Tag Archives: 12th street riots

The 1967 Riot (Twelfth Street Riot)

The riots that occurred in 1967 may have been the biggest turning point in Detroit’s transformation from the golden days of prosperity to what is today. Most of the info below was taken from wiki (yes I am feeling lazy, again).

The Detroit 1967 riot or the 1967 Detroit rebellion, or more commonly referred to in Detroit and Michigan as the Twelfth Street riot, was a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan that began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of a blind pig on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount on the city’s near westside. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in U.S. history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit’s 1943 race riot. To help end the disturbance, the Michigan National Guard was ordered into Detroit by Governor George Romney and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in United States Army troops. The result was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests and more than 2,000 buildings burned down. The scale of the riot was eclipsed only by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and an extensive cover story in Time magazine and Life on August 4, 1967. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.

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Social conditions

Detroit was regarded by many in the United States as a leader in liberal race relations during the early 1960s. The election of Mayor Jerome Cavanagh in 1961 brought reform to the police department led by new Detroit Police Commissioner George Edwards. Organized labor led by UAW President Walter Reuther planned major redevelopment for inner city slums. The New York Times editorialized Detroit had “more going for it then any other major city in the North.”

Detroit had a large and prosperous black middle class; higher than normal wages for unskilled black workers due to the auto industry; two black congressmen- half the total black representation in Congress; three black judges; two blacks served on the Board of Education; forty percent of the Housing Commission were African-American and twelve blacks were representing Detroit in the Michigan legislature. Nicholas Hood, the sole black member of the nine member Detroit Common Council praised the Cavanagh administration for its willingness to listen to concerns of the inner city. Several weeks prior to the riot, Mayor Cavanagh proudly stated that you did not “need to throw a brick to communicate with City Hall”. Moreover, Detroit had acquired millions in federal funds through President Johnson’s Great Society programs and poured them almost exclusively into the inner city. The Washington Post claimed Detroit’s inner city schools were undergoing “the country’s leading and most forceful reforms in education”. Housing conditions were not viewed as worse than other Northern cities. In 1965, the American Institute of Architects gave Detroit an award for urban redevelopment. The city had mature black neighborhoods like Conant Gardens as Detroit had always absorbed new arrivals in areas founded around ethnicity. As Paul Wrobel states in Our Way: Family, Parish, and Neighborhood in a Polish-American Community ethnic communities in Detroit like Poletown, Chaldeantown, Corktown, Mexicantown, and Greektown are ubiquitous in Detroit. African-Americans were no different and according to an aide to President Johnson, in May 1967, the federal administration ranked housing for blacks above that of Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago and Cleveland. Finally, the Department of Justice’s Office of Law Enforcement Assistance designated Detroit as the “model for police-community relations”. Fortune, Newsweek, Christian Science Monitor, Look, Harper’s, U.S. News and World Report, and The Wall Street Journal all published positive articles on the city; Mayor Jerome Cavanagh was so highly regarded nationally, he headed the Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities after earning 69% of the votes in his 1965 reelection campaign. Although Cavanagh alienated many when he ran a failed attempt to earn the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate in 1966, the city was proud of diverting a possible riot situation on Kercheval Street in 1966 and felt police were capable of defusing potential riot situations.

However, according to Violence in the Model City by University of Michigan’s Sidney Fine, African-Americans felt dissatisfaction with social conditions in Detroit before July 23, 1967. After the riot, the Kerner Commission reported that their survey of blacks in Detroit found that none were “happy” about conditions in the city prior to the event. The areas of discrimination identified by Fine were: policing, housing, employment, spatial segregation within the city, mistreatment by merchants, shortage of recreational facilities, quality of public education, access to medical services, and “the way the war on poverty operated in Detroit”.

Policing

The Detroit Police Department is administered directly by the Mayor according to the City of Detroit Charter. Prior to the rebellion, reforms were attempted by Mayor Cavanagh’s appointees, George Edwards and Ray Girardin. Police Commissioner George Edwards tried to recruit and promote blacks, but he refused to establish a civilian police review board, which angered African-Americans. Although, he actively worked to expose and discipline police officers guilty of brutality, ultimately he turned the rank and file officer against him and angered many whites in Detroit who saw him being too soft on crime. The Community Relations Division of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission undertook a study in 1965 of the Police and published its findings in 1968. It claimed the “police system” was at fault for racism. The police system was blamed for recruiting “bigots” and reinforcing bigotry through the department’s “value system”. Moreover, a survey conducted by President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration found that prior to the riot, 45% of police working in black neighborhoods were “extremely anti-Negro” and an additional 34% were “prejudiced”.

By 1967, only 5% of the force was non-white. Although there were many instances of police using unlawful physical force on civilians, police brutality included psychological harm to African-American’s sense of security and safety. It was a common practice for police to talk down to blacks, using language of the Jim Crow South like “boy” to address males and “honey” and “baby” to address females. Groups of young men were also targets of unlawful street searches, and single women complained of being called “prostitutes” for simply walking on the street. People who could not produce proper identification were often arrested. Several questionable shootings and beatings of blacks by officers were reported by the local press in the years before 1967. Yet African-Americans also complained that the police did not respond to their calls as quickly as white citizens’. There was a common opinion that the police profited from vice and crime taking place in black neighborhoods. Claims of corruption and connections to organized crime also weakened trust in the police. According to Sidney Fine, “the biggest complaint about vice in the ghetto was prostitution.” Black leadership thought the cops did not do enough to curb white Johns from exploiting local females. In response to this issue, in the weeks leading up to the rebellion, Police had started a campaign to aggressively curb prostitution along Twelfth Street. On July 1, a prostitute was killed and rumor spread the police had shot her. The police claimed she was murdered by local pimps. Detroit police used Big 4 or Tac Squads, each made up of four police officers, to patrol Detroit neighborhoods, and these squads were employed in the attempt to combat soliciting.

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The raiding of after hours drinking clubs was also seen as racially biased policing by many Detroiters. Blind pigs were important parts of Detroit’s social life for African-Americans. They had a history dating back to Prohibition, but were also a response to discrimination in service to African-Americans in Detroit restaurants, bars and entertainment venues during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. After the riot, a Detroit Free Press survey showed that residents reported police brutality as the number one problem they faced in the period leading up to the riot.

Employment

A number of factors, including increased productivity and automation, consolidation of the auto industry, the end of World War II, taxation, and a need for manufacturing space, had caused the city to lose jobs to the suburbs, 134,000 from 1947 to 1963. Major companies like Packard, Hudson, and Studebaker, as well as hundreds of smaller companies, went out of business. In the 1950s, the unemployment rate hovered near 10 percent. Between 1946 and 1956, GM spent $3.4 billion on new plants, Ford $2.5 billion, and Chrysler $700 million, opening a total of 25 auto plants, all in Detroit’s suburbs. As a result, many left Detroit for jobs in the suburbs, most of which were white-only at that time. In the 1960s, the city lost about 10,000 residents per year to the suburbs. Detroit’s population fell by 140,000 between 1950 and 1960, and another 100,000 residents by 1970.

Unemployment among black men was more than double that of white men in Detroit by the time of the riot—15.9 percent of blacks were unemployed, but only 6 percent of whites were unemployed in the 1950s—partially due to the seniority system of the unionized factories. Except for Ford, which hired a significant number of blacks for their factories, the other automakers did not hire blacks until World War II resulted in a labor shortage. Blacks were the first to be laid off after the War. Moreover, African-Americans were ghettoized into the “most arduous, dangerous and unhealthy jobs”. When the auto industry boomed again in the early 1960s, only Chrysler produced vehicles in the city of Detroit, the blacks they hired got “the worst and most dangerous jobs: the foundry and the body shop.”

Although there was a prosperous black educated class within traditional professions- social work, the ministry, medicine and nursing- blacks working outside manufacturing were relegated to service industries as waiters, porters, or janitors. Many African-American women were further limited to work in domestic servitude. Certain business sectors discriminated notoriously against hiring blacks for even entry level positions. Arthur Johnson and the Detroit chapter of the NAACP picketed First Federal Bank until they agreed to hire their first black tellers and clerks. One of the biggest changes after the riot-rebellion was the lowering of entry-level job requirements by automakers and retailers. A Michigan Bell employment supervisor proclaimed in 1968 that “for years businesses tried to screen people out. Now we are trying to find reasons to screen them in.”

Housing and neighborhoods

Even with Detroit’s high home ownership rates, affordable housing was an issue caused by several urban renewal projects after World War II that dramatically changed neighborhood boundaries and ethnic composition of neighborhoods. Detroit undertook a series of urban renewal projects that impacted African-Americans especially. Black Bottom or Paradise Valley was on Detroit’s near lower east side, south of Gratiot. By discrimination, including then lawful deed restrictions, or by choice, from 1910 through the 1950s, it was the first place many African-Americans new to Detroit settled in. The city began planning for the massive Gratiot Redevelopment Project as early as 1946, that would eventually cover a 129 acre site on the lower east side that included Hastings Street- the epicenter of Paradise Valley. In fact, Detroit was a world leader in urban renewal. The city’s goals were to: “arrest the exodus of business from the central city, to convert slum property to better housing, and to enlarge the city’s tax base.”

Bolstered by successive federal legislation, including the 1941, 1949, 1950, 1954 versions of the Housing Act and its amendments through the 1960s, funds were procured to ultimately create the Detroit Medical Center complex, Lafayette Park and Central Business District Project One and the Chrysler Freeway, by appropriating land and “clearing slums”. Money was included for replacement housing in the legislation, but as cited in Sidney Fine’s Violence in the Model City, the goal of urban renewal was to physically reshape the city and eliminate slum lands, not the slum dweller. As homes and neighborhoods fell, African-Americans and people of every color from Detroit’s skid row, moved to areas north of Black Bottom along Grand Boulevard, but especially to the westside of Woodward, along Grand Boulevard and ultimately the 12th Street neighborhood. As Ze’ev Chafets wrote in 1990’s Devil’s Night and Other True Tales of Detroit, the area around 12th Street went from an Jewish community to a predominately black community rapidly in the 1950s. As Jewish residents moved to the suburbs, they often retained business or property interests in their old community, thus many of the blacks that entered the 12th Street area did not purchase homes, but rented from absentee landlords and shopped in businesses run by suburbanites. As evidence of some of the high crime rates in the formerly low crime 12th Street area this dislocation caused, Chafets own grandfather was murdered in his the mom and pop store he ran at Linwood and Barclay Streets.

By 1967, the neighborhood around 12th Street had a population density that was twice the city average. After the riot, respondents to a Detroit Free Press poll listed poor housing as the second most important issue leading up to the riot, right behind police brutality.

Education

Before July 1967, Detroit Public Schools suffered from underfunding and racial discrimination. Underfunding was a function of a decreasing tax base as the population shrank while the numbers of students rose. From 1962-1966 enrollment grew from 283,811 to 294,653. Beneath the numbers was the fact that students with relatively strong academic backgrounds, mostly white, left while educationally deprived and economically disadvantaged students, mostly black, increased in population. In 1966-67, the funding per pupil in Detroit was $193 compared to $225 per pupil in the suburbs. Exacerbating this inequity was the challenges in educating disadvantaged students. The Detroit Board of Education estimated it cost twice as much to educate a “ghetto child properly as to educate a suburban child.” According to Michigan law in 1967, class sizes could not exceed thirty-five students, but in inner city schools they did, sometimes swelling to forty students per teacher. To have the same teacher:student ratio as the rest of the state, Detroit would have to hire 1,650 more teachers for the 1966-67 school year.

In 1959, the Detroit School Board passed a bylaw banning discrimination in all school operations and activities. Yet from 1962-1966 black organizations had to work to overcome persistent discrimination in the quality of education black students received. Issues included class size, school boundaries and how white teachers treated black students. The Citizens Advisory Committee on Equal Educational Opportunities published a report that found a clear pattern of discrimination in the assignment of teachers and principals in Detroit schools. It also found “grave discrimination” in employment and training opportunities in [apprenticeship programs and expressed dissatisfaction in rate of desegregation in attendance boundaries. The school board accepted the recommendations made by the committee, but still faced increasing community pressure. The NAACP demanded affirmative action hiring of school personnel and increased desegregation through an “open schools” policy. Foreshadowing the break between black civil rights groups and black nationalists after the riot-rebellion, a community group led by Rev. Albert Cleage Group of Advanced Leadership (GOAL) emphasized changes in text books and classroom curriculum as opposed to integration. Cleage wanted black teachers teaching black students black studies, as opposed to integrated classrooms where all students were held to the same academic standards.

In April and May of 1966 a student protest at Detroit Northern High School made major headlines throughout the city. Northern was 98% African-American and had substandard academic testing scores. A student newspaper article was censored by administration that claimed teachers and the principal taught-down to blacks and used social promotion to graduate kids without educating them. This led to a student walkout and a temporary “Freedom School” being set up in a neighborhood church staffed by many volunteer Wayne State University faculty. By May, there were sympathy strikes planned at Eastern and Rev. Albert Cleage had taken up the cause. When the school board voted to remove the Principal and Vice Principal, as well as the single police officer assigned to Northern, whites regarded the board’s actions as capitulation to “threats” and were outraged the “students were running the school”. This had such wide effects in the city a public school tax increase was voted down.

Under the Cavanagh administration, the school board responded by creating a Community Relations Division at the deputy superintendent level. Former head of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, Arthur L. Johnson was hired in 1966 to advance community involvement in schools, and improve “intergroup relations and affirmative action.” Nevertheless, Black schools in the city remained overcrowded as well as underfunded.

Mistreatment by merchants

Complaints about the price and quality of the commercial trade in inner-city retail stores was prevalent before the riot-rebellion. Customer surveys published by the Detroit Free Press indicated that blacks were disproportionately unhappy with the way store owners treated them compared to whites. In stores serving black neighborhoods, owners engaged in “sharp and unethical credit practices” and were “discourteous if not abusive to their customers.” The NAACP, Trade Union Leadership Council (TULC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) all took up this issue with the Cavanagh administration before the riot. In 1968, the Archdiocese of Detroit published one of the largest shopper surveys in American history. It found that the inner-city shopper paid 20% more for their food and groceries then suburbanites.

Chronology

Although some people prefer to call the riot a rebellion, there is a consensus that there was no organized leadership inciting people to riot. The crimes reported to police like looting, arson and sniping took place in specific areas of Detroit. On the west side of Woodward Avenue extending out from the 12th Street neighborhood to Grand River Avenue and as far south as Michigan Avenue and Trumbull. East of Woodward the area around East Grand Boulevard which goes east-west then north-south to Belle Isle was involved. However, the entire city between Sunday, July 23 through Thursday, July 27 was affected. A city wide curfew was enacted, liquor and gun sales were prohibited and business activity downtown was informally curtailed in recognition of the serious civil unrest engulfing sections of the city.

Sunday, July 23

In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, Detroit police officers expected to find only two dozen individuals in the blind pig, but instead there were 82 people celebrating the return of two local veterans from the war in Vietnam. Despite the large number of people, police decided to arrest everyone present. A crowd soon gathered around the establishment, protesting as patrons were led away.

After the last police car left, a group of men, angry after having observed the incident, began breaking the windows of the adjacent clothing store. Shortly thereafter, full-scale rioting began throughout the neighborhood. At 7:00 a.m., the police made their first looting arrest. State police, Wayne County Sheriff’s office and the Michigan National Guard were alerted, although because it was a summer Sunday, it took hours for the Police Commissioner Ray Girardin to summon full police manpower. On Sunday, 12th Street was described as a “carnival atmosphere” as police watched looting but rarely arrested people, partially due to their inadequate numbers and partially due to the belief the riot would be localized and short term and “break up”. The pastor of Grace Episcopal Church along 12th Street reported that he saw a “gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of buildings” The police conducted several failed police sweeps along 12th Street, which proved ineffective due to the surprisingly large numbers of people on the street.

Despite a conscious effort by the local news media to avoid reporting on it so as not to inspire copy-cat violence, the mayhem expanded to other parts of the city, with theft and destruction beyond the 12th Street/Clairmount Avenue vicinity. By Sunday afternoon, news had spread and people attending events like a Fox Theater Motown review and Detroit Tigers game were alerted to avoid certain areas of the city. After the game, Detroit Tigers left-fielder Willie Horton, a black Detroit resident who had grown up not far from the blind pig, drove to the riot area and stood on a car in the middle of the crowd while he was still wearing his uniform. However, despite his impassioned pleas, he could not calm the angry mob.

Windsor’s media, including CKLW and the CBC, were the first to broadcast reports on the violence and looting.

Monday, July 24

Michigan State Troopers were called into Detroit to assist an overwhelmed Detroit Police force. After an initial reluctance to make arrests the previous day, and as the violence spread, arrests began in earnest Monday. Due to the large number of arrests taking place, many constitutionally guaranteed rights were ignored and detainees were housed in makeshift jails. Beginning Monday, people were detained without being brought to Recorders Court for arraignment. Some gave fake names and the process of identifying arrested persons became difficult due to the time it takes to take and check fingerprints. Windsor Police were asked to help check fingerprints. Police began to take pictures of looters arrested, the arresting officer, and the stolen goods, to speed up the process and postpone the paper work. More than eighty percent of persons arrested were African-American, about twelve percent were women. Michigan National Guard troopers were not authorized to arrest people so State Troopers and Detroit Police made all arrests, including sweeping up many people simply watching the looting.

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Michigan Governor George Romney and President Lyndon B. Johnson initially disagreed about the legality of sending in Federal troops. Johnson said he could not send Federal troops in without Romney declaring a “state of insurrection”. President Johnson was wrong. Article IV, Clause 4, of the United States Constitution, provides that “[t]he United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” There is no requirement that the Legislature or the Executive (the Governor) make any declaration regarding a “state of insurrection,” and Johnson, by failing to send the troops, and allowing the riots to continue, was acting in a manner contrary to his sworn duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Romney was reluctant to make that declaration, moreoever, for fear that doing so would relieve insurance companies of their obligations to reimburse policyholders for the damage being done. As Historian Sidney Fine details in Violence in the Model City, partisan political issues also complicated decisions. George Romney was expected to run for the Presidential Republican nomination in 1968 and President Johnson did not want to commit troops solely on Romney’s direction. Added to this was Mayor Cavanagh’s own political and personal clash with Romney. Cavanagh, a Democrat, Irish Catholic, was initially reluctant to ask Romney, a Mormon Republican, for assistance. Especially in retrospect, it seems obvious that Johnson and Cavanagh, both liberal Democrats, and each thinking he had done so much in the field of civil rights, were dumbfounded that the objects of their efforts would display such ingratitude.

The violence escalated throughout Monday, July 24, resulting in some 483 fires, 231 incidents reported per hour, and 1800 arrests. Looting and arson were widespread. Black-owned businesses were not spared. One of the first stores looted in Detroit was Hardy’s drug store, owned by blacks, and known for filling prescriptions on credit. Detroit’s leading black-owned clothing store was burned, as was one of the city’s best-loved black restaurants. In the wake of the riots, a black merchant noted “you were going to get looted no matter what color you were. Rioters took shots at firefighters who were attempting to fight the fires, possibly with some of the 2,498 rifles and 38 handguns that were stolen from local stores. It was obvious that the Detroit and Michigan forces were unable to keep the peace.

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On Monday, U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan), and Arthur L. Johnson of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP who were against Federal troop deployment, attempted to ease tensions by driving along Twelfth Street with a loud speaker telling people to return to their homes. Reportedly, Conyers stood on the hood of the car and shouted through a bullhorn to one of the mobs, “We’re with you! But, please! This is not the way to do things! Please go back to your homes!” But the crowd refused to listen. One civil rights activist (whom Conyers had once defended in a trial) allegedly responded, “Why are you defending the cops and the establishment? You’re just as bad as they are!” Conyers’ car was pelted with rocks and bottles, one of them hitting a nearby policeman. According to reports, as Conyers climbed down from the hood of the car, he remarked to a reporter in disgust, “You try to talk to those people and they’ll knock you into the middle of next year.”

Tuesday, July 25

Shortly before midnight on Monday, July 24, President Johnson authorized use of Federal troops by using a law from 1795, which stated that the President may call in armed forces whenever there is an insurrection in any state against the government. This gave Detroit the distinction of being the first and only city to ever be occupied by federal troops three times. The 82nd Airborne had earlier been positioned at nearby Selfridge Air Force Base in suburban Macomb County, along with National Guard troops who were federalized at that time. Starting at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 25, some 8,000 National Guardsmen were deployed to quell the disorder. Later their number would be augmented with 4,700 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne, and 360 Michigan State Police.

Even with the Army, National Guard, State Police and Detroit department deployed across the city, chaos still existed. Police were overworked and tired. The National Guard was inexperienced and predominately white. Under stress their racism showed, many resorted to ordering Detroiters around using racist slurs and stereotypes. The U.S. Army was more experienced and combat hardened and performed well under pressure, according to all accounts after the riot. They were a racially diverse unit and their deployment to the east side of Woodward was a reason for why the looting and arson was better contained there. Police communication was a problem, as the different forces used different transmission and radio technology. After the riot, State Troopers were also assessed to have done a good job under difficult conditions; however, Detroit Police were found to have committed many acts of incredible abuse to blacks and whites alike while in their custody.

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Although only 26 of the over seven thousand arrests involved snipers, and not one conviction for sniping was ever successfully prosecuted, it was a fear of snipers that precipitated police searches. The “searching for weapons” caused many homes and vehicles to be scrutinized. Curfew violations were also common sparks to police brutality. The Tenth Precinct abused prisoners routinely, as mug shots later proved many injuries came after booking. Women were stripped and fondled while officers took pictures, an infamous discarded Polaroid was plucked from the garbage and ended up on Mayor Cavanagh’s desk. White landlords from New York visiting their building were arrested after a sniper call and beaten so horribly that “their testicles were still black and blue two weeks after the incident”. But the most documented event of police brutality was the “Algiers Motel Incident”. Three African-American men were found dead in a manor house turned motel at Woodward and Virginia Park known for its prostitution. Two white, cosmetology school drop-outs recently arrived from Columbus, Ohio and still teenagers were staying in the motel with local African-American men when the police and National Guard responded to a shots fired call. Evidence presented later suggested that three Detroit Police officers called out all occupants of the motel to the main lobby, searched them for weapons, threatened to kill them, and threw knives at their feet in a “game” before searching the rooms for weapons. Shooting then took place in two of the rooms and three bodies were discovered afterward. A police confession to the shooting was later covered up. Pulitzer prize winning author John Hersey’s true crime book Algiers Motel Incident investigated the case.

July 26-July 27

There is some discussion that the deployment of troops incited more violence, although the riot ended within 48 hours of their deployment. The discussion might hinge on the type of troop used in various locations. Most of the Michigan National Guard were white, while many of the Federal Army troops were black. As a result, the National Guard troops faced a more violent reaction when deployed to the inner city. The National Guard and the Federal Army troops were engaged in firefights with locals, resulting in deaths both to locals and the troops. Of the 12 people shot and killed by troops, only one was by a Federal soldier, possibly because the Federal troops were ordered not to load their guns except under the direct order of an officer. Indeed, the actions of the National Guard troops were called into question in the Cyrus Vance report.

Tanks and machine guns were used in the effort to keep the peace. Film footage and photos that were viewed internationally showed a city on fire, with tanks and combat troops in firefights in the streets, thus sealing Detroit’s reputation for decades to come.

By Thursday, July 27, order had returned to the city to the point where ammunition was taken from the National Guardsmen stationed in the riot area, and bayonets ordered sheathed. Troop withdrawal began on Friday, July 28, the day of the last major fire in the riot. The Army troops were completely withdrawn by Saturday, July 29.

The Detroit riot ignited similar problems elsewhere. National Guardsmen or state police were deployed in five other cities: Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, Grand Rapids, and Toledo, Ohio. Disturbances were also reported in more than two dozen cities.

An estimated 10,000 participated, with an estimated 100,000 gathering to watch. Thirty-six hours of rioting later, 43 were dead, 33 of them black, 17 of those by police action. More than 7,200 were arrested, mostly black. Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, lamented upon surveying the damage, “Today we stand amidst the ashes of our hopes. We hoped against hope that what we had been doing was enough to prevent a riot. It was not enough.”

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Death toll

Over the period of five days, forty-three people died, of whom 33 were black. The other damages were calculated as follows:

* 467 injured: 182 civilians, 167 Detroit police officers, 83 Detroit firefighters, 17 National Guard troops, 16 State Police officers, 3 U.S. Army soldiers.

* 7,231 arrested: 6,528 adults, 703 juveniles; 6,407 blacks, 824 whites. The youngest, 4; the oldest, 82. Half of those arrested had no criminal record.

* 2,509 stores looted or burned, 388 families homeless or displaced and 412 buildings burned or damaged enough to be demolished. Dollar losses from arson and looting ranged from $40 million to $80 million.

Aftermath: riot or rebellion?

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Blacks and whites in Detroit viewed the events of July 1967 in very different ways. Part of the process of comprehending the damage was to survey the attitudes and beliefs of people in Detroit. Sidney Fine’s chapter “The Polarized Community” cites many of the academic and Detroit News financed public opinion surveys conducted in the wake of the riot-rebellion. Although Black Nationalism was thought to have been given a boost by the civil strife, as membership in Albert Cleage’s church grew substantially and the New Detroit committee sought to include black leadership like Norvell Harrington and Frank Ditto, it was whites who were much more likely to support separation. One percent of Detroit blacks favored “total separation” between the races in 1968, whereas 17% of Detroit whites did. African-Americans supported “integration” by 88%, only 24% of whites did. Residents of the 12th Street area differed significantly from African-Americans in the rest of the city however. For example, 22% of 12th Street blacks thought they should “get along without whites entirely”. Nevertheless, the Detroit News survey of Black Detroiters in 1968 showed that the highest approval rating for people were given to conventional politicians like Charles Diggs (27%) and John Conyers (22%) compared to Albert Cleage (4%).

One of the criticisms of the New Detroit committee, an organization founded by Henry Ford II, J.L. Hudson and Max Fisher while the embers were still cooling, was that it gave credibility to radical black organizations in a misguided attempt to listen to the concerns of the “inner-city Negro” and “the rioters”. Moderate black leadership like Arthur L. Johnson were weakened and intimidated by the new credibility the riot gave to black radicals, some of which favored “a black republic carved out of five southern states” and supported “breaking into gun shops to seize weapons.”. The Kerner Commission deputy director of field operations in Detroit reported that the most militant organizers in the 12th Street area did not consider it immoral to kill whites. Adding to the criticism of the New Detroit committee in both the moderate black and white communities was the cynical belief that the wealthy, white industrial leadership were giving voice and money to radical black groups as a sort of “riot insurance”. The fear that “the next riot” would not be localized to inner city African-American neighborhoods, but include the white suburbs was common in the black middle class and white communities. White groups like “Breakthrough” started by city employee Donald Lopsinger wanted to arm whites and keep them in the city because if Detroit “became black” there would be “guerrilla warfare in the suburbs”.

Detroit Councilperson Mel Ravitz said the riot-rebellion divided not only the races- since it “deepened the fears of many whites and raised the militancy of many blacks”, but it opened up wide cleavages in the black and white communities as well. Moderate liberals of each race were faced with new political groups that voiced extremist solutions and fueled fears about future violence. Compared to the rosy newspaper stories before July 1967, the London Free Press reported in 1968 that Detroit was a “sick city where fear, rumor, race prejudice and gun-buying have stretched black and white nerves to the verge of snapping”. Yet ultimately, if the riot is interpreted as a rebellion, or a way for black grievances to be heard and addressed, it was partly successful. The black community in Detroit received much more attention from federal and state governments after 1967, and although the New Detroit committee ultimately shed its black membership and transformed into the Detroit Renaissance, money did flow into black owned enterprises after the rebellion. However, the most significant black politician to take power in the shift from a white majority city to a black majority city, Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, wrote in 1994:

“The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the rebellion, totally twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.”

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