Civil Unrest

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.


Works cited:

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,

14 thoughts on “Civil Unrest

  1. The amount of damage this riot brought on is just crazy. And I was surprised that they sent the national guard in but with no ammo. Though ammo may have made things progress even more, they would have atleast been able to defend themselves if need be.

    1. It was very crazy! I can’t believe how many structures etc. were destroyed. I found that very shocking as well on how the national guard was sent in with no ammo.

  2. I think the idea behind no ammo, was they did not want to be responsible for the deaths from those bullets. Most of the time seeing someone with a gun will make most people comply. I know personally, I would not want to stand against someone with a gun.

    1. I get the idea that the government did not want to be responsible for the deaths, but also how could any responsible leader send his soldiers into a war zone without a means to defend themselves? It is almost unfathomable to me.

      1. I was confused about that as well. How would they defend themselves and help protect the citizens? If the citizens knew they didn’t have ammo wouldn’t that make them fight against them?

      2. Mayor Cavanagh “ordered police to the scene, but instructed them not to forcibly disperse the rioters. When the mob realized that the police were mere spectators, looting increased…” (Rubenstein, p. 283) But when the federal troops were sent in by President Johnson, the idea of no ammo was an option that probably was considered since there already were deaths, and nobody wanted to make matters worse. The idea of seeing great numbers of those in authority with guns would be a type of deterrent. It wasn’t probably common knowledge that some didn’t have ammo. The troops were there in numbers, but they were in Detroit with a bolstered police force and heavily armed National Guardsmen.

  3. Something that hits me every time I learn about the Civil Rights Movement and other African American unrest is that it was not that long ago that we were in the heat of it. I do no think of it being only 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. I often think of it being in a different world. That is, until suddenly I see or hear of a my African American friends and the issues they face today. That even today in 2018 some individuals still can’t see that we are all created equal. I realize that it isn’t whether racism exists or not, because it always will. It depends on how many people will be able to look past it, and see the hearts of their brethren.

    1. I agree that 51 years ago wasn’t that long ago. The generation that survived the riots in the 1960’s & lived through times of segregation are still alive today. I wonder if things will be different in another 40-50 years when those survivors aren’t alive any more. Will time change people and racism be non-existent?

      1. Unfortunately I don’t think that will be the case. I think we will still have racism for a long time. I only say this because it was evident when the country was formed. Unfortunately, it was so bad that had to made amendments to allow blacks to vote (13, 14, 15). And even after this point, we still got the KKK, and the red shirts. It may not have been as bad in Michigan as other states, but it was still evident. So for this reason, I believe we will be battling racism, in one form or another, for a very long time.

    2. I feel the exact same way. It does seem like so long ago, that the Civil Rights Movement occurred. Like you said, it was only fifty years ago which is not that long in the grand scheme of things. It is sad to see that fifty years has not cured America of its racism. America has a long ways to go in relation to stopping racism.

    3. I feel the same way about how these issues feel like they were so many years ago. It feels as though it was a different world, but if you take a look at today’s society and the issue that we still face you can see that we still live in a divided world. It is not as blatantly obvious now, but minorities are still treated with disrespect. Whether that be because of race or gender there is always an inequality somewhere. We can only hope that equal will be reached someday soon.

  4. I was also very surprised that they sent in the national guard without any ammo to defend themselves. It is hard for me to understand why African Americans were so discriminated against, skin color is just a physical characteristic. It is a shame that a riot is what had to be done to get any results.

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