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Rita Buscari interviews inner-city youth in Chicago

BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:37:15


Rita Buscari interviews inner-city youth in Chicago in the aftermath of the 1968 riots. Several pre-teen and teenaged African American youth are featured, discussing their experiences during the Chicago riots of April 1968. Topics include: Relationships between children and adults, relationships between police and civilians, relationships between blacks and whites, and the impact that Martin Luther King Jr. has had on their families' lives. The recording concludes with renditions by the kids of the following songs: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong "Jesus, the Light of the World" by George Elderkin and Charles Wesley "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands", traditional American spiritual "We Shall Overcome", traditional gospel song


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Rita Buscari All right, Angela, would you tell me the story that you just finished telling me?

Angela Shar and I, we went up to a [hardy?] store and we saw some kids with some stuff. Sharon was still in the store. I went up to the drugstore and I looked and I came running back home, and Sharon was already gone home. Then I told my father, my father went up there and got two bottles of gin. My brother went up there, and he got some clothes and some more stuff. Then I went up there and I got me a ball, some baby powder, some lotion, and my mother gots some perfume but she didn't go up there and she was scared that the cops gonna come here and get us and put us in jail. Then the next day, our father he he went over my sister house, over my his sister house over 'cross the street, then the National Guards picked him up. They say he was lifting.

Rita Buscari You mean looting?

Angela Looting. He didn't have nothing in his hand. Then he went to jail. My mom, she went up there, they pull a gun on, a rifle on her,

Rita Buscari

Angela and she came home. At the jail? They pointed a rifle at her? No, at the drugstore. They, they put a rifle on her. Then she went home, she talked to the landlord, and the landlord said, "Let him stay in there for a little while, it pays." Then my mother, she got him out, my sister gave my mom a hundred dollars to get him out, but she still have to pay a thousand to get out.

Rita Buscari A thousand dollars?

Angela Yes, ma'am.

Rita Buscari And they found nothing in his hands?

Angela No, ma'am.

Rita Buscari How long was he in jail?

Angela Two weeks.

Rita Buscari Did he have to go back to court?

Angela Yes, ma'am.

Rita Buscari Do you have anything else you want to tell us, Angela?

Angela No, ma'am.

Rita Buscari Thank you.

Child 2 Some new high-heeled shoes. And my older sister which has polio, she wanted to go out looting, and my father told her if he ever catch her out looting when she supposed to be going somewhere else, he'll break her neck.

Rita Buscari Why, why did he say that, because he disapproved of looting, or because he was worried about her?

Child 2 'Cause he -- She didn't want them to go out and get -- Because he didn't want them to go out and get arrested or any trouble or any --

Rita Buscari Was he upset with

Child 2

Rita Boscari

Child 2 the other girls going out and looting? Yeah, he whooped them. He did? Did he tell them that they would have to return the merchandise? No, he threw the boots in the garbage. They drank up the pop and then he threw the beer away, 'cause my sister and them they was going to drink it because my oldest brother was over there.

Rita Buscari Tell me what your parents' reaction to Mayor Daley's recommendation to shoot looters.

Child 2 Well, last night when my father and mother was watching the news, they heard something, my mother said, "If anybody ever shooting at my kids you talking about a riot. It is going to be a riot."

Child 3 I was standing outside almost right by a liquor store and I seen an old old old lady, she got gray hair. She came out there with some high old tore-up high heels, and she went out to the liquor store and got a -- She had a whole big fat boxes -- She got a big box, and her kids was around --

Rita Buscari Was the liquor store on fire at this time, or was this before it caught fire?

Child 3 Before. Before it caught on fire. And then that lady went in there and got almost all that beer and stuff, and then this man, it was a drunk man, he was walk -- He had some beer, too, and he was drunk, he was walking all around, and then people saying "Can I have some of that stuff?" And he said, "Come on, because I got a whole packer full of stuff at home. Y'all can help y'all self." And all them peoples went in there, over there and gots most of them eggs and throw it at him. He was walking down around the corner from my house. There was -- She was throwing something at him, I don't know what it was. And then there's a lady ,she got a wig on, she was running so fast her wig almost came off, but and then, and then, she, see, she like, she always drink, and every time we play rope, she always want to jump, and the rope with beer and stuff. And that's all I know. Oh, and I seen some kids in the liquor store getting beers, and I think I -- Her mother, the kid's mother told them to go in there and help they self getting all the beer and stuff. And the police kept on passing all back and they didn't even do nothing.

Rita Buscari Did the police talk to them? Did the police tell them to stop, or --

Child 3 No, no they was riding all around, they was riding all around with them long guns. Rifles.

Rita Buscari Oh, it was the National Guard, then.

Child 3 Uh-uh, it wasn't no National Guard, they had them blue blue blue hard hats on or something.

Rita Buscari Did you see the liquor store when it was on fire? Were you there?

Child 3 No.

Child 4 I was there.

Rita Buscari All right, all right, you come up and tell us about when --

Child 4 Well, my father, he sent me to get my sister and them, 'cause it was smoke from --

Rita Buscari Not the whole story, let's just get to the fire.

Child 4 Okay, I saw, we saw smoke and my father sent me over there and you're talking about a fire I have never saw a fire this big. You saw fire coming from -- All out of the roof and everything coming out, small windows, Oh! All that fire!

Child 5 When I was around the liquor store, it was a policemans, and they went in the liquor store, and my father in that day he was going to take my brother to the doctor, by the liquor store, and so there was about five policemans and they were in the liquor store, and they went over behind the liquor counter, and they got some meat out, and they got beer out, and whiskey, and then my father said, "Ooh, look at them policemen," and one policeman said, "How come you don't get up and help us? Come on, man." And then my father said, "I'm not the kind of guy to do that. My wife just explained to me not to do that." But he said, "I give y'all some gasoline," and then I hear my father on his arm, I say, "You know what mama told you." and then he said, "Well, okay, I can't give it to you because if my daughter wasn't here, I would." And so then he said, "Come one, man." Then all the firemen went back in and a man said, "I gotta", the fireman said, "I gotta get something for my baby." It was a big color, a big colored baby doll laying up there and he reached and got the baby doll down, and in the back of the drugstore some games, and they went back in the gangs.

Rita Buscari That were inviting your father to loot the store?

Child 5 Yes, it was.

Rita Buscari So you were with him?

Child 5 Yes.

Rita Buscari All right, go on.

Child 5 And then my father, and then my father said, "Why are you all doing this?" He said, "Come on, man you can do it, too." He said, "We're doing it because we want to get all, get all the white man [stole?]." Then my father said, "Ain't you policemen, don't you supposed to be stopping them?" He said, "I don't give a damn what I am. I's going in the store and get anything I want to get out."

Rita Buscari Was it a white policeman or [unintelligible]. You mentioned earlier that the police had asked your father for gasoline. What did they want gasoline for?

Child 5 To burn up the liquor store.

Rita Buscari Why would the police want to burn the liquor store?

Child 5 I don't know, they probably wanted to burn it because because Martin Luther King died.

Rita Buscari These were white policemen, weren't they?

Child 5

Rita Buscari Yes. Are you sure they asked your father for gasoline?

Child 5 Yeah, because they came up to the car and they had on blue uniform and they had a gun.

Rita Buscari Had they looted the store before they asked for the gasoline, were they finished looting?

Child 5 Yes, there was, because they -- One man said, "I want this baby doll for my little baby."

Rita Buscari Were there people looting it, too, ordinary citizens looting it, too?

Child 5 Yes, it was the little girl I know, Sharon, 'bout five years old, and she was in the store, and she was getting all kinds of games and baby dolls out, then there was another boy, he came out.

Rita Buscari I thought this was a liquor store.

Child 5 It is a liquor store, and it's a drugstore and a medical center, too, all together.

Rita Buscari Oh, I see. Were the firemen there at the time?

Child 5 No, they weren't.

Rita Buscari All right, thank you.

Child 6 Is it on? On Friday night, it was -- On Friday night, there was an old, old lady. She so mean. She don't even talk to nobody but she was just stealing. She went -- First she had a box. Then she came back with it full, then she went and got two shopping bags and was walking down the street with them. A man came down there with a portable television in his hand. Then he went home and people were just running with their stuff they couldn't hardly carry it. They was dropping it on the ground, but they wouldn't even leave nothing on the ground, they picked it up. And there was a man, he came down the street and he dropped something in front of our house, and he pulled out his gun so wouldn't nobody take it. And he picked it up and left.

Rita Buscari Were you looting?

Child 6 No, I was looking out the window.

Rita Buscari Did you want to go out?

Child 6 No.

Rita Buscari Why?

Child 6

Rita Buscari

Child 6

Rita Buscari

Child 6 'Cause I don't want to. Were you afraid? Yes. Did you -- Did your mother tell you that you couldn't go anywhere? Yes, she told me I had to stay in the house.

Child 7 Me and my mother, we went to five-and-ten store. We got some ashtrays and stuff and then we went to the liquor store. My mother, she got some whiskey and some beer, and my uncle, he came over, my uncle he came over there and he helped. All us went out. So we went to the cleaners and we went to drugstore. They broke in. Momma, she got some clothes from the cleaner, and she got some food, she got pops and stuff. So my little sister, she snuck out the house and she came back with a bottle of whiskey.

Rita Buscari Did you meet any policeman at any time that told you to stop, you and your mother?

Child 7 No. They were just passing by.

Rita Buscari They saw

Child 7 you, and they didn't tell you to stop. They didn't say nothing. They were just passing by. And we saw a policeman, and he was helping. He gave my mother some clothes from the cleaners. He gave her some ashtray for five-and-ten, gave her some beer and stuff, and so my mother said, she said, "Don't you supposed to be stopping us?" He said, "Nah, I'm joining

Rita Buscari you." Was he white or colored?

Child 7 Color.

Rita Buscari Were these stores on fire at the time or?

Child 7 Big Bell was.

Rita Buscari But those stores would still, did those stores catch fire later on?

Child 7 Yes.

Child 8 There's no one.

Child 9 Gone. Gone!

Child 10 I forget what's the first thing I did.

Child 11 I was in my house looking at TV and then my friend came and got me, said, "Let's go out looting. They breaking stores." And then we went out, we walked down to Robert Hall's and got a whole lot of suits. Then I came back. I went in the house, and we went back out. Got a whole

Rita Buscari lot of food, groceries, and went and sold it all. What did your mother say to you when you brought back this merchandise that you

Child 11 looted? Told me to get it out the house.

Rita Buscari She tell you to sell it?

Child 11 She said get it out the house, she didn't want no part of it.

Rita Buscari Was she worried about you? Did you meet any policemen while you were looting? What did they say to you?

Child 11 They was in the back of Robert Hall's

Rita Buscari getting suits out. Well, what did they say to you when they saw you?

Child 11 They told me go help myself.

Rita Buscari Did that Robert Hall's burn down?

Child 11 It's not burned down now but it caught on fire and they put it out.

Rita Buscari I see. What did you do? Where did you sell them? Don't tell, don't name any names, but who did you sell them to?

Child 11 People on the street.

Rita Buscari And they bought them, but how much did they pay?

Child 11 Two dollars and like that.

Rita Buscari For a suit? What else did you had, you had food?

Child 11 I had blouses.

Rita Buscari Blouses. How much did you sell them for?

Child 11 Three dollars.

Rita Buscari Did you have food? Did your mother keep the food? Your mother didn't keep anything. What did she say to you after this was all over? Did she tell you not -- Did she tell you to stay in house from now on?

Child 11 No, then morning came and she started talking to me.

Rita Buscari Yeah.

Child 11 And then I went back out and we went out and got some more groceries, and I kept, I kept that, we kept that.

Rita Buscari And never did a policeman try and stop you.

Child 11 No, ma'am.

Rita Buscari Okay, thank you. Cynthia, tell me what happened to you during the recent disturbances in the West side.

Cynthia I forgot. Oh, we was walking down the street. We was walking past the bus station. So we seen this boy. He grabbed a lady out the bus and he beat on the death.

Rita Buscari To death?

Cynthia No, he beat 'em, but, so --

Rita Buscari A white lady or a colored lady?

Cynthia A white lady. So, we was going -- Then we went down to Central Park. I --

Rita Buscari How many people were on the bus?

Cynthia It was a lot of 'em. So --

Rita Buscari Did anybody try and stop them?

Cynthia The bus driver did, and they beat the colored bus driver up. So we was going down to Central Park, so they -- It was a white man, he got -- they were busting the windows, they drove them bus, the lady hit her all upside the blood was coming all down her, and they bust cars and windows and everything. So. So we was, so we went down and we seen a truck where a man had got out, so we went in and got some weenies out of the truck. So, they had cut the man, he was running somewhere, he got on the bus.

Rita Buscari Tell us about the doll.

Cynthia What doll? Oh, my

Rita Buscari sister's doll? No, no, no.

Cynthia The doll that someone gave you. Oh, it was a policeman. He went in the drugstore. He wanted to see how it looked. So he went in, so he, so he went in there, he gave me the doll, he said, "You want this?" I say, "Yeah," so he went in there and gave it to me. Then he told us still, he'll give us an hour, something to go in and get what we want and come out.

Rita Buscari Why an hour? Was it on fire, was the store on fire?

Cynthia Uh-uh, they was on burning up or something like that.

Rita Buscari And he said you could have an hour to take anything you wanted?

Cynthia Yes, ma'am.

Rita Boscari Was he white?

Cynthia Yes, ma'am.

Rita Buscari So tell us what happened to you, where your mother had to run down.

Cynthia Oh, I was going to the store to get my mother some ice cream. So, this man --

Rita Buscari This

Cynthia [unintelligible] right? Yes, ma'am. I was going to the store.

Rita Buscari You were going to go buy some ice cream?

Cynthia Yes, ma'am.

Rita Buscari The store was still open? I mean, the shopkeeper was open for business?

Cynthia Yes, ma'am. It was downstairs, downstairs on the corner. She told me go get her some ice cream.

Rita Buscari How come he was still open

Cynthia for business? I don't know, and he was gonna close, so I ran back, he said he was gonna close 'cause he was scared somebody might break in his store, something like that. So, he was gonna close. So I was coming back, and a man, he grabbed me and I called my momma, and she said, she said, "You better let go my daughter right now." But she said a bad word. So she came down and got me and the man had ran. He said, "I won't do it no more, talking to your daughter." She said, "Well, you don't talk to her like that." That's all.

Rita Buscari Oh, I see.

Child 12 Threw something off the roofs, too, to other houses.

Rita Buscari All right. All right.

Child 12 So we watched -- Saw the fire when it was starting, then one of my friends said, "Let's go," and I said, "No, those clothes in there are burning up." So we went in there and got the clothes and shoes and everything and then we went on back home and put our stuffs, put them in our hiding place. Then we went up on Madison and the cleaners what we had, my little brother's coat was there, somebody was taking it, and I saw him, and I ran up ahead and I told him, "Give me my coat. Give me my coat back." He wouldn't give it back, so my friend, he picked up a brick and he hit him the side of the head. But his head didn't bust. He didn't hurt him bad, then he got up and start running. Then across the street from the cleaners, they broke in their little store and they set that on fire. And then all the cans --

Rita Buscari Who is 'they'?

Child 12 I don't know, all they -- I had my back turned when they started.

Rita Buscari You didn't see any of the people who were

Child 12 setting the fire, in other words, right? No, ma'am. I was [unintelligible] -- Across the street from this cleaners.

Rita Buscari I see.

Child 12 And they had took all the clothes.

Rita Buscari When you went back, you say you got some things from this first

Child 12

Rita Buscari store -- I went home. And before o'clock, before the fire became really big, and then you went home, wasn't your mother or an adult at home?

Child 12 No, ma'am.

Rita Buscari All right. Go on.

Child 12 Then we ran up to the cleaners. And when the fire was across the street, we didn't do anything about that, so we went on back home and see what we had. That's all.

Rita Buscari Did you meet any policemen?

Child 12 Yes, ma'am.

Rita Buscari Did they see you with your arms filled with --

Child 12 Yes, ma'am. They told us to take all the clothes out there with the store would burn it. Because the store was burning, we werer told to take out all

Rita Buscari the clothes out. As many as you could get before the store burned down, right? Were -- How old are you?

Child 12 Twelve.

Rita Buscari I see. Thank you very much.

Child 13 When I was in school, see, they was talking about it was gonna be -- It was some -- They was gonna come down and tear down the school, and so I was scared, then I was crying, and then my, one of my friends, she was going back to get our fishes, she stopped me in the left, then when we got out of school, I ran home and I ran upstairs, so I was crying, I said, "Momma, they gonna -- If they burn down, if they tear down our school, they gonna take the building with it. She said, "No, they're not." And so so I started getting scared.

Rita Buscari What do you think of the riots?

Sharon I think that colored people do all the rioting, and that white people don't never do riot, don't have riots, 'cause every time I seen the riot, where it be the colored people doing -- Breaking into stores, and breaking the windows and setting fires.

Rita Buscari Well, what do you think the police should have done to stop the riots? How do you think they should have handled them? How old are you?

Sharon Eleven.

Rita Buscari And how do you think they should have handled them, Sharon?

Sharon I think that they should have had a lot of paddy wagons down there and whoever came to get stuff they should have put them in a paddy wagon and took them down to the jail and they should have went to they house and see how much stuff they had and made them pay for it.

Rita Buscari What do you think of Mayor Daley's recommendation about shooting looters? You heard about that --

Sharon I think it's wrong. I don't think he should shoot people 'cause he is, his kin people might be out there rioting, and he wouldn't want them to get shot. And I think that he should tell them to get some paddy wagons down there and put the people in jail they come to get riots, to come to get the stuff from the stores.

Rita Buscari Tell me what you were telling me the other day. You remember? The discussion that we had the other day and what your opinion had been.

Sharon I think that white people, well, they prettier than colored people, 'cause all the people that I see on TV, the white people, they be real pretty and the colored people they'd be real pretty or they'd be real ugly. Seem like the white people, they'd be on top of the world or way at the bottom, and the colored -- I mean, seem like the colored people they be on top of the world or the bottom, but the white people, they'd be all in the middle. And all like that. You know, they they have places, offices, you know, things like their secretaries and things, and that's in the middle, and the colored people well, they'd be way on top if they ain't the President, they way down like poor, they be poor or something like that.

Rita Buscari What do you think of the riot?

Child 14 I think if the colored people keep on burning up the stores and things, it don't make sense to burn up because we we won't have nothing to eat or nothing because they're doing it for their own -- It's for their own good not to burn up the stores because they are, they are the one who will be going hungry and not the white people. And if, oh boy, if if they keep on doing all this it don't make no kind of sense because they're the one who going to be suffering they tearing up their own neighborhood.

Child 15 Well, I hate some white people, and some white people I don't hate. Like my teacher and the teachers in the school, I don't hate the white teachers, and I don't hate the colored, but I hate some white people because they try to be bigoted, because I know a white lady, she came in the store and she, when me and my mother was at High and Low in Cicero, she kicked my mother's foot, talking about "You're a white nigger," then my mother just walked out the store, and I told my mother, if that was me, I wouldn't let her did me like that. And I think because of the riot because a white man killed Martin Luther King, and early in the morning they said for all white people and colored people to turn on their lights, and the white people didn't turn theirs on, and the colored people did, so they beat up, I think that's why they started a riot, and I think the colored people should go over in the white people neighborhood and tear down they stores and not the color people stores. And I think that the white people shouldn't be so bigoted, just because they got all the offers and things, and they own all that stuff, they ain't got to go around picking on the colored people, and I think that some white people like, my mother used to work for a white lady, she used to tell my mother 'Get on the floor and scrub the floor," my mother told her that she wasn't, she -- Just because she was white, she had all the money, that it mean nothing, and I think that white people, just because they got money and stuff, and they all in the office and they rich and all, they and the white people language, where the color people language, well, then they should give the colored people a chance to get rich and because they live in the fine houses and they give the colored people slum houses to live in. So I think that that's why they beating up the white people, if the white people would try to get them a decent house to live in and get them a job, a decent job instead of mopping they floors and all that stuff but anyway then the white people wish the colored people would

Child 16 show some respect for the white people, but if the white people won't show no respect for the colored -- I don't think the right way to begin is they didn't kill Martin Luther King in Memphis, but they told him, don't come back here, but he did, so they shot him. But they shouldn't have started no riot, anyway, because he would've wanted no riot if he were living, so they shouldn't have started one when he was dead, because if they wanted to hon, they would have tried to love each other. They wouldn't have tried to kill each other and burn up they stores.

Child 17 I don't think the right way to begin if they had not killed Dr. Martin Luther King but if he if he was alive today he wouldn't want this riot on and no one would be hurt.

Child 18 I think all men are equal. I don't hate anybody. I don't hate the white and I don't hate colored. It's some whites I dislike but I don't hate anyone. My mother told me that it's not right to hate people, you should love everybody as Dr. Martin Luther King would want you to.

Child 19 Well, last night when we was watching TV, my mother told us, and we was looking at TV, she said if Mayor Daley ever hit or touch one of her kids, he might be white now, but he won't be white no more. He'll be black. And so I think about Mayor Daley well then, if he was in a looting riot, and he had some had some kids, he wouldn't want nobody to shoot his kids, so why he want somebody else to shoot they kids? And if and if he if he don't want nobody to shoot his kids, why he gonna tell the National Guard to shoot they kids, to shoot other people kids, and if he want the war to stop, if he want the war -- I mean, if he want the riot to stop, why don't he tell to stop it, then? And if the white man hadn't a killed Martin Luther King, well, then it wouldn't a never started. And whoever killed him, I sure do hope bad luck on him.

Child 20 [Sings "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."]

Child 21 [Sings "He's Got the Whole World in