Moving on to Junior High in Detroit

Moving on to Junior High in Detroit

There wasn’t a graduation ceremony, but by the time I had grown old enough to start junior high school, my mom had moved us from the projects to a nicer second floor apartment in a two family home on Lemay street. This was a big change both in the level of education and also meant making new friends.

Foch Junior High, now it’s Foch Intermediate, was an excellent school with a great mixture of several ethnic groups, but mostly Blacks and Poles. Many of the kids were still from poor neighborhoods. It was here that I met a White kid named Bob McGreevy. Bob was a great cartoonist and since I had started drawing, we made a great pair. We’d draw entire comic strips in English class and even more when we were sent to study hall. Bob would eventually end up to become a comic book artist for the Sgt. Rock comic books. I had two other good friends, Hardy Shaw and Phillip Smith, but they lived in a nicer neighborhood and their parents were definitely upper middle class.

I remember our phys ed instructor, Mr. Lee. The name sticks because a group called the “Bobettes” had just released a song called “Mr. Lee”. It was about a teacher, but not our Mr. Lee. The song, however, became Mr. Lee’s theme song and we’d sing it as we entered the gym.

Aside from phys ed, Mr. Lee was also the main disciplinary applicator in the school. When someone became too much for their regular teacher, they’d send them down to the gym to talk to Mr. Lee, who had two forms of punishment. Either you got the “board of education” or you did twenty laps around the gym. Most guys opted for the twenty lapse. We all respected Mr. Lee. He did, in fact, break up many fights, both in school and out on the campus.

Foch had an excellent library and I found several great reference books on zooplankton and other aquatic pond life. In fact, this spurred me on to get a better microscope than the one I had.

The only problem with Foch was tat it was right next door to Southeastern High School. Now because Southeastern served a larger area, it was filled with mostly Black kids from several low income neighborhoods and as they say, the inmates ran the asylum. There were fights almost every day. Fights that spilled out from the school campus onto the street. There were fights between guys, fights between girls, and once in a while someone would attack a teacher. And if there was a fight, it would attract a crowd, which created sub fights.

But the city had an answer for that. Aside from the regular police patrol cars, there were two special response units. One was the “Grey Ghost” and the other was the “Big Four”. The Grey Ghost was an all grey, unmarked cruiser and usually had two officers skilled in the use of night sticks. Heck, some of the high school kids were big enough to take on most adults. But, we’d come out from the relative safety of our school to walk by some thug sitting in the back of the cruiser.

The Big Four was another matter. They were the ones who responded if the Grey Ghost came under siege. The Big Four was an all black, unmarked police car that contained four of the biggest guys brutish White guys in the police department. Most of the White cops were Polish. They only knew one way to make an arrest and that was with brute force, especially when it came to dealing with minorities. This was in the 1950s, civil rights and the Miranda Rights were still several years away. Plus they carried full riot gear in the trunk. No matter what fight or how big a crowd it had drawn, every one scrambled when the Big Four rolled up. If you suffered a few bruises between being picked up and being booked, no one cared or saw anything.

The regular street cops and even the black and whites that occasionally cruised through our neighborhood were an entirely different story. Most of them were really nice guys and the first ones to go to if you were lost or needed help. But the very last thing you wanted to see were the Big Four or the Grey Ghost. That was the state of policing in the Black neighborhoods in 1950s Detroit.


Fredric Durrette served one tour in Viet Nam, retired as E8 in the navy submarine service after 23 years. Major hobbies are collecting old stuff from the 20s and restoring old racing bicycles. Worked as a commercial photographer at JL Hudsons in Detroit and continue photography as a hobby. Love Sade, sixties soul, seventies rock, and all jazz. Attended Woodstock in 69!