Detroit’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.
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