'Between the Lines' Saline author writes about the Detroit riots of 1967

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Claudia Whitsitt - a retired educator and now an author promised students her next book would be for them.

And she's kept that promise with her latest novel, "Between the Lines," about the 1967 Detroit Riots.

"I love historical fiction and felt the riots supplied a great historical story from which young people could learn important lessons. Many students are just learning about the civil rights movement when they reach fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.

"Writing a historical story makes it more real for them and connects them to this part of history in a way textbooks cannot," explained Whitsitt.

Prior to retiring in 2012, the Detroit native taught for 37 years. She earned her undergrad degree in special education in 1975 and her graduate degree in guidance and counseling in 1980 both from Eastern Michigan University. She lives in Saline with her husband Don. They have five children and three grandchildren.

"Between the Lines" chronicles the friendships of three girls in the aftermath of 1967 Detroit Riots. Hattie Percha meets Beverly Jo Nichols at a public school. Beverly Jo is 10-year-old Hattie's first black friend. Completing this is triad is a tomboy named Crackers.

Despite opposition from Hattie's mother and a racist teacher, the three friends join forces. As the self-proclaimed "Dream Girls," they challenge bigotry and intolerance, willing to do whatever it takes to hold onto what's most precious to them friendship.

"There are so many important themes and lessons in this book that still apply today. The theme is friendship, but friendship that goes beyond the exterior and focuses on what's inside our hearts. There are lessons about prejudice and racism, acceptance, tolerance, and empathy for others. I loved writing this book and even more I am thrilled that students are raving about it," said Whitsitt.

Whitsitt had just turned 15 when the riots began. So her personal experiences served as a foundation for this book.

"Detroit was thriving in the 1960s," she recalled. "Considered an example of a Boom Town, the Motor City was a happening place. The Motown sound was born in Detroit and put us on the map. We also had a diverse population. Blacks and whites worked side-by-side in factories. Martin Luther King Jr. first gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech in Detroit on June 23, 1963. I was proud of my city, and I knew I came from a great place.

"The riots started on my 15th birthday. I remember being outside with my dad and hearing gunshots. To my recollection, it was the first time I'd heard such a sound, and this sense of foreboding entered my world. I was a kid and angry I couldn't continue with my birthday plans, but more than that, I was scared. Scared for my life, the life of my family, and the life of my precious city."

This is not the first time Whitsitt's extrapolated personal experiences into her books.

She did it before with "The Wrong Guy," set in 1969 on the heels of the Michigan Murders, where seven young women were brutally murdered between 1967 and 1969 in this area by John Norman Collins, alias the Ypsilanti Ripper and the Co-ed Killer. The majority of victims were EMU students.

All the victims were kidnapped, raped, beaten, and finally murdered. Some bodies were mutilated after death and dumped. Arrested on August 1, 1969 and convicted a year later, Collins is serving a life sentence at the Marquette Branch Prison.

Whitsitt attended EMU in 1970, not long after Collins was convicted. "As a college freshman on the heels of Collins' arrest, I can tell you that the atmosphere remained one of fear, suspicion, and apprehension.

Even though Collins was behind bars, there was no way to be certain he was the killer. Co-eds wore whistles around their necks, carried mace on their keyrings, and laced their keys between their fingers when walking on campus. We were cautioned not to walk alone or go out after dark without a trusted companion. Certainly, this was not a typical college atmosphere and created a mistrust in many of the women on campus," recalled Whitsitt.

In "The Wrong Guy," Katie Hayes attends EMU not long after Collins' arrest. Six months into the academic year, an emergency calls her home. Upon returning, one co-ed is abducted and another murdered. Katie wonders: Did the police arrest the wrong man? She uses her wits to trap the murderer.

Whitsitt was inspired to become a novelist after her husband's passport was stolen when traveling overseas.

Soon, they started receiving strange phone calls. As a result, she created the Samantha series with four books about Samantha Stitsill, a school teacher turned amateur sleuth.

Currently, Whitsitt is working on "Beyond the Lines" - a sequel to "Between the Lines" - and "Two of Me," a stand-alone suspense novel.

"I love the adrenaline high of creativity and the sense of crafting a story," said Whitsitt. "Connecting with readers, especially students, makes me feel like I'm making a difference.

"I hope to instill strong values in my student readers and inspire them to do great things."

Published: Mon, Nov 09, 2015

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