Ralph Rinaldi remembers a Cass Corridor in full dimensions – Part 1

Ralph Rinaldi

If you closed your eyes and listened to Ralph Rinaldi reminisce about the Cass Corridor that surrounds the El Moore, the way it used to be before Midtown was barely an idea, you would see it at first, then you would hear it and smell it. Then suddenly you’re there, looking around at a very different place in time. It is a countercultural neighborhood, but also exceptionally tolerant. A diverse neighborhood of artists, students and professors as well as junkies, pimps and prostitutes.

But there was room for them all, and somehow they made it work…

Because that’s what neighborhoods do.

An Education for the People

“I used to go there in the mid ’60s and everything was rip snorting around then. The anti war movement was the most popular thing going around, if you wanna call it popular. Open City was the next block over on 2nd Street. Open City was an organization, a loose organization, accent on ‘loose’. It was a free open market. You could get clothes and food. The most stable thing was probably the food co-op. The co-op moved several times within the area. And they had drug counseling and they had draft counseling. It was really a counterculture arrangement.

“The guy who started it his name was Wilson. I forget his last name, but it was a group of people who started it in the mid ’60s. The draft counseling and drug counseling was largely on 2nd Street. It’s not there anymore. What’s there in its place is that apartment complex.

“I moved into the area in the middle ‘70s. I was really involved with a couple of organizations at the time. I got involved with the alternative school movement. I was going to school at Wayne State, and got to know people within the alternative school movement. I majored in education at Wayne State. I graduated in 74. And at the same time I moved down here, and got involved with the Detroit Alternative School.

“It was alternative education, because public education was a thing that…with the increased tempo of the war on Vietnam, public education was sort of not taking a stand at all. And a lot of people were questioning the motives of why we were fighting in Vietnam and education was the silent sister of that whole craziness.

“And so there were people within the establishment who were asking questions about why is education leaning towards having young people go and fight the war, and other questions about black liberation, and the struggle of women within the society. The rise of feminism. The black struggle within the white society. So there were a lot of questions being asked which were not being answered. And public education was not attempting to answer any of those questions.

“The alternative school movement tried to bring about some kind of change. And I got involved in that, and I spent 5 ½ years within an alternative school movement once I graduated. It was over on Harper and Woodward. The building’s not there anymore. I taught day care, and I taught in the primary grades, and I started a graphic arts program. So I was involved with being in the area for quite awhile, and we started a cinema at the Unitarian Church to raise funds for the school. We started that in 1974. I was involved with that.

“I broke away from the school because they were leaning on me all the time. I got funding from the Michigan Council for the Arts to create a graphic arts program, which I did. And the school was on hard times, so I opened up a printing shop in the area, and I did that for about five years until that sort of tanked, and then I went back into education. So I’ve been in the area for quite awhile.

“Silesian  (the school on Harper) was a building, there was nothing left there, so we created a day care center in the basement, we had primary grades on the first and second floor, and we had a high school on the third floor. We had about 100 kids. And actually it was about 3 different organizations; we had Detroit Childcare Center, which is the daycare, the Detroit Children’s School, which was the 1st and 2nd floor, and then the Detroit Free School, which was the high school on the 3rd floor.”

The building was knocked down around 1980.

Stay tuned for Part 2, the conclusion.

About Keith Owens

Keith Owens is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and musician whose most recent work has been featured in Model D Detroit, BLAC Detroit, and the national political affairs blog PoliticusUSA. He has also published three novels through Detroit Ink Publishing (www.detroitinkpublishing.com), the eBook publishing company he co-founded with his wife, Pamela Hilliard Owens. Keith and Pam live in a 100-year-old home in the Historic Boston-Edison District a few miles north of the El Moore.

El Moore