Detroit 1967: Riot or rebellion?

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Detroit 1967: Riot or rebellion?

By John Ruberry

Last week the 50th anniver­sary of the five-​day long Detroit Riot passed. Or upris­ing or rebel­lion, depend­ing on who you speak with.

I’m going with the first one, riot. It started after mid­night on July 23, 1967 in the city’s Vir­ginia Park neigh­bor­hood when an ille­gal bar, known locally as a “blind pig,” was raided by Detroit police offi­cers. After arrest­ing 85 patrons who had gath­ered to cel­e­brate the return of two sol­diers from Viet­nam, the cops were con­fronted by 200 more peo­ple who threw rocks and bot­tles at them. The police left and crowd started smash­ing win­dows and loot­ing stores.

Which is why I’m call­ing it a riot.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_99384” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] Rosa Parks Boule­vard and Clair­mount in 2015[/caption]

It took 17,000 peo­ple, a mix­ture of Detroit and state police offi­cers, fed­eral and national guard troops, and fire­fight­ers to quell the riot. Over 2,000 build­ings were destroyed and 43 peo­ple were killed. Only the 1863 New York City Draft Riot and the 1992 Los Ange­les Riot were worse among domes­tic urban dis­tur­bances. Many of the build­ings that were laid waste were never rebuilt, and 12th and Clair­mount – now Rosa Parks Boule­vard and Clair­mount – was like most of the rest of Detroit when I vis­ited in 2015, for­saken and quiet.

Sure, there were solid rea­sons for black Detroi­ters to be angry 50 Julys ago. Police bru­tal­ity was ram­pant in the Motor City, and as had thou­sands of blacks migrated there from the Deep South for auto­mo­bile indus­try jobs, many whites made that north­ern trek too. And the lat­ter brought their prej­u­dices with them. Yes, many blacks had good-​paying jobs with the Big Three but often they were clus­tered, make that seg­re­gated, into the less desir­able seg­ments of the assem­bly line, the swel­ter­ing foundries or the fumous paint rooms. After World War II urban renewal and express­way build­ing came to Detroit, as it did in other major cities, but African-​American neigh­bor­hoods were usu­ally tar­geted for these “improve­ments,” which caused blacks to sar­don­ically label these pro­grams “negro removal.”

What the 1871 Chicago Fire was to that city, or the 1906 earth­quake was to San Fran­cisco, the ’67 riot was to Detroit. It’s a his­tor­i­cal demar­ca­tion line. Only Chicago and San Fran­cisco suc­cess­fully rebuilt and emerged as bet­ter and more liv­able cities after­wards. After 1967 white flight accel­er­ated in Detroit – and thou­sands of busi­nesses fol­lowed. Jobs too. Crime soared. In 1960 Detroit had over 1.6 mil­lion res­i­dents – now there are fewer than 700,000 Detroiters.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_76612” align=“alignright” width=“275”] Blog­ger at Detroit’s aban­doned Packard plant[/caption]

The riot was the sem­i­nal moment in Detroit’s his­tory, the point from which noth­ing would be the same,” the Detroit News’ Nolen Fin­ley wrote eight days ago.

Riot or rebel­lion? If it was the last one, I know who lost. Detroit did.

But bank­ruptcy – and the con­fes­sion of defeat – like an alco­holic finally admit­ting addic­tion – offers Detroit a chance to turn things around. When I stood on the cor­ner of Clair­mount and Rosa Parks two sum­mers ago, there was no attes­tion of the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the site. But last Sun­day a Michi­gan his­tor­i­cal marker, “Detroit July 1967,” was ded­i­cated there.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

Update: DTG Wel­come Canon212 read­ers check out my inter­views from the Catholic Mar­ket­ing Net­work both here and on Youtube, Take a peek at my new book Hail Mary the Per­fect Protes­tant (and Catholic) Prayer, Lis­ten to my Catholic Radio show Your Prayer Inten­tions pre­mere­ing on WQPH 89.3 Fm this sat­ur­day at noon EST and if you are so inclined give me a hand to help my newly laid off self suc­ceed in our lay­off bleg goal (details here)

By John Ruberry

Last week the 50th anniversary of the five-day long Detroit Riot passed. Or uprising or rebellion, depending on who you speak with.

I’m going with the first one, riot. It started after midnight on July 23, 1967 in the city’s Virginia Park neighborhood when an illegal bar, known locally as a “blind pig,” was raided by Detroit police officers. After arresting 85 patrons who had gathered to celebrate the return of two soldiers from Vietnam, the cops were confronted by 200 more people who threw rocks and bottles at them. The police left and crowd started smashing windows and looting stores.

Which is why I’m calling it a riot.

Rosa Parks Boulevard and Clairmount in 2015

It took 17,000 people, a mixture of Detroit and state police officers, federal and national guard troops, and firefighters to quell the riot. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed and 43 people were killed. Only the 1863 New York City Draft Riot and the 1992 Los Angeles Riot were worse among domestic urban disturbances. Many of the buildings that were laid waste were never rebuilt, and 12th and Clairmount–now Rosa Parks Boulevard and Clairmount–was like most of the rest of Detroit when I visited in 2015, forsaken and quiet.

Sure, there were solid reasons for black Detroiters to be angry 50 Julys ago. Police brutality was rampant in the Motor City, and as had thousands of blacks migrated there from the Deep South for automobile industry jobs, many whites made that northern trek too. And the latter brought their prejudices with them. Yes, many blacks had good-paying jobs with the Big Three but often they were clustered, make that segregated, into the less desirable segments of the assembly line, the sweltering foundries or the fumous paint rooms. After World War II urban renewal and expressway building came to Detroit, as it did in other major cities, but African-American neighborhoods were usually targeted for these “improvements,” which caused blacks to sardonically label these programs “negro removal.”

What the 1871 Chicago Fire was to that city, or the 1906 earthquake was to San Francisco, the ’67 riot was to Detroit. It’s a historical demarcation line. Only Chicago and San Francisco successfully rebuilt and emerged as better and more livable cities afterwards. After 1967 white flight accelerated in Detroit–and thousands of businesses followed. Jobs too. Crime soared. In 1960 Detroit had over 1.6 million residents–now there are fewer than 700,000 Detroiters.

Blogger at Detroit’s abandoned Packard plant

“The riot was the seminal moment in Detroit’s history, the point from which nothing would be the same,” the Detroit News’ Nolen Finley wrote eight days ago.

Riot or rebellion? If it was the last one, I know who lost. Detroit did.

But bankruptcy–and the confession of defeat–like an alcoholic finally admitting addiction–offers Detroit a chance to turn things around. When I stood on the corner of Clairmount and Rosa Parks two summers ago, there was no attestion of the historical significance of the site. But last Sunday a Michigan historical marker, “Detroit July 1967,” was dedicated there.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Update: DTG Welcome Canon212 readers check out my interviews from the Catholic Marketing Network both here and on Youtube, Take a peek at my new book Hail Mary the Perfect Protestant (and Catholic) Prayer, Listen to my Catholic Radio show Your Prayer Intentions premereing on WQPH 89.3 Fm this saturday at noon EST and if you are so inclined give me a hand to help my newly laid off self succeed in our layoff bleg goal (details here)