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Alumni authors bridge racial divide

New book explores life in Detroit for black, white

On October 24, 2017

BY MARTIN LANG

VN SPECIAL WRITER

 

Detroit Mercy welcomed two alumni back to campus recently to talk to students and faculty about their co-authored book, “Black and White Like You and Me.”

Growing up in Detroit during the 1950s and 1960s was a different experience depending on your race, according to authors Tom Daniels and Thomas “Cookie” Marsh.

Daniels, who is white, and Marsh, who is black, were raised on the east and west sides of Detroit respectively but became best friends after college through pick-up basketball.

The two men challenged everyone in attendance Oct. 13 to use their book to spur discussion.

Daniels began the talk with his side of the story.

“I grew up in a mixed neighborhood on the east side of Detroit, but color and the negative things I heard about black people never bothered me,” said Daniels.

He recalled times in middle school when he would visit a black teammate after school before basketball practice.

When his mother found out, she was upset.

“She told me I couldn’t go over there anymore because he’s black and I’m white,” said Daniels. “But I always said to myself, ‘I think God will forgive me for this disobedience.’ ”

Daniels went to University of Detroit Jesuit High School, where he played baseball and basketball. After high school, he played baseball in the early 1960s at what was then the University of Detroit.

Daniels’ and Marsh’s times at the university intersected, though they didn’t know each other.

Marsh was a star Titan basketball player.

Better known as Cookie to his friends, Marsh was raised in the Jeffries Projects.

He had moved from Mississippi to Detroit when he was a boy and his father got a job at GM, where he served as president of a UAW local for 12 years.

He told listeners that he was grateful for his upbringing.

“I didn’t know I was poor until someone told me,” he said.

Regarding segregation, he said that it was just the way things. He didn’t know any different.

His most vivid memory as a youth was witnessing the infamous 1967 Detroit riots.

“Imagine seeing an army tank roll down your street,” said Marsh.

Marsh said that he lived through all the shooting, burning and looting.

“For three days, I slept on the floor in the basement,” he said. “My mother wouldn’t even let us in the living room.”

He believes experiences like that one made him stronger later in life.

When Marsh received a basketball scholarship from the University of Detroit, he became the first in his family to go to college.

The authors shared many of their experiences together sparingly, so as not to spoil the book, which they published in February.

At the end of the talk, they shared their views on prejudice today and the similarities between white and black communities when they were coming up.

“Most of the things that you see on the news are stereotypes,” said Daniels. “It’s a small fraction of black people that are thugs.”

Daniels said when he was growing up, talk of racial division was taboo.

Marsh and Daniels both said they hope their book starts a conversation, especially today.

“The hate doesn’t do anything to the people you hate, (but) it’s going to tear you up,” said Marsh.

They noted that their lives were similar.

They were both poor, and loved Motown music and sports.

Besides the color of their skin, they didn’t see many other differences between the lives they led as young men.

“I just want white people to be aware,” Daniels said. “Our movement is to integrate the youth one person at a time.”

Daniels and Marsh have been doing talks around the state at schools and other locations, spreading their message and promoting “Black and White Like You and Me.” 

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