Saturday, July 23, 2005

Never Forget

It's the anniversary of the terrible riot in Detroit in 1967 that marked the beginning of the decline of one of the great manufacturing cities in the country. Detroit, thanks to mass assembly line automobile production, had become one of the great industrial cities in the world. Between 1910 and 1930, the population had grown from about a half million to more than one and a half million, of which many were southern blacks looking for good jobs at the auto factories.

By the '60s, Detroit had one of the highest black populations of any city in the country. Racial tensions were growing. Through the 1950s there were incidents of cross burnings and hate crimes. The Detroit police force was almost entirely white, and Blacks were frequently harassed.

On this night in 1967—a hot and muggy night—an all-white squadron of police officers decided to raid a bar in a black neighborhood. There was a party going on in the bar, welcoming home two Vietnam veterans. The police stormed the bar, arrested 85 black men, and started loading them into vans. There was pushing and shoving and shouting. A crowd gathered. People started throwing bottles. Within hours, store fronts had been broken into, and buildings were set on fire. The riot went on for five days. Thousands of National guardsmen were called in, resulting in tanks in the streets.

The National Guard was particularly trigger happy. They fired off more than 150,000 bullets over the course of those five days. Of the 43 people killed in the riot, all but ten were black. Most of them were innocent bystanders. 7,000 people were arrested, 5,000 left homeless, and $50 million in property damage. Whole blocks had gone up in flames. Along 12th Street, the whole neighborhood burned to the ground. Most of that area remained undeveloped for decades.

After the riots, many of the white residents moved to the suburbs. Thousands of homes were abandoned. The city's population plunged from 1.6 million to under a million in just a few years. By 1990, Detroit was one of the poorest cities in America, with one of every three residents living in poverty.

One of the men who got shot the night of the riot was Officer Isaiah McKinnon, one of the only black officers on the Detroit Police force. He had spent twelve hours working riot control and was on his way home when white officers pulled him over and shot at his car, even though he was still in his police uniform. He went on to become the Detroit chief of police in the 1990's. [The Writer's Almanac®, © 2005 American Public Media]
Read about the victims


Blogger Chuck said...


I hate to admit that I don't even remember this (I was only 10 yrs. old)- or have even heard about this before. Thanks for posting it.

12:04 PM  

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