At last week’s National Association of Black Journalists, guests from the Detroit Historical Society introduced the launch of the Detroit 1967 Project. For the next nine months, Detroit 67 will collect stories and images relating to conditions in Detroit prior to 1967, as well as the events of that summer, and explore how those factors have affected our past and present – and, very likely, our future. This research, along with personal accounts, media reports and artifacts, will culminate in a groundbreaking exhibition about Detroit’s struggles with racial and cultural diversity.
The Detroit Race Riot in Detroit was one of the most violent urban revolts in the 20th century. Early morning Sunday, July 23, the Detroit Police Vice Squad officers raided an after-hours bar on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue in the center of the city’s oldest and poorest black neighborhood. People inside were celebrating the return of two black servicemen from Vietnam. Although officers had expected a few would be inside they found and arrested all 82 people at the party. As they were being transported from the scene by police, a crowd of about 200 people gathered outside agitated by rumors that police used excessive force during the 12th Street bar raid. For the next couple of days the violence escalated to the point where Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in Army troops.
“We lived close to the 6th precinct,” said one of the NABJ members. “I remember tanks coming down the street and literally crushing people. We regularly had to hit the floor because of gun shots. You saw rifles sitting at the corner of people’s homes, to defend themselves.”
In the five days and nights of violence during the riots, 33 blacks and 10 whites were killed, 1,189 were injured and over 7,200 people were arrested. Approximately 2,500 stores were looted and the total property damage was estimated at $32 million. Until the riots following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, the Detroit Race Riot stood as the largest urban uprising of the 1960s.
“You have to understand your history so you don’t repeat your history,” said Vicki Thomas, award winning reporter at WWJ/CBS radio in Detroit. “This is a timely conversation and a timely topic.”
Detroit 1967 Project invites anyone who was in Detroit during the riots to contact the Detroit Historical Society and share their story.
“A lot of people tell stories for us, but we want to tell our stories by Detroiters,” said Kate Baker, Managing Director at the Detroit Historical Society.
Those interested in participating in the Detroit 1967 Project or in sharing hteir story can visit the project website at Detroit1967.org and click on “Get Involved” or call the project’s dedicated phone line at (313) 885-1967 and leave a message.