Detroit Uprising of 1967


riotDetroit’s riot in the summer of 1967 was the most costly in the nation’s history (Rubenstein and Ziewacz, p.284).  Besides accounting for more than $50 million in property damage, it also took a heavier toll in the deaths of 44 people and more than 5,000 people left homeless.  Once touted as a model city, Detroit had devolved into a city in economic chaos and racial unrest.  Because of the major impact it had in the decades to follow, it is important to understand what brought about Detroit’s violent and devastating riot of 1967.

In Detroit, there were growing tensions in the mid-1960s between African Americans and the police.  On July 23, 1967, police officers made an early morning raid on the United Community League for Civil Action, an illegal after hours drinking establishment in the predominantly black 12th Street area, and arrested the bartender and 82 customers (Rubenstein and Ziewacz, p. 282).  Within minutes, an uncontrollable mob had formed and it escalated into looting, vandalism and arson. Political battles between Republican Michigan Governor George Romney and Democratic President Lyndon Johnson delayed National Guard and military troops from being deployed to quell the riot. By July 28, the most costly riot in the nation was finally over.

While the 12th Street police raid was the spark that triggered the riot, other reasons cited for the unrest that led up to it were:

  • The exodus of whites from the inner city and migration of African Americans into the city, which reduced the tax base and critical funding for schools and other workforce/social service programs.
  • Substandard housing, unemployment and overcrowded schools (French, Radio Program on Riots, Part 1).
  • Feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness among African Americans.
  • Problems with local police discrimination and double standards of justice.

    While our course focuses on the riot in Detroit, 14 other cities in Michigan had riots that summer of 1967 (French, Week 12 PowerPoint–1960s).   One of them was Saginaw.  I had just graduated from high school in Saginaw that year, and was enrolled to start at Delta College in the fall.  My parents must have protected us from being directly impacted by the riot that took place in our downtown, as I don’t remember much of the major devastation it caused to the inner city.  Last year, the Saginaw News published an online article (July 25, 2017) commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the Saginaw riot of 1967.  It was sadly ironic to read that Mayor Henry Marsh was serving as Saginaw’s first black mayor, and even he was not allowed to enter local bars during that period of segregation.We’ve come a long way since 1967 to overcome the racial discrimination faced by African Americans in Detroit and other cities in our country, but we still have a long way to go in uniting our country racially and politically.

    Works Cited:

    Michigan, A History of the Great Lakes State, Bruce A. Rubenstein and Lawrence E. Ziewacz

    Week 12 PowerPoint–the 1960’s, Dr. Amy French

    Saginaw News, “50 Years After Saginaw Riots, Activist Says Struggle Still Continues”, July 25, 2017

    Radio Program on Riots, Dr. Amy French

     

4 thoughts on “Detroit Uprising of 1967

  1. Segregation and the unfair treatment of specific groups of people in our history is a sad but true fact that we must own up to. I was not around during these times, however I do work in the inner city of Saginaw and can still feel the tension at times. I feel from different generations that they merely demand respect and to be treated like an equal, because truly historically they may not have been. I have been told many a story about these Saginaw Riots and how horrible it was at the time to watch people get hurt. How can we as a society just 50 short years ago have been in this situation?

  2. I think that people just want to feel respected and equal. The people who participated in these riots had been pushed to the brink and experienced stress from being segregated and harassed for so long. Eventually they reached their breaking point (the beginning of each of those riots) and explode.

    I think that it’s neat that you were around at the time of these riots.

    It truly is sad that the first black mayor wasn’t even allowed to participate in parts of the community that he led.

  3. Civil unrest occurred in the state of Michigan for most of the mid 1900’s and came to a head during the 1960’s. Your blog post did a good job of summarizing some of the main influences that lead to the riots during 1967. Until reading the chapters in our book I did not realize how reaching the unrest in the entire state. It did seem that most of the unrest came within metropolitan cities. It has been over 50 years since the riots, and our State and Nation has made great strides in the field of civil rights, but there is still work to do.

  4. I lived in the out skirts of Detroit and really never new the true history of the Detroit Riot until reading it in our book. It amazes me how much has changed from 30 years ago to now in the Detroit area. As a kid you didn’t go downtown Detroit unless you really had too. Now it’s grown to a pretty nice city and lots to do there. Unfortunately, there still is many homeless but you see much more diversity. It all makes sense to me now after reading about the most deadly riot and why there were so many blacks that lived in Detroit. There still a lot of change that needs to be done but we have come a long way. Your blog have a lot of good information in it.

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