As a fourth generation auto worker I can attest to the hard work of the men and women in the automotive labor industry. I can still smell the strong odor of oil and grease as my family members and neighbors came home from the plants and assembly lines. You knew Dad and my Grandfather were home from the third shift when you smelled the thick odor of oil in the morning before school. Their clothes and hands were black after work, and they always had black under their nails, even after showering. While innovation and world firsts occurred in these factories, the assembly plant life was not easy - it was its own underworld and life happened that most do not know of – some not so nice. The events in the world happening outside the plants were intensified inside - in some of the dark corners of the upper levels of the factories - Racial strife, drugs, prostitution, and even shootings were occurring. Those stories did not reach the outside, as we did not have the 24/7 news that we do now, and after all, the world outside reflected the same.
When people left their jobs, they went home. They went home to their families and their traditions. When my family members and neighbors attended family get-togethers, parties were long and hard as if they were trying to rid themselves of the long hard days at work. Talk of the latest labor strife was ongoing and voices were often raised over the hateful strife in the streets in the 60's and 70's.
This documentary shows some workers of those times. Many of these workers were part of the Great Migration North in the 40’s and 50’s, which brought black Americans north for work to the higher paying assembly plants of Detroit. These workers also brought their traditions – traditions of house parties where many gathered and played their delta blues music, while family members and neighbors shuffled to the beat.
Uncle Jessie white was my blues piano teacher in 1995. As we played music, he would stop and reminisce about the house parties he and his family hosted. The local blues and jazz clubs were shut down because of the 67 riots. Uncle Jessie’s house parties on 29th street gave a respite to assembly workers from their long hard days and nights. Diverse crowds of workers came from all over Detroit and the metropolitan area to play and learn the delta blues. No one was ever turned away and in this small corner of Detroit, racial strife was forgotten. Black and white musicians played in the safe haven Uncle Jessie and his family provided and the love of this music was the glue that held this group together. The ever present racial strife didn’t matter – this is where they came to forget the turmoil of the outside world.
This documentary will show you a glimpse of Uncle Jessie’s music and the laborers that played with him. The outside backdrop is a city torn with rioting, segregation, civil rights unrest, wealth and poverty. Inside this small house on 29th street, you will hear the about the salvation provided by the music known as the Delta Blues.