It was July 23, 1967 in Detroit, Michigan. Racial tensions had reached a boiling point, and in the early morning hours of this day just 50 years ago, those tensions erupted. Forty-three deaths, 7,000 arrests, and 1,400 destroyed buildings later, citizens of Detroit were left reeling in the destruction caused by pent up frustration over a disheartening system. As it has previously been pointed out, although it is commonly known that the southern portion of the United States struggled greatly with racism and inequality, the north was essentially just as bad. Families that had previously found hope in moving away from the segregation and anger they were facing in the south were quick to realize that the north had a long way to go as well.
When it comes to Michigan specifically, the 1960’s were a very tumultuous time. Black factory workers were marginalized and given the “bottom feeder” jobs, their families were forced into specific neighborhoods where they would often be in tight quarters. “White flight” would occur if too many African Americans somehow made it into their neighborhood, and they were constantly reminded of their supposed inferiority. In addition, black residents were continuously harassed by police officers, and the Ku Klux Klan was demonstrating loud and proud, with their ideology bleeding into public safety and politics through their members. In addition to all of this, the institutional racism that existed (and continues to exist) made it next to impossible for black citizens to thrive. All of this lead to the culmination of several riots across the United States, and possibly most notably, the Detroit Riots.
Referred to as “The Great Rebellion” by some, the Detroit Riots were an expression of rage, anger, disenfranchisement, and sheer rebellion. The lives black citizens were forced to live were unfair in the least, as well as inhumane. Although the rage expressed in the riots had been slowly building, the official event that set off the fiery battle took place when officers opted to raid a technically illegal drinking club that was located in a building above a printing company. When officers arrived, they found a large amount of African Americans celebrating and having a party for two soldiers, whom happened to have just arrived back home from the Vietnam War. Officers then decided that they were going to arrest all of the party attendees, and while they were waiting for all of the black citizens to be transported, others took notice. At that point, a crowd formed, and it quickly escalated to what we know as the Detroit Riots.
When I examine the occurrences that took place in the 1960’s both across the country as well as here in Michigan and more specifically, Detroit, I find that we have gained a disappointingly minor amount of momentum towards equality for all, ending segregation, and outright condemnation of racial discrimination. In fact, according to the United States census, Detroit, Michigan is still ranked as one of “the most segregated in the nation” (Wilkinson). On top of that, citizens and data alike still reflect the sentiment that black families do not belong in white neighborhoods. Margaret Brown, the executive director at the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, says her group “still receives hundreds of complaints annually from would-be tenants and homebuyers and that the number one complaint remains racial discrimination” (Wilkinson). It is very clear to me that not only was Michigan a hotspot for discrimination and segregation, but that we still have a ways to go in fighting against institutional racism, segregation, and discriminatory behavior today.
Engebretson, Jess. “The Summer of Rage.” The Lowdown, KQED News, 24 July 2017, ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/2017/07/24/uprising-lessons-from-the-race-riots-of-1967/.
Flock, Elizabeth. “Detroit Riots 1967 Policeman Stands Guard.” PBS News Hour, PBS, 17 July 2017, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/poetry/rage-rebellion-detroit-riots-captured-one-poem.
“Whites Only Sign.” Wikimedia, Wikipedia.org, 2008, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:We_want_white_tenants.jpg.
Wilkinson, Mike. “Black Flight to Suburbs Masks Lingering Segregation in Metro Detroit.” Bridge Magazine, Bridge Magazine, 6 Dec. 2016, http://www.bridgemi.com/detroit-journalism-cooperative/black-flight-suburbs-masks-lingering-segregation-metro-detroit. Accessed 1 December 2017.