Encyclopedia Of Detroit

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Riots of 1967

The Detroit Riots of 1967 began early on Sunday, July 23rd, when police raided an after hours club or “blind pig” on Twelfth Street and Clairmount Avenue, in a predominantly black neighborhood on the city’s westside. After vastly underestimating the size of the party, police arrested 82 people. As they waited for reinforcements to assist with transportation to the jail, an angry crowd gathered in protest, a confrontation that would lead to the most destructive riots in US history.

After the police left, a small group of African Americans broke the windows of a nearby store.  Large scale violence quickly spread throughout the neighborhood. Throughout the week, massive looting and fires were rampant. The National Guard was mobilized within forty-eight hours, followed by United States Army troops. Tanks and machine guns were implemented to keep the peace. The city burned for days. Many families, primarily white, fled their houses and never returned.

After five days of rioting, 43 people were dead, while countless others were injured. More than 7,000 people were arrested, the vast majority of whom were African American. More than 2,000 buildings burned down, with the city’s total cost of damage from arson and looting estimated between $40 million and $80 million.

The arrest at the blind pig served as a catalyst in the 1967 riots, although it was merely the final straw of racially-motivated turmoil that had long been festering in Detroit. The riots were a response to decades of marginalization rooted in numerous economical, political, and social factors.

As a whole, black Detroiters suffered from a severe economic disadvantage that stemmed in large part from lack of access to decent jobs and affordable housing. Postwar deindustrialization proved especially detrimental to black workers, who held a disproportionate majority of rapidly disappearing low-level factory jobs.  Because of widespread discrimination in the housing market, the cost and quality of homes available to black families was significantly inferior to those available to whites, such that black Detroiters were forced to pay higher rents for cramped housing of a lesser quality in generally undesirable areas. Concurrently, the construction of new highways destroyed predominantly African American neighborhoods, leaving entire communities displaced and desperate.

Brutality on the part of a primarily white police force compounded black Detroiters’ fear and anger.  Each of these factors helped fuel resentment over real and perceived inequality that gave rise to black militancy in the city. Although the riots were not premeditated, it is clear that the seeds of anger, oppression and violence were present long before the city began to burn in the summer of ’67.

 


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