on 12th Street: The Riots of 1967
Legacy of the 1943 Riots
Black Day in July
compiled by Chris Edwards & Elaine
Research from The Detroit News: Rearview Mirror (www.detnews.com/history/index.html)
the Detroit Riots of 1967 remain etched in our collective
memories, seeds of discontent were sewn much earlier.
as World War II was transforming Detroit into the Arsenal
of Democracy, cultural and social upheavals brought about
by the need for workers to man the bustling factories threatened
to turn the city into a domestic battleground.
toured the South convincing whites and blacks to head north
with promises of high wages in the war factories. They arrived
in such numbers that it was impossible to house them all.
who believed they were heading to a promised land found a
northern bigotry every bit as pervasive and virulent as what
they thought they had left behind in the deep south. And southern
whites brought their own traditional prejudices with them
as both races migrated northward.
the Motor City, black workers mixed with Europeans immigrants
on the assembly lines and in the city, and violence often
broke out, in spite of all earning wages nearly beyond their
1933-43 the number of blacks in Detroit doubled and racial
tensions in the city grew accordingly. Still, blacks were
excluded from all public housing except the Brewster project,
and housing shortages were acute.
Detroit Housing Commission chose a housing project site for
blacks in a predominantly white neighbourhood. Called Sojourner
Truth, growing resentment by whites led to riots in 1942.
and national media anticipated more trouble. Life Magazine
called the increased tensions dynamite.
June 20, 1943, blacks and whites clashed in minor skirmishes
on Belle Isle. Two young blacks, angered that they had been
ejected from Eastwood Park five days previous, went to Belle
Isle to even the score.
searched cars of blacks crossing to Belle Isle but not cars
driven by whites. Fighting on the island began around 10 p.m.
but police declared it under control by midnight. More than
200 blacks and whites had participated in a free-for-all.
Leo Tipton and Charles (Little Willie) Lyons told a black
crowd at the Forest Social Club that whites had thrown a black
woman and her baby off the Belle Isle Bridge. More than 500
angry and fearful patrons took to the street. The angry
crowd moved to Woodward, near Paradise Valley, and began breaking
windows and looting stores.
just west of Woodward in an area inhabited by southern whites,
another rumor swept the neighborhood blacks had raped
and murdered a white woman on the Belle Isle Bridge. An angry
mob of whites spilled onto Woodward near the Roxy Theater
around 4 a.m., beating blacks as they were getting off streetcars.
toll was appalling. At least six Detroit policemen were shot
in the melees, and another 75 were injured. The 36 hours of
rioting claimed 34 lives 25 of them black. More than
1,800 were arrested for looting and other incidents, the vast
majority black. Thirteen murders remained unsolved.
a result of the 1943 riots, improvements to the plight of
Detroits inner city blacks were often promised, yet
little changed. In an era of growing disenchantment, racial
tensions would boil over almost 24 years to the day after
the riots of 43.
1967, it began simply enough: police raided an illegal bar
in the inner city, known as a Blind Pig- a place
to get a drink after the bars closed.
a hot, humid Motor City summer night, a small crowd gathered
to protest the raid and arrests. Within a short time, mobs
of young men were engaged in burning, looting, and acts of
random violencethe embers of racial tension were rekindled
and it would be some days before the fire was extinguished.
riots had been blamed on police overreaction to
minor incidents, so authorities did not at first dispatch
large numbers of officers to the area. They further tried
to keep things in checkbased again on presumed lessons
from disturbances elsewhereby persuading the media to
impose a news blackout. Neither tactic worked, however, and
things were soon utterly out of control.
rioting quickly spread to encompass over fourteen square miles
of Detroits neighborhoods. Unlike earlier outbreaks,
the 67 riots were indiscriminate: mobs torched and plundered
black businesses as freely as white ones and burned down a
number of black homes. Both blacks and whites participated
in looting, burning and rioting.
people lay dead by the time the 1967 Detroit riot ended five
days later on July 28.
toll of the 67 riots included:
467 injured: 181 civilians, 167 Detroit police, 83 Detroit
firefighters, 17 National Guard, 16 State Police, 3 U.S. Army.
7,231 arrested: 6,528 adults, 703 juveniles; 6,407 blacks,
824 whites. The youngest, 10; the oldest, 82. Half of those
arrested had no criminal record. Three percent of those arrested
went to trial; half of them were acquitted.
2,509 stores looted or burned: One month after the riot,
a city tally showed 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
the statistics are the human stories.
The following accounts are by those who witnessed what Gordon
Lightfoot called Black Day in July.
Story: Panic in Detroit