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.

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Doughboy monument, Morton Grove, Illinois

By John Ruberry

This week marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, then known as the Great War. Much of Europe had been engaged in widespread slaughter since 1914 when Congress, at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, voted to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

After the armistice ended the war on November 11, 1918, America was a transformed nation.

The war caused an American agricultural expressed a boom. Obliteration of farms and a lack of manpower in Europe created a huge demand American grain. After the war rural America was hit with an economic downturn that ran contrast to the robust industrial expansion in cities like Detroit–and many farms were foreclosed. Bold farmers who borrowed money to plant crops in marginally arable areas such as the Great Plains first endured falling commodity prices and then the Dust Bowl of the 1930s–and of course, foreclosures.

While the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North may have begun a few years before the declaration of war, the demand for factory workers in northern cities clearly hastened it. Black soldiers fought the Germans in France–and like all American soldiers they were celebrated as heroes by the grateful French and Belgians. When these black troops returned home, they discovered that white American racial prejudices remained, perhaps they were even worse than before the war. A series a race riots swept America in 1919, known as Red Summer. The deadliest riot occurred in Chicago, with 38 fatalities. It began after an African-American man floating on a railroad tie on Lake Michigan unwittingly drifted into a white section of a segregated beach.

Victory Monument honoring African-American World War I soldiers, Chicago.

These riots were a precursor of the urban unrest of the 1960s.

While it’s now considered impolite to ask a person their ethnic background, especially if you don’t know that person well, it wasn’t in the 1970s and 1980s, at least in the Chicago area, where I grew up. For instance, one of my neighbors from my youth had an Anglo last name. But that name was changed, I was told, in 1917, from a German one when their grandparents had to close their business and move to a different part of Chicago because they feared for their lives after being victims of anti-German violence. Thousands of others–maybe tens-of-thousands of others–also changed their surnames and cut ties to their pasts. I know about a dozen people whose ancestors dropped their German last names during that time and picked ones that were more “American sounding.”

If you take one of those Anscestry.com DNA tests and you surprisingly find German blood in your veins, it could because you unlocked a Great War family secret.

During the war many German-Americans were jailed on flimsy evidence as America, for a while, forgot it was a free country. And that’s not all. Irrational fears of communism after the Russian Revolution, itself a result of World War I, brought about the civil rights abuses of the Red Scare of 1917-1920. Wilson, a progressive Democrat, signed the Sedition Act of 1918 into law, which made criticism of the war or the nation illegal. In response to all of this madness, the far-left American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920.

Later that year Americans overwhelmingly elected Republican Warren G. Harding as president. He promised a “return to normalcy.”

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Germans in the United States in the early part of the 20th century were stereotypically viewed as beer guzzlers and saloon owners. The Prohibition movement was already strong when the war began–but the progressive teetotalers preyed upon this new bigotry as they sealed their deal with the passage of the 18th Amendment two months after the end of hostilities. Speakeasies replaced bars–and jazz music, often performed by black musicians who were part of the Great Migration–was the music of choice in many of these illegal establishments. This was not a return to normalcy–it was a new normal.

Europe never completely recovered from World War I–America was the world’s most powerful nation after the armistice was signed.

And it still is.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.