Nancy Milio reads from and discusses her book "9226 Kercheval"
BROADCAST: Jun. 13, 1970 | DURATION: 00:53:08
Nancy Milio's book, "9226 Kercheval: The Storefront That Did Not Burn," is about community health services offered in a ghetto on the south side of Detroit, Michigan. As a nurse, Milio knew how important it was to offer quality health services to poor and uneducated individuals. With their real names changed, Milio talks about her experiences with Mrs. Watkins, Johhnie West and others at the center.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Nancy Milio "This is the story of a venture in the ghetto, of the development of a ghetto health project which still lives, and of its meaning as I saw it as director. It is a tale told twice in alternating sections: first as a factual account of events, then as a personal interpretation of those events. The story from the inside of the white outsider who was present. This book does say at least two things: first, that health as quality of life, as wholeness unfolding, must be mirrored in the process of undertakings intended to improve health; and that those who would involve others, especially the poor, in the process of healthful change must themselves be involved. The one who would change others must himself be changed."
Studs Terkel That's the prologue, you might say, to one of the most moving books I've read in a long time. It's more than a book, it's an account. Nancy Milio is our guest, she's reading it. And it was her--about to say her project, she'll correct me--it's a project of people of the community. It's called "9226 Kercheval", that's a street in Detroit that is part of history. The subtitle is "The Storefront that Did Not Burn". University of Michigan Press are the publishers. And this, of course, "The Storefront that Did Not Burn" immediately tells us, the address I take it, that this is during the time of the outbreaks in Detroit in--when was it? July--
Studs Terkel So where do we begin? We begin with you yourself, Nancy Milio, a nurse.
Nancy Milio Right. I was a visiting nurse after I graduated from college--
Nancy Milio In Detroit. Wayne State, yeah. And I worked for the Visiting Nurse Association in this ghetto neighborhood. I--just like anybody else did. And we made visits to women who were pregnant and having problems with their children. And I kept telling them they ought to go to the clinic, they ought to have their babies immunized, and all that sort of thing. But I knew after a while that they really couldn't do that. In the first place, there were no clinics nearby, they didn't have transportation, had too many children at home, all that sort of thing. And I really thought it was rather futile, what I was doing. And I tried to talk with some of my colleagues, and in the beginning, at least, they were rather defensive. They said, "Well, what's the matter? Don't you think we're trying to do a good job?" And I really wasn't saying that. I was saying that we weren't being very effective no matter what we intended. We wanted to do a good job but I don't think we were. And then I started getting involved in some of the block clubs in that neighborhood. And I found that--and these were rather conservative people, they were Black people. But they were sort of middle class type, and they wanted better things but they didn't exactly know how to get them. And then as time went on the groups became more militant. And I--from reading some of the things that the more militant Black people were writing, they were saying what I had begun to be thinking also, that things ought to be brought into the neighborhood. They wanted even daycare programs for their children. The mothers in the home that I visited wanted things more accessible. And, so, that was sort of the beginning of an idea that I finally began to write down and then try to get some money for.
Studs Terkel Describe the neighborhood where this was, the neighborhood.
Nancy Milio Well, this is the Lower South, the Lower East Side of Detroit. It was, from the statistics at least, the worst part of that side of Detroit. The crime rates were the highest, the highest birth rates, the highest infant mortality and maternal mortality, highest communicable disease incidence. There was a great percentage of the population on welfare and an even greater percentage with an income of less than four thousand dollars a year. Was predominantly Black. The small percentage of white people were mainly very elderly white people who had been there for many years. So the neighborhood itself was a ghetto.
Studs Terkel And, so, here you were, you're working as a nurse and--you meant well in the beginning, and so did your white colleagues. What is it we're doing that isn't--so something, you met people in the community. And you changed names of the women--
Studs Terkel These are Black women you met, and then you describe them: Vera Watkins, and Johnnie West, and Mertus Butler. Why don't you tell--because basically this is a story of what happened to you, too.
Nancy Milio Right. And sometimes I think it more happened to me than to them. But there was a lot both ways. Mrs. Watkins, I've really known her for years now. I met her first when I was visiting a neighbor of hers who had a stroke and Mrs. Watkins, with all the children that she had, at the time she had six, she was coming in to this neighbor next door who was just paralyzed, completely, and she would feed her breakfast and try to take care of the house and all that. And I finally visited Mrs. Watkins herself and I found out that, she didn't want to tell me, but she was pregnant. And she was over 40. And she knew that I was a nurse and, so, I was going to make sure that she would go to a clinic. But she knew darn well she couldn't get to a clinic, and she really hadn't planned this child at all. But she fi- she finally with great effort started to go to a clinic and eventually the baby--she did have complications and the baby was premature. So I helped her get some milk and things and, sort of got to know the family. And one or other of her children was always getting in trouble. And I was taking out, putting stitches in and taking them out, and fixing black eyes and that sort of thing. And she just had the warmest household. Everything was old, of course, but it was just wonderful the way she related to her children. And and when the time came that I finally knew that some money would eventually be coming for this kind of thing, I asked her--and very hesitantly, because I didn't want to promise since I didn't know for sure--but I asked her, would she be interested in maybe helping with a little project like this where we could have a little bit of daycare and bring some clinics into the neighborhood. And she liked the idea because we had talked about it before, but she said, "Me?" You know, she really had little confidence in herself in being able to do anything other than taking care of the children in her home, which she did beautifully but she had never had a job in her life.
Studs Terkel Yeah, this is, see, this is the key, one of the keys to the story that Nancy Milio is our guest and overwhelmingly moving. But more, and so important, these people--Mrs. Watkins who you say is remarkable--didn't have enough, felt that she wasn't worth it or that she couldn't swing it herself. You're talking about autonomy now in the community, too, aren't you?
Nancy Milio Yeah.
Studs Terkel And that she could play a role in it--
Nancy Milio Right.
Studs Terkel Is what you're saying.
Nancy Milio And she just would have never conceived of herself in this way. Initially she would say that you know, she couldn't read and that they were going to find something wrong with her, and they wouldn't they wouldn't let her work--this anonymous 'they'--
Nancy Milio Which, you know, really didn't exist, in a sense, but to her, in her past experience it had. And in actuality she could read very well--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio I mean, she was just beautiful--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio When she would really do it and--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio Over the years that she worked at the center, she became more and more willing to do things with words where she had once thought that she couldn't. And she was just grand, reading to the children [as well?].
Studs Terkel You know, there was one part there--we, we'll skip around--
Nancy Milio Sure.
Studs Terkel Talking about her book, "9226 Kercheval", which is the address of the storefront that became this center. We'll talk about it in a moment. This Mrs. Watkins couldn't read--there's one terribly moving part later in the book when someone named Linda is reading a poem, it's after the death of Martin Luther King, and she started crying and broke down. Mrs. Watkins picked it up and continued reading it.
Nancy Milio Yes. Yes. And she did it so naturally you know, like she had never had any reluctance to read at all. And she did it without missing a word and and she'd never said anything before. It was really, it was--
Studs Terkel Yeah. There's one line here that Nancy Milio has in this book, the early part, "Search for Coherence", it says, "I knew Mrs. Watkins didn't need to be motivated," quote unquote "or taught," quote unquote. "She just needed the means of obtaining healthcare without having to expend heroic amounts of effort to do it." And we, unaware--you, of course, are--of the effort. There is no clinic! The effort to get the streetcar fare, or the bus fare, whatever it is. Or to get to where you're going, to find a babysitter, or to do something. This is the--
Nancy Milio Yeah. To be able to go in time, be--after getting your kids off to school, then get back before the kids come home or your husband needs supper, it's really very complicated.
Studs Terkel Well, the story builds, and the role that Mrs. Watkins plays in this in this particular place. Johnnie West you speak of some--
Nancy Milio Oh--
Studs Terkel You changed the names, of course, and there's Johnnie West.
Nancy Milio Yeah. Oh, Johnnie was a really beautiful woman. Now she had come up to Detroit from Tennessee, had been living with her aunt down there and and rather young, and and worked in a night spot downtown. Met her husband there. And I met her first when she was pregnant with her first child. And I realized in talking to her, that I could talk to her just about like I could talk with any of my friends you know, who had graduated college. And, yet, she had not graduated high school. And she talked about the kinds of things she wanted for her family, and her husband, her child. And I really listened because I realized that if she had a chance, she could do really wonderful things. And at the time there was nothing, you know. But one thing that impressed me very much as soon as her baby was born, and the baby was back home, she was talking to that baby. Calling her by name, and while the baby was in the crib. But using such verbal skills I mean, with such--she was using such warmth that she was--I--it was obvious she was developing the personality of this baby right from the instant it was born. And that she really had plans for the child, and she was so good with her that I thought that if we had a center of some sort, that she would be indispensable--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio And, so, again, I started talking to her.
Studs Terkel Yeah. By the way, you described the women, your colleagues here, and they were your colleagues, she became that--in a poetic form in the beginning--
Nancy Milio Yes.
Studs Terkel You know that sort of poetry [unintelligible], and Mertus Butler. You might even this description of Mertus, you know. Just--she became a very interesting and challenging figure here, for you.
Nancy Milio "There was Mertus Butler. / Short, small, talkative; / A year of college before men and money problems / helped her flunk out; / A glass eye (it helped her fail a civil service physical) / and a few scars; / Two babies, the latest premature, Anisa; two fathers, / Several jobs, / Many more applications, / Now welfare. / Her upper flat, in the rear / Was in perpetual upheaval / With an array of visitors, / Sitters, / House bugs, / Dogs, / Pre-schooler Kay, / Piles of clothes, / And playthings, / And debris. / She pursued ideas / as readily and wildly / as men."
Studs Terkel You know, as I read the book, it's--again, I say even now, I've read it a couple of times, and Nancy Milio has written this book--in the mean--as you're telling about now something is going to happen in this community, in this area, and this is sometime before the outbreaks. This is the area you described you know, it's rough. And these are women who live there and you're really talking about possibilities within humans, aren't you? And what happens to you throughout this book.
Nancy Milio Yeah. And Mertus, really, she'd been kicked out of an awful lot of jobs and you wouldn't think that there was very much there because she looked like the typical hard-core ghetto woman, you know. No reason to waste time with her because she's not going to make it.
Studs Terkel The stereotype, you mean.
Nancy Milio Yeah, right. But that wasn't so. I mean, she was really--to pick up on an idea and to work with it, and really not count on it necessarily succeeding. And that's the kind of people that really needed to work on this. I couldn't guarantee that we were going to make it because I really didn't know. But I knew we had to try. And and that's all the qualifications that anyone--
Studs Terkel So--
Nancy Milio Needed.
Studs Terkel What, now--let's discuss the nature itself, the project. When we talk about the community itself and militant Blacks working with you, Luke Pride, diff- an organization called ACME--
Nancy Milio Right.
Studs Terkel Now the--but you had in mind, you and your colleagues, [unintelligible] is a child care center.
Nancy Milio Yeah. That was the thing that caught their imagination. In my own mind I must admit that in the beginning I had thought about clinic--maternity clinic, birth control clinic--with child care as an adjunct, but not a great emphasis on it. They thought the opposite. They wanted the daycare first. And the clinics were fine you know, as an addition. And, so, in the years that followed we emphasized the daycare more and more and extended it from originally three hour program to a 10 hour program, as well as expanding the clinics later. And I also noticed as I tried to pull together these women that we've mentioned, plus the more militant women and others, that no matter what segment of the Black community in that neighborhood they belonged to, they all wanted the daycare. The militant Blacks wanted a daycare because they realized that Black children needed to develop a Black identity, long before they ever got to school, because their conception of school was that Black got distorted and erased in school. And, so, they wanted it. But the more conservative women wanted their children in daycare because they felt this would increase the educational abilities of the child before he got to school. So they were all willing to work on that and that's all I needed, you know--
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Nancy Milio It was sort of a common denominator.
Studs Terkel The common denominator. What--well, this is what's fascinating also is the fact you have conservative middle class oriented Black women working with the militant Black women, together. This was the point, wasn't it?
Nancy Milio It wasn't entirely easy but that there that was the thread that tied them together.
Studs Terkel Well, your book is the drama itself, and, of course, the internal conflicts that developed. So now came a problem of also of Black participation. You, a white woman, were the director. And now more and more the question of the friends, there were white friends, and the idea was to make them understand that they would have to step down. This was--it was difficult to make them understand that, wasn't it?
Nancy Milio Right, yes. For a long time, in a sense my own friends and my nurse colleagues, were willing to help me do things there more readily even you know, than the women in the neighborhood. But it couldn't be that way. I tried to explain that if my friends and I were to try to develop this program, then it would be our program. And unless I waited until the women in the neighborhood and others there developed the thing step by step, and necessarily more slowly until it became a part of them, then it would not be their program. And it needed to be that. And, so, I sort of got ostracized for a while from my nurse peers and--because they just really didn't understand, and the time came, of course, that I no longer wore a uniform, and that made them think that I you know, was no longer a nurse. And, oh, you know, it's a very threatening sort of thing when the uniform is so symbolic. But I felt that I would be closer to the people I was working with and I was just much more comfortable--seems unnecessary to have this formal barrier.
Studs Terkel That's very funny. When you doffed your uniform something happened and and your white nurse colleagues--I imagine probably some also middle class Black nurse colleagues probably agreed with them, didn't they?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio Yes. Many Negro nurses were--tend to be conservative, especially at that time.
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. But the uniform came off so everything was altered [unintelligible] wasn't it?
Nancy Milio Right.
Studs Terkel Right. So now here you are. Now we come about you, a white nurse from the community knowing some of the women, the people there. But how were you looked upon, say, by--there was a guy named Luke Pride. Who was Luke Pride?
Nancy Milio Well, now Luke was a very intelligent guy. He was leader of this Black militant organization which was situated across the street from the center. I should say that the center was located across from ACME, this organization--
Studs Terkel ACME is the militant Black organization.
Nancy Milio Yeah. Adult Community Movement for Equality it was called at the time. And I preferred to locate the center there although I had picked out several possible sites and the women agreed that this Kercheval site was fine. And I was very pleased because that was the worst part of the neighborhood, and ACME was right close by and I wanted that kind of tie-in with them. But that, of course, presented problems because, whereas Luke and I could talk in his storefront headquarters there, you know, really as equals, and we could see eye to eye and he could talk straight to me and talk about Black-white problems and so on. And we could agree about daycare and identity of Black people and and all of that, and he could tell me that he knew that there were no Black nurses or other Black women or men that would head this project at this time. And I knew that too. When he was in front of his young colleagues there it wasn't that way at all. He really put me down, you know. And I had to sort of swallow that for a while because I felt that if I said anything right then that would just sever the ties. And I wanted the center to use the help that these guys could give, because I wanted that kind of a tie-in to their part of the community. And if I had this big blow up with them--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio That possibility would be lost.
Studs Terkel So, of course, you, you're hitting something that's so terribly important here. Luke Pride, who knows what it's about and he knows that you know what it's about, too. The same time he's talking with you about the need and you've got to head this, for the moment, although a Black woman will have to replace you. You mention that's this terribly moving part toward the end, your farewell. But Luke also couldn't talk this way in front of young guys who were also looking for a certain identity and status. That he had to put you down in front of them. So it was a double--you had to play a role here.
Nancy Milio Right. And I'm afraid that some of the young guys, they--well, they weren't as astute as Luke. They weren't as intelligent, and they were just much less mature. It was gang-ish in the sense, they were sort of boyish let's say. And that's another thing I learned: that they weren't all monstrous, big, Black guys. That they were really quite soft when you actually started working with them. And I'd seen them in different situations where they really needed tender loving care themselves. So they weren't that fearsome but at times they could certainly be, and they sort of asserted their masculinity or their Blackness by you know, putting down a little white nurse. So we just sort of--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio Had to let that go by for a while.
Studs Terkel So, then, how did the center--now funds became a problem here.
Nancy Milio Oh yes. Initially in 1965, after a year of searching for funds, money was promised under the medical wing of the poverty program in Detroit. And, so, these women were ready to get moving in July; we were promised it in in May, and we were to start in July. So fine, I told them that. And we were all ready to go. And then, just within a few weeks of starting, we got a call that said there's no money. And, so, it all had to end. And I really felt badly, I didn't--you know, I really felt like here I am, you know, part of the establishment, and I got to go and say, sorry folks you know, you got all enthused about this and now there's nothing there. But I went to visit each person and I told them and all I said was you know, that I would I would keep trying to get more money and then when I got it I'd be back. And we were promised that the money would come in two months. I didn't say that to anybody--
Studs Terkel From who? From who?
Nancy Milio From the poverty program. This was through the health department in Detroit. And I knew that it couldn't be two months. And they did, too, and they promised it. And I didn't say anything to anyone. But we had to wait, well, it would amount- it amounted to the next January. So about 10 months. And then the money was there. And I didn't do anything until I really have that money. Then I went back--
Nancy Milio And we started in January of '66.
Studs Terkel In the meantime, as you're saying this, remember the subtitle of this book, "The Storefront that Did Not Burn". Summer was approaching. You're talking about the community, the difficulties, more and more difficulties, and what you and your colleagues were trying. This is now building. This is a suspense book at the same time it's overwhelming in its impact, and your own understanding and their understanding of you. And now it's a question of hiring when it came. Oh, the title! That's kind of funny. It was a fancy title for the center at first, wasn't it?
Nancy Milio Oh yeah. The title was the name of it was the Maternity Satellite Center. Now that's absolute nonsense because nobody would know what it is. And on the one hand, it reflects the maternity emphasis that I and my agency saw in it. And it says 'satellite,' that meant it was a satellite wing of a of a hospital in the center of the city. But that was backwards and the women said you know, nobody's going to know what that means. So let's call it the Mom and Tots Neighborhood Center so that people can know what's going on inside of it. And that adequately, very adequately, reflects the emphasis of the neighborhood, on moms and tots and it's a part of the neighborhood--
Studs Terkel simple as that. Right? You know. And, so, we come to the hiring. Now the first come first to the hiring. Now who are going to be hired now to work here? This is your--
Nancy Milio Well, of course it was the people like Johnnie West and Mertus Butler and Vera Watkins and others. The main thing as I mentioned was that they just were really interested in the center, that they--this is what they wanted. And I specifically told them that I would not ask about their past employment or lack of employment or anything else. And I made arrangements with the VNA that nobody would ask them these questions, and there would be no qualifications, formal qualifications that they had to meet. As a matter of fact, we did a bit of rule breaking, because under the Detroit poverty program you're supposed to hire people after they go through the civil service exams. Well, in the first place, that would mean that I'd have to take somebody on the list you know, in the Detroit area, not from the neighborhood immediately. And also that they--I don't know how they'd do on the civil service exam and I didn't care. So we just didn't we didn't bother with that--
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Nancy Milio We just hired them anyway.
Studs Terkel For example, there's a kid in the community named Hank Edwards.
Nancy Milio Yeah. Oh yes well, Hank was a sort of a little mascot you might say of the ACME organization. And Luke had asked me, isn't there any way we could give this guy a job. Now Hank was a very severely deformed person with cerebral palsy. He was 19 years old. But he had, really, been just let, [unintelligible], let rot, almost. I hate to say it but it's almost true they--he was so crumpled up that he practically walked on his knees with his hands hanging on the ground. And now he wasn't--I don't know how actually retarded he was as that he had had a very poor education. Because the schools just pushed him around because he just looked so bad. So we hired him and I knew that this was going to be a real problem. But I also knew that he was very interested in the center and that he really worked very hard. He shuffled up and down steps to clean the floors and so on. And eventually we got him into a rehabilitation institute after quite some pressure because they would ordinarily not take anyone like him. And after a period of months or, actually, over about a year and half, he had casts on and then was straightened out so he could walk straight, with first with the help of a walker, and then on his own. And he managed to peddle papers and he did a little bit in vocational rehabilitation.
Studs Terkel Again, you're talking about the possibilities here. Everybody was taking part. Mrs. Dixon, Felicia Thomas, now the community--
Nancy Milio Yeah.
Studs Terkel And now and Tommy Sanderson, the tough ki- the first customer.
Nancy Milio Right.
Studs Terkel Now we come to the tough kids in the neighborhood--
Nancy Milio Yeah.
Studs Terkel Oh it's another pro- then--
Nancy Milio That's another problem.
Studs Terkel With the women having questioned who is going to be in the--
Nancy Milio Right from the beginning, you know, after the storefront was renovated and painted and all, and we had to change it over--the daycare program was in the, on the first floor in the storefront area, and the clinics were in an apartment area above the storefront. And here were little kids! Of course, they were very curious what's going on, and they were in and out all the time. Well, when everything was painted up, you immediately saw finger marks on the wall. And, so, the decision had to be made: are we going to tell the children to keep out because they dirty up the place or are we going to let them in? Well, a lot of the women, of course, you know, they wanted to keep the place tidy and all of that. And here the children are going to mess it up. And this is where, one point where I said that we had to have free access for the children, except like in interrupting the daycare program when it was actually going on. But it had to be for them to come in and out. And, so, they agreed. And Tommy was the first and he he's still with the center now.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio And he's grown and he looks beautiful and he's reading and he's very--
Studs Terkel Yeah. Was he a tough kid?
Nancy Milio Oh he was at first. He was angry and tempestuous, really. He--in fact, he had been on tranquilizers because the school teachers thought he was overactive. Actually, it was just that nobody--
Nancy Milio Had ever really given Tommy attention and he--at, as one of about 10 or 12 children--and they just kept putting him in a corner and telling him to shut up. And, so, naturally, he was angry. I tried to work with the women at the center to understand that. And eventually they did. And they really adopted him and saw that he could be very creative and and just, really, a lovable little guy, and able to bring in other little kids and helped be a little leader in the boys club.
Studs Terkel So Tommy became one of the key figures in--
Nancy Milio He did, yes. Yes indeed.
Studs Terkel The center. We're talking to Nancy Milio, who's recounting her experiences and more than that, the experiences of the community, the Black ghetto of Detroit. This was the one place that was left untouched, absolutely untouched during the outbreaks that hot summer in Detroit, the subtitle. The name of the book is "9226 Kercheval" which is the address and the subtitle "Storefront Did Not Burn" [sic], University of Michigan Press. We'll take time out for a moment, a word from the announcer. We'll return to Nancy Milio, our guest. Our guest is Nancy Milio, who is recounting her experiences in helping, not in alone building this--but in helping build this Moms and Tots childcare center in this Detroit Black ghetto. "The Storefront that Did Not Burn". And, so, we come to the challenges facing you and the community. You talked about some of the women who are now taking part who might have been ignored under other circumstances, the possibilities and what they did. But basically a book is about potentialities, isn't it? Your experience.
Nancy Milio Yes I think potentialities in the people there as you say, also in in the ways in which health care can be given. That it doesn't have to be traditional and rigid and along certain lines. But it can be more a part of a whole, a whole that makes sense to the people who are using the services. And also the potentialities in professionals if I might say so, professionals--health professionals--need to loosen up. And I think being in this kind of environment, health professionals do loosen up. Several of the nurses and doctors who eventually helped in the center really had their eyes opened and they came to see people as human beings, and not just patients. And they themselves had ideas about their own role as health professionals wasn't so rigid as it had been previously.
Studs Terkel So the changes were taking place, both the possibilities of the women, the people in the community, and, well, using you yourself, you, your own--your own development. You were, you were keeping a diary, weren't you?
Nancy Milio Yes. Well, I've kept a diary, of course, just about all my life. And I continued during this time. And I didn't realize exactly what was happening to me. But in the beginning, in the first months that I was at the center in '66, when I was sort of ostracized by my own colleagues, I was becoming more and more isolated and feeling alone at the center. Because I was so aware of some of the antagonisms that existed there at first. And eventually after one little blow up with Mertus Butler, where she was saying she--and she was really trying to goad me, I think. We were going to put some pictures on the wall for the daycare and she wanted to take them out of "McCall's" you know. And I said, "How about some from 'Ebony'" You know. And she said, "No, no." After all it's a white world and it's you know, Negro has to learn to fit into it kind of thing. And I--after that and some other arguments she was giving me, I said, "No!" you know. "Put the 'Ebony' pictures up." And I just left. I really got angry. That was the first time I had overtly gotten angry. I went upstairs where my desk was and I just practically burst into tears, and I did- what is happening to me? You know. Well, I finally realized, having written it down my diary, and I always do this, as I write it down I finally see what's happening. This is what in other circumstances you would call culture shock, really. I was finally recognizing that as an outsider in another world I was isolated, and I should accept the fact that I'm an outsider, but it doesn't mean that I have to hold my breath 24 hours a day. And, so, I think I started being more human, particularly after this point. And gradually you know, I could yell at them or I could say good things to them, and in return you know, we--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio Did a little--we used all kinds of language after that, and including first name kind of things. And then in time also, using terms 'Black' and 'white' which were very touchy to use in the beginning. And I really avoided using them because I didn't know how they felt. But after a point, particularly after the riot, there was no question that Black was Black and white was white. We're different but that doesn't mean we can't work together and that that's all there is to it.
Studs Terkel You're talking about Mertus Butler, and you and the [comforts?] she wanted something out of "McCall's", the middle class white woman, and you said "Ebony". And you were white and she was Black and you understood what was going on in her mind. [unintelligible] open house the question should be symphonic music or soul music? There too, wasn't it?
Nancy Milio Right. It was it always seemed to be an either-or question in in any choices that were made as the programs were developed. And I wanted to get away from that. Why should it be that it's either poor Black and bad or rich white and good? It's just not that way in reality. And why can't we use the range of possibilities that exist in that--in each instance, instead of one or the other. For instance instead of just the symphonic music or jazz, there's a whole lot of other music too. So let's expose the children--
Studs Terkel Yes.
Nancy Milio To the whole range and let them decide what they like.
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah, yeah. As you're talking about that I--my eye fell upon a sequence, and Johnnie West was one of the women with whom you were so you were so closely related, you know. And what she did--I say "Johnnie was the model in my mind of a translator of culture. She took knowledge, language, and methods from my cultural of health professional" and she transformed it. And it's quite beautiful. I remember the sequence here I've marked about Johnnie West, you know. I think you could even read part of it because this is your own diary and your writings. She was one of your--obviously you were close to her as to a number of them. But it's the it's the natural way she took over, is that it?
Nancy Milio Yes, well, as I say, when I had talked to Johnnie earlier and knew her earlier, she was extremely intelligent. And that was just so obvious so that she remembered it seemed everything that she heard, and she had the good sense to be able to adapt it to situations that changed. And she was extremely sensitive to the feelings of people, too. So that she wouldn't just blatantly come out with something but would tie it right to the feelings of the moment. And, so, she was taking all of the information that I, as a nurse, felt that women ought to have and she would interpret it to them in a way that made sense to them. And she--just because she was so relaxed and good with people--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Nancy Milio She would help the women in the group situations that we always had, in either in the clinics or clubs or whatever, she would help them relax enough so that they would be willing to talk about what was really bothering them. And, so, that they'd--the message that she sent out was very relevant, you know.
Nancy Milio Yeah. And tied right to the moment.
Studs Terkel And throughout the book you're also showing these are different individuals, each one with their own idiosyncrasies--
Nancy Milio Right.
Studs Terkel Their own--one with this, being a stickler for cleanliness, and some of [us?] easily more relaxed--
Studs Terkel This was also part of it, too, and I suppose the conflicts going on there too.
Nancy Milio Indeed.
Studs Terkel So now we come to the hot summer. And you interspersed news items in the meantime, going on. So now more and more people are coming to the Moms and Tots Center. It's now part of the community. And right--
Nancy Milio Well, it's becoming part of the community. In that first summer in '66, now that wasn't the big blow up, that was just a little one in August of '66. And it was the first that Detroit had had since the riot after World War II. And that only lasted three days but it occurred right on the doorstep, practically, of the center. And at that point many of the doctors and nurses who were coming to the center did not come during those three days. But the center kept on. But that was just a mild quake compared to what followed a year later.
Studs Terkel I notice you have [unintelligible] you're having the papers, the items, the hysteria--
Studs Terkel The newspapers. The continuous--
Nancy Milio It was very interesting how the white press interpreted the riot differently than the one Black newspaper in the city. It was on the one hand the Black people did not blame the people in the ghetto for what happened, and understood some of the roots of it. Whereas the white press interpreted things as though it were a conspiracy, somebody from the outside you know, coming in and stirring up people. When in fact the stress in the ghetto was there all the time although it was more or less latent in terms of the white person. But as I say after the riot, nobody pretended anymore and that included the staff at the center. After the riot, of course, they didn't like the burning and all of that either, but they were much more assertive. And it became very clear to me that they were very able to take over and they were be- I was just al- I almost miraculously, they in a very few days, became very proud of being Black. And everything at the center, very openly, became Black. Pictures of Black kids came up on the wall, Black coloring books and stories. And they specifically would invite Black firemen and Black police to come in and talk to the little kids. They invited the Black, Luke Pride, to come over and talk to the boys club. They weren't af- afraid so much anymore. Everything became Black pride.
Studs Terkel Now what, now what was the rest of the community--here was the center, the Moms and Tots Center. Across the way with the militant Black center ACME. Now what was the rest of the neighborhood like, the street? We're reaching that day now, July twenty-third 1967.
Nancy Milio The street itself--just lined with pretty much with storefronts, storefronts owned almost entirely, if not exclusively by white absentee landlords. And a bank and a church or so. But it was a quite a busy thoroughfare, an intersection. And then when the riots started on the West Side--didn't start on the East Side where we were--it very quickly spread to the East Side, and there were fires and shootings and all the rest of it all along the East Side. And I--nobody was there. There was a curfew. And I thought for sure that without necessarily anyone intending it, that the center would burn. That it would just have to over this period of days, with fighting and looting and so on, that it was--even if it were adjacent to another place that was damaged, the center would be burned. What happened was that I kept calling the women in the neighborhood. And this was throughout, you know, the night and the days of the riot, and they would have one of their husbands or somebody from the family go up on Kercheval and take a look to see if the center was okay. And even the mailman was conveying information to some of the women at the center who lived in the neighborhood. So, and then they would let me know. And day by day the center was still there. So that finally when the curfew was lifted I called them all--we had this telephone chain going by then--and I said, you know, would they be too frightened to meet at the center? Because some of them were I knew. But they said, okay we'll do it. So we did. On Wednesday--this, the riots started on Sunday morning, and Wednesday morning we met there. And we said that the Black, militant Blacks who wanted to use an adjacent storefront that we had just rented for the new daycare program, that they could use it. And there was some you know, ambivalence about that, but on the whole they agreed. And they also picked up added work for themselves by helping to eventually pass out the food to the long lines of people that needed food, and taking other kids in daycare and help out just generally in the neighborhood. And I was told that that there was a big 'B' written on the window of the center which supposedly stood for 'soul brother', and was supposedly a mark that kept the center untouched. I don't know. I do know that it was untouched. I don't know exactly why or who planned it.
Studs Terkel The center was absolutely untouched.
Nancy Milio It was untouched. Really was. It was--just wasn't a thing wrong with it.
Studs Terkel There's a reporter named O'Brien from "The Detroit Free Press" is saying about this place, they--everything. The whole block, area, up for grabs but something, the center was not touched. Why? Is--and because "Black folks said, 'these are good people. We know them and they know us. They were with us not on us, like when one works on a machine or a piece of wood, they care for us. We know we can stop in and they'll help us when we ask them things. They ask us to make decisions, they ask us to make decisions, on how to out run the place. They treat us like first class humans because we are first class humans. They have respect for us and we respect them.' They were not burned."
Nancy Milio Yeah, that was quoting a new Black leader in the neighborhood, who had started another organization and with whom--
Nancy Milio We worked. Right, Dan Frank.
Studs Terkel Yeah. So now we come to you Nancy Milio, in all this something is happening to you. What was the attitude towards you? This white woman, this nurse.
Nancy Milio Well, in the beginning they had to teach me that I was an outsider. And when I learned that, they really accepted me, I think, as a person, and I realized that you can only deal with people as people and forget the categories. And then, after particularly after the riots, they really began to take over more, and I could see that I really wasn't needed. I gradually spent less time at the center. I was at another, at the central office of the Visiting Nurses Association, where I could be reached. And I would I would work with certain of them at certain--regularly, so that they could take over each program gradually and lead certain groups and and so on. Then we really worked much more as equals. And I used their perceptions and observations and ideas.
Studs Terkel It was clear, now it was becoming clear that you would soon be stepping down, that a Black would replace you. This was happening, wasn't it?
Nancy Milio Yeah. That was a very difficult situation. I'm I realized it had come and I knew that from the beginning. And, so, we began to look for a Black nurse that could take my place. And we hired one, trying to get the feel of the rest of the staff. Now there were certain built-in problems, you might say. If you, usually if you get a nurse who is supposed to have a degree and all, of a certain age, she would tend to be more conservative than maybe I might want her to be. But she would have the ability to be able to direct the center. So if you get a you know, she's a professional person, so she has a certain amount of stuff in her that's going to def- separate her from the rest of the staff. And they felt this. And, yet, they also felt that she was the sort of person that could take over the center. And I was concerned about the problems that that were going to evolve through this transition. And over a period of nine months we worked out a lot of them, but they were very difficult. And I wanted to keep myself, my own feelings about leaving and so on, sort of in the background because I did not want to interject any more complications into this situation, because I think, you know, they had certain feelings about me leaving. And then to- someone to take my place that I never, I tried never to use that term. In fact I tried to give a different title of supervisor rather than director, because I thought it would be difficult to--she shouldn't be compared to me. I mean, we're just two very different kinds of people. And, so, I tried to keep as many complicating factors out of the situation as I could. But it was still very complicated. I talked to each person, oh, I'd say about three months before I was actually going to leave--I left in April of '68. I left the center then. And I talked to each one of them separately, tried to get an idea how they felt about it, what they thought the cen--how, should they thought--did they think the center should be changed a little bit in terms of decision making? Did they wanted access to the director of the Visiting Nurse Association? And different sorts of things. And I tried to get some consensus as to how they wanted it and they made certain decisions and I accepted them. But for myself, I didn't actually say to the group that I was leaving until a week before I left. And I wanted to tell them different things about how I felt about them and what great people I thought they were. But I thought that this would make it too tear-jerking. And all of a sudden, one of--the young--a younger woman, who was heading the daycare program now, she just sat up and she says, well now, look at, you know, this is Black power isn't it? If we can't take over and run this then, you know, it--Black power doesn't mean anything. And they, so they sort of centered on themselves in the discussion and it just went away from me. And I thought that that was probably just as well. And I must say that that one of my reasons for wanting very much to write this book--and I wrote it in a three-month period as soon as I left the center--was to try to say through the book what I thought about them, how I felt about them. Because I never really said to them directly, [what I felt?]. And in those three months I just was working with the new supervisor one day a week and and the rest of the time I was just curled up in my apartment and and took the phone off the hook and wrote a book.
Studs Terkel You know, there's a beautiful last paragraph when you tell them, you told them you were going to write the book--
Nancy Milio Yeah, right. Yes. Yes.
Studs Terkel And you end the book with that.
Nancy Milio "They asked me what I was going to do after I left, what I wanted to do most. I said I wanted to write about them. I wanted to let people in my category know what they were like. To my surprise and pleasure they asked me to use their names, even if I was going to tell bad things. 'After all' said Johnnie, 'we make mistakes like everyone else. Then people know will know that we're human too.' And they blessed my departure with in Linda's words, 'If you all want to write, that's what you ought to do. Everyone ought to do what will make them happiest.'" And I was so happy to hear that coming from Linda because, she was about 22 years old and just making all sorts of decisions about her own life, and she and I really had quite long talks. And and that was one of the things that I had told her you know, in terms of making decisions about her own life, that she ought to do the thing that she really felt she wanted to do most. And and forget about what mama thought or you know, what ought to be. And here she was telling it me.
Studs Terkel Yeah. You know, they the last chapter is interesting. You open up: "it is dangerous to encourage people to talk, to express their feelings and words, to shape their ideas [unintelligible]." You're talking about life, the challenge of life, because basically until this happened with the people here, something was kept inside themselves. Seemingly safe, except when an outbreak occurs, and it's not--and you were saying how important it is to open people up. Dangerous, but what a challenge. Isn't this basically what you're--
Nancy Milio Yeah.
Nancy Milio And, you know, you've--I mean, that was true for me and for them. It's like you never know what's inside of you, until it comes out and it in words. It can be expressed in all kinds of ways. Mostly if it's, gets stuck too long, it comes out as an explosion. But if it can come out in words, even if the words aren't very clear, it will take form and you see what you can be, you know.
Studs Terkel It is threatening to the person in charge--
Nancy Milio Yeah.
Studs Terkel He cannot stay the same.
Nancy Milio Right.
Studs Terkel And this goes on. So, obviously, you now, as you're now doing other work. You just get your Ph.D. at Yale, you're going to travel around the world and see--you're talking about nonprofessionals now.
Nancy Milio Yes. As I--I'm very much interested in in health care services and in the development of our national health service in this country. But I think that in order to do it we don't just need more money--we need money for it, but we need more than that. We need a way of organizing it so that the users of the service have an important say in what kinds of service they get, how the services are delivered. And we need to open up so that people who are not professionals have a major part in providing health services. And and one of the things I want to look at in in other countries of the world, is how do they train and use nonprofessionals in the delivery of health care. Because I think we have a great deal to learn about that and we're never going to have health care that's a single system for rich middle class and poor people that we really need, until we open up and have people who don't have fancy credentials delivering all the services.
Studs Terkel You're talking, Nancy Milio is our guest, you're also talking about the possibilities and the nonprofessionals--not only taking part in the community and what it does to them, but the actual contribution that are so rich that are pro in many cases may not even have.
Nancy Milio Very definitely. The quality of care that was given through the center was very much the result of the feelings that the staff had as they related to other people from their own neighborhood. You just, you can't get that personal quality into a service until you really understand people, and they understood the people from their neighborhood.
Studs Terkel How is the Moms and Tots Center on Kercheval now?
Nancy Milio Oh it's doing very well. Really, it's sort of booming and they have some additional clinics. And I think the neighbor- I think it's much closer to the neighborhood now than it's ever been. People have really identified with it, and with a Black director now, it really is theirs. And it's much more an independent entity than it than it ever was. I just hope that the poverty program monies that it has will continue. The doubt is there bec--as all poverty program money has a question mark in it.
Studs Terkel Particularly when there is autonomy in a community growing.
Nancy Milio Yeah. You know, when they're really saying what they want, it's not so easy to get that money sometimes--
Studs Terkel You know that line you have, "it is threatening to the person in charge."
Nancy Milio Yeah. That's right.
Studs Terkel Cannot stay the same. Well, perhaps the last thoughts of yours, before we say goodbye for now. What's happened to you as a result of this experience?
Nancy Milio Oh well, I say sometimes I think that I was changed more than any of them. And it really has affected the direction that my own life will take, and the things that I see important now are the things that I learned through that experience. I'm going to try to develop them.
Studs Terkel The name of the book--our guest is Nancy Milio, M-I-L-I-O, the name of the book is "9226 Kercheval", the address, the subtitle: "The Storefront that Did Not Burn". The publishers are Michigan Press, and Robert Coles, Bob Cole says, "a rare and extremely important work. So much valuable information so beautifully presented. I only hope that all those concerned with urban problems might read this unusual and inspiring book." And to that I say, amen. Thank you very much. Nancy Milio.