As a native Detroiter, I remember Detroit when it was referred to as the Paris of the Midwest. And over the years our beloved city has changed.
Recently I read a book called “Grand River and Joy” by Susan Messer. And of course my eyes lit up as I saw Grand River and Joy. Some of you will recall that a block south of Joy, on Beverly and Grand River, was the Grande Ballroom and I had a wee bit to do with that rock ‘n’ roll establishment.
Grand River and Joy is a story about the Jewish community that was prevalent in the area in the 1960’s and the movement into the community of our African American neighbors. There was some conflict but there are also moments of understanding and joy and human relationships that went on there.
Susan captures the trauma and the joys of the changing Grand River and Joy neighborhood. Think kosher corned beef sandwiches, think ribs and greens, think Dexter and Davison.
The defining scene comes when a Jewish merchant named Harry Levine and his employee Curtis confront Curtis’ son Alvin, who is a member of the Black Panthers, and was railing against the white honkies and wondered why his father worked for a man named Harry Levine. “Why are you friends with that white man?” asks Alvin. Curtis defines Mr. Levine by saying, “That’s no white man, that’s Mr. Levine.”
It’s a beautiful story, a moving story, and a story that will bring tears and quiet joy as you relive those turbulent days of the 1960’s at Grand River and Joy in Detroit. “Grand River and Joy” is published by The University of Michigan Press and is available in book stores now.