Grandpa, dad, son: Getting to know the family at center of 1967 Detroit unrest

Dec 16, 2016

It was almost 4 a.m. on July 23, 1967 when police raided the Detroit blind pig owned by William Scott II. As they led the occupants of the illegal after-hours drinking club out to waiting paddy-wagons, a crowd gathered. Frustrated by years of racism and police abuse, the crowd soon grew angry with the police.

These were the beginning moments of the 1967 Detroit Riot, which would last five days, eventually claiming 43 lives.

In a recent piece in Bridge Magazine, Bill McGraw tells the story of the family at the center of that momentous night. He told Stateside that, while William Scott II was the owner of the club, it was William's son, Bill Scott, who was more directly involved in the events that sparked the riot.

“He threw [a bottle] at a sergeant who was standing in front of the club,” McGraw told us. “He missed but the bottle shattered. The cops all took off, once the prisoners were loaded into the paddy-wagons. And as they drove away, that’s when a shower of bottles and rocks and whatever came down on the police. And at that moment, the rebellion was on.”

In the five decades following that night, Bill Scott’s life followed an uneven course. He received two degrees from the University of Michigan, but later on struggled with drug abuse and homelessness.

McGraw told us that, although he was unable to track down Bill Scott himself, who was last seen in Florida, he did locate Bill Scott’s son, Mandela Sheaffer, a recent graduate of Princeton University. 

Listen to the full interview with journalist Bill McGraw above.

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism's Michigan Reporting Initiative, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Bridge Magazine​'s Bill McGraw is one of the reporters working with the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. 

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