, I just need the word--
HELEN KELLY: Oh, how I felt?
SAM POLLARD: Yes, I'm asking, I just need the word "riot" in your, in your answer.
HELEN KELLY: Oh, well, as I said before, I don't see where the riot accomplished nothing myself but a lot of burned up buildings and no, people don't have no, some of them lost their homes, so I can't see where it accomplished that much, but I, one thing I do know, that the people, ah, that they couldn't buy a loaf of bread or a quart of milk nowhere in the neighborhood, after those riots was all over.
SAM POLLARD: OK, let's cut. OK.