The 1960’s started Detroit Michigan out with a promise for a better future. In the early part of the decade Mayor Cavanagh “pledged to make his city a model of harmonious race relations and to eradicate hunger, substandard housing, and high levels of minority unemployment” (Rubenstein 282). Even with the efforts he made, it was not enough. The slums were commonplace in Detroit, and the people were getting tired of the fear that was portrayed toward them. Whites would not live where the blacks lived, and blacks just wanted a little respect. Every-time they tried to pull them selves out of the slums and into better living conditions, they were beat back down to where they were before, if not lower.
The straw that broke the camels back was in 1967 when the police made yet another raid on a blind pig or an illegal club. When this happened on a hot July day, enough was enough. They were used to being stopped for no reason other than being black, they were used to being treated like dirt. But that did not mean they had to turn over and accept it. They were done accepting it, and ready to fight back. “Inside most black people was a time bomb”, and it went off on July 23, 1967.
This time bomb that went off was a riot that lasted 5 days; killing 33 blacks, and 11 whites. There was $50 million in property damage from the fires and looting. Whole blocks would be leveled, and this would be families’ homes, and businesses alike. The fear and the frustration that happened during the riots was one that can not be explained fully unless you were there. It was like a war zone.
Stores were looted because the owners had wronged them in some way or another. With over pricing, or just not hiring due to color. Businesses were burnt to the ground, and the gun fire on both sides was terrifying. The young national guardsmen that came in to help, while they were instructed to have no ammo, were still a threat. However, they were scared too, they were young white men, that may never have seen battle.
After the third day there were 17,000 law enforcement and military presence in Detroit. To quell the rioting, they arrested 7,200 people. With the jails being full, they had to make temporary detention centers. This only added fuel to the fire. The riots kept up for two more days, and the president still refused to offer any real assistance to the city.
In the end, the riots may have stopped, but the reasons behind them were not investigated. Many people had their own theories, and said it was either the Presidents fault for not doing his job, or the cities fault for letting criminals be loose. Never did the higher ups in the government or on the committees to restore order did they say it was due to a racial unrest. Instead it was becoming even more obvious that “we were becoming two societies, black and white, separate and unequal” to those living in the area.
Rubenstein, Bruce A., and Lawrence E. Ziewacz. Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State, 5th Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2014.
Grimm, Joe. Michigan Voices: Our State’s History in the Words of the People Who Lived It. Detroit Free Press, 1987.
“Eyes on the Prize – 08 – Two Societies (1965-1968).” Vimeo, 7 Mar. 2018, vimeo.com/45163554.