Eyes on the Prize One Interviews
Washington University Digital Gateway Texts
Interview with Richard Strichartz

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Interviewer: Sheila Bernard
Production Team: B
Interview Date: June 5, 1989

Camera Rolls: 2133-2134
Sound Rolls: 263

Editorial Notes:

Interview with , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on June 5, 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


SHEILA C. BERNARD: So if you could tell me about Mayor Cavanagh--
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: Jerry Cavanagh was elected at the age of 33, ah, he was a neighbor of mine, lived right across the street. I worked briefly on his campaign but not all that much, and he came in with the idea that what he wanted to do was to turn the city around. We had had a recession here in Detroit, ah, which had dragged on and on, primarily because of what had happened in the automobile industry, ah, with the increase in production things started to look up, but there was still a need to do a great many things. You didn't have city money to do it, came in, at that point there was, ah, about a 44 million dollar deficit, and you didn't run a deficit, see, we're not like the federal government, so, and so what, what he said was, "OK, let's find ways of, of getting some money." So I set myself to the task of identifying federal programs which were in existence and also working with the National League of Cities and especially the U.S. Conference of Mayors, on trying to create programs which would meet the needs, ah, because the whole infrastructure, you know, sewers and roads, ah, the water program, we had a tremendous expansion in the water program to serve all of southeastern Michigan, uh--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, can you stop for us?
SHEILA C. BERNARD: We need a little less detail because we can't, because of the way the program is we need shorter answers so--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: And if you could also in your answer, let us know how, how successful in terms of, I mean--
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: When Jerry Cavanagh came in as Mayor, he wanted to--
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: When Jerry Cavanagh came in as Mayor he wanted to do something to change the face of the city, he wanted to do in terms of human relations and he wanted to change the physical program. We did a whole series of programs on juvenile delinquency, urban renewal, housing, waters, sewers, curbs, all the sort of things that were important, and then of course, we moved on to the, ah, poverty program, Total Action Against Poverty and then under Johnson there was the culmination in the Model Cities program. All of these things were designed to create the ability to change this city so that people felt that they had an opportunity to make a change and to have something to say about their destiny. Those are important kinds of results to achieve.
SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, let's stop. That was, that was great.


SHEILA C. BERNARD: So it's 1967 and you're watching all these cities go up, how did you see Detroit?
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: Detroit was a success city, Detroit had involved people in the anti-poverty program, it was not just a City Hall program. We had done things opening up the system, appointing people who represented the total community and this gave you the feeling, ah, if you will, the arrogance, the hubris, that there was no way this was going to happen in Detroit. And it was said after, that some people said they could riot in Detroit because they were sure that Jerry Cavanagh wouldn't let them sh--be shot.
SHEILA C. BERNARD: Cut. That was a nice answer. I want to ask you to do it again, uh--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: So watching all the other cities, did you think it would happen in Detroit?
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: We were sure it wouldn't happen in Detroit. The city had opened up, the programs--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: Mr. Strichartz, can you start, "We were sure a riot wouldn't happen?"
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: OK, OK. We were sure a riot would not happen in Detroit. There was an arrogance, a hubris, about the fact that we'd done so much to open up the system, to have people involved in the anti-poverty program from the community, to have appointments from the total community, so there was participation. It was not that there was a, a feeling that a lot of things had been festering and were building up, but that it was happening here in Detroit.


SHEILA C. BERNARD: Great, stop. OK, and now I want to move on to the next Sunday, if you could just tell me the same story you told me about--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: --so if you could tell me about Sunday.
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: Sunday was a sad day. It started out happily enough because--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: I'm sorry, stop
SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, so if you could tell me about Sunday.
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: We had just put an offer down on a house in the suburbs. Driving back into the city I saw some smoke and then I realized that there was much more than just some smoke, that it appeared as though the city was on fire. There was smoke and haze over the whole sky. I knew at that point that something serious was happening and I knew that it was probably the riot that we thought would never happen and frankly, my heart was broken.


SHEILA C. BERNARD: If you could tell me what it was like at your house.
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: Well, we didn't let the kids out in the afternoon and then at night when I put them to sleep, ah, you could hear the gun shots, you could hear the sirens, you could smell the smoke which filled the air and was acrid and pungent and, ah, they, hearing those, that, that, those bullets going off, even though we're in the northwest section and not really down in the center where so much was going on, they kind of crept into the, into our bedroom and curled up on the floor, they felt more secure. And frankly, so did I.


SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, stop. And then I wanted to ask you about--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: So how did Washington respond to this disorder?
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: The response to the riot that came out of the Johnson Administration, came in the form of a phone call to me saying, "The word has some out from the White House: no more grants for Detroit, we don't reward rioters." So at that point we took whatever necessary steps there were to try to counter that and, ah, we were successful to a limited extent because also Jerry Cavanagh was against the war in Vietnam and had spoken out during his Senatorial race against Soapy Williams for the Democratic nomination and we were already on the special list called the S List and so, ah, we were having difficulty anyhow.
SHEILA C. BERNARD: So how did, how did Washington respond to this?
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: The response we got out of Washington was a, in the nature of a phone call from a friend of mine who said, "The word has just come out of the White House: no more grants for Detroit, we don't reward rioters." Well, here we were in the middle of all this devastation, the deaths that had occurred, our efforts to pull the community back together again, and no support was going to come from the area that you would expect there would be.


SHEILA C. BERNARD: And how did you feel?
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: It was devastating. We had to use every possible resource to reverse that position.


SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, so if you could tell me about Sunday.
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: We had gone out to look at a house in the suburbs, we'd been looking out there, and the reason was that, one, there was a problem of safety, I always like to walk, I couldn't walk in the evening by myself because my wife felt that, ah, I would be attacked. Secondly, education, there was a serious problem of the educational deficiencies in the system which were becoming apparent. We went out, we found a house, we were coming back in the city, and here was this pall of smoke over the entire city, and the thing about it was that it was--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, stop, a truck.
SHEILA C. BERNARD: So if you could tell me about Sunday and really about what you did and how you were feeling.
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: We had found the house in the suburbs. Driving back in--
SHEILA C. BERNARD: I'm sorry I have to stop you, it's not clear that you were looking for a, you were looking for--
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: Oh, OK. We were looking for a house in the suburbs over time, and we did find one, and when we were driving back, we could see the pall of smoke which at first just seemed to be one house or so, and then all of a sudden you could see it was over the entire city, and I realized then the, the city was burning. And all the work that we had done was being destroyed, the distress was more than distress, it was agony and tears came to my eyes and it was - we thought we had the answers and the fact is nobody had the answers[1] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 203-38 and I'm not sure anybody has the answers now.
RICHARD STRICHARTZ: I was driving downtown to the police headquarters on Friday afternoon, it was in the early afternoon, and I saw one group of adult Black males after another, going down. This was different than any other times that I've done this because I've constantly used that way of just getting downtown when I wanted to. This gave me a sense of apprehension which I described to my wife when I got home. I said, "There, there are too many people not working, not having anything to do, and this bothers me, worries me." On Sunday, we went out to look for a house, we needed to get one because I didn't feel safe, I felt imprisoned in the city, I couldn't go out walking in the evening which was a favorite thing, because my wife felt, ah, too troubled about my safety. My kids were going to schools, or would have gone to schools, that were inadequate. We had high standards. We found the house, came back into Detroit, saw this pall of smoke, at first just getting the impression it was just one fire, and then realized in an agonizing way, what had happened was that there, the city was on fire. What could never happen in Detroit had happened. All the answers we thought we had were not correct. And, ah, there were tears in my eyes because I realized the failure and I was distressed by it.
SHEILA C. BERNARD: OK, cut, thank you.