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Summer of Rebellion

Aubrey Pollard about a year before his death.
Courtesy Thelma Pollard Gardner / via Bridge Magazine

This Friday, the movie simply titled “Detroit” debuts nationwide.

It depicts the most notorious single incident of the 1967 Detroit rebellion — the brutal police killings of three black teens at the Algiers Motel.

The still-contested events of that night at the Algiers Motel have already been written about extensively. A surviving witness called it “a night of horror and murder” worse than anything he had experienced as a soldier in Vietnam.

But after multiple trials, none of the officers involved were ever convicted of any crime.


Students from Detroit's Neighborhood Educational Center Program in 1970.
American Library Association

In the wake of Detroit’s 1967 rebellion, and similar unrest nationwide, a group called the Kerner Commission dug into the underlying causes.

Their main finding was that America was heading toward two separate, unequal societies: one white, one black. One of the deepest inequalities was in education.

group of students facing away from camera
Courtesy of The James & Grace Lee Boggs School / Facebook

 


Fifty years after Detroit’s 1967 rebellion, conversations about what the events of that summer so long ago mean for our society today have been everywhere.

But kids, who generally prefer cartoons to the evening news, might not have many opportunities to engage with the history of what happened in the city 50 years ago. That is, unless, they to go the James & Grace Lee Boggs School

two young men in tshirts
Lyricist Society / YouTube

It's been 50 years since 1967, the summer of one of the deadliest civil disturbances in American history. Teacher Quan Neloms knew now was as good a time as any to teach his students about what happened that year in Detroit.

gordon park sign
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

It’s a Sunday afternoon, and there’s a party of sorts going on at 12th Street and Clairmount on Detroit's west side.

Exactly 50 years ago, the police raid that sparked the city's massive, deadly riots started right here. Now there’s a newly-refurbished park on that corner and a marker designating it a state historic site.

Walter P. Reuther Library: Wayne State University.

The 1967 Detroit uprising was a time of confusion and upheaval. Countless rumors and false narratives spread through the country, and some facts remain unclear to this day.

Luckily, many Detroiters have come forward to tell their personal accounts of the rebellion.

Courtesy of Sister Theresa Milne

The Detroit rebellion erupted in the early Sunday morning hours of July 23, 1967, just blocks away from the Catholic church and school of St. Agnes located on 12th Street. That street is now known as Rosa Parks Boulevard.

The parish had been a strong presence in the neighborhood for many years, with its church and a community high school staffed by nuns: the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHMs). The order is noted for its strong commitment to social justice and education.

Nick Gregory

Divisions, intolerance and a biased political process have influenced Detroit for several decades before and since the 1967 uprising. The idea for “Split” was born after meeting Detroiters who live behind the Wailing Wall, built in the 1940’s to separate white and black neighborhoods.

Cynthia Canty / Michigan Radio

Director Kathryn Bigelow's new film Detroit depicts one of the most horrific events of the 1967 rebellion: a night of terror at the Algiers Motel, a night that left three young black men dead at the hands of white police officers.

Detroit had its world premiere this week at the Fox Theatre, just blocks away from where buildings burned, bullets flew, and 43 people died.

Detroit in July of 1967
Walter P. Reuther Library / Wayne State University

The violence in Detroit in the summer of 1967 destroyed large swaths of the city, mostly in black neighborhoods. It also energized the political ambitions of the city's African-American citizens.

The Shrine of the Black Madonna, which opened a few months before the riots broke out, wanted to turn the black church into a political force in Detroit. Its founder Albert Cleage combined the church's history in civil rights activism with an emerging black nationalist movement.

As the nephew of the Shrine's first leader, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has a unique take on how the summer of 1967 changed the course of religious and political life for black people in Detroit. He also had a front-row seat to the chaos that broke out less than two blocks from his home.

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

One powerful way to bear witness to history is through theater.

AFTER/LIFE is a living history play based on oral histories of women and girls who lived through the Detroit ’67 rebellion.

The play was conceived by Dr. Lisa Biggs, an assistant professor in Theater and Performance Studies at Michigan State University. It features oral histories from women left out of news accounts, and teaches students about one of Detroit's pivotal moments.

Biggs, along with actor and poet Deborah Chenault Green, joined Stateside to talk about the performance, and Green’s personal account living through the ’67 rebellion.

Walter and Wallace Crawford experienced Detroit's 1967 rebellion first hand.
Stateside Staff

In July 1967, Walter and Wallace Crawford had just graduated from St. Vincent High School in Detroit.

The twin brothers were dedicated athletes, heading to college on track scholarships in the fall. On the morning of July 23, the Crawfords woke up and headed to their weekend job at a car wash.

The fires of the Detroit riot began blazing exactly fifty years ago today. Years later, in an odd case of serendipity, I got to know Ray Good, the first police lieutenant on the scene, in the course of profiling his wife Janet for Esquire Magazine.

That was in the 1990s, when she had her moment of fame as Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s partner in evaluating who he would help die.

The historic marker in Gordon Park at 12th St. and Clairmount.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Fifty years ago this week, Detroit exploded in violent unrest that still marks the city to this day.

Now, the place where it all began is also marked as an official state historic site.

Jim Atkin
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

More than 7,000 people were swept up in mass arrests during the 1967 Detroit uprising.

Jails and police stations were overflowing, so many people were held in makeshift detention centers, often in squalid conditions.

Jim Atkin was a member of the Michigan Air National Guard at that time. His unit was called up to try and contain the situation in Detroit, and his first assignment was guarding people taken into custody during the initial days of the chaos.

Bill Goodman: "People during the uprising in 1967 were arrested en masse, huge numbers of people, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were arrested."
Reuther Library

The mistreatment of African-Americans and Detroit's mostly white police force fueled the violence of July 1967. But black Detroiters didn't fare much better in the courts.

Bill Goodman was a young lawyer in the city during the uprising, when thousands of people were being arrested and held in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

The events of 1967 Detroit uprising unfolded rapidly.  It was sparked by a glass bottle being thrown at a police officer early Sunday morning on July 23, 1967. By the end of that day, the Detroit Police, Michigan State Police, and National Guard had all been called in to try to control the situation. 

Fifty years later, starting late Saturday evening, Michigan Radio and Stateside will be tweeting the events of the 1967 Detroit uprising as they happened.

A National Guardsman patrols a Detroit street during the July 1967 rebellion.
Tony Spina / Walter P. Reuther Library/Wayne State University

To understand why African-American Detroiters hit a breaking point with the city's police force in July 1967, we must turn to the history of the Detroit Police Department, and how white officers treated black men, women and children.

Sarah Hulett

Ten Julys ago, I sat down with my grandfather at his kitchen table for a conversation that went on for a couple of hours. It would be the first and last time I would do this, just me and him. We talked about how he met my grandmother, their early life together, and many other things.

We also talked about his time as a cop in Detroit – particularly that summer 50 years ago in the 10th Precinct where he worked, when the neighborhood erupted in civil unrest.

The civil unrest began in the early hours of July 23, 1967 following a police raid on an unlicensed after-hours bar on the corner of 12th and Clairmount.
Public Domain / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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.

Walter P. Reuther Library: Wayne State University.

 

For one hot week fifty years ago, Detroit burned.

Now, when most people think of the uprising, they picture the aftermath: burnt and abandoned buildings, looted businesses, a city in decline.

But the uprising was not a random event. Rather, it was the result of a city fraught with racial tension, population decline, and deindustrialization.

Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

Monday night’s Issues & Ale event plunged back in time to the days surrounding the 1967 rebellion – the historic conflict between citizens and police that led to 43 deaths and thousands of buildings destroyed during five summer days in Detroit.

When Isaiah "Ike" McKinnon was 14, he made the decision to become a Detroit police officer. Two years after joining the department, he was thrust into the city's 1967 rebellion.
Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

It was 1957 when 14-year-old Isaiah "Ike" McKinnon made the decision to become a Detroit police officer. It was a surprising decision given the beating he'd just suffered at the hands of the cops. But instead of turning against the police, McKinnon, who is African-American, decided to join them. 

The civil unrest began in the early hours of July 23, 1967 following a police raid on an unlicensed after-hours bar on the corner of 12th and Clairmount.
Public Domain / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In 1967, a series of civil disturbances in cities across America rocked the country. The unrest, called a rebellion by some and a riot by others, made its way to the city of Detroit in July of that year. 

Mon, July 17, 2017; 6:30-8:00 PM
Northern Lights Lounge
660 W. Baltimore St
Detroit, MI 48202

Free Admission

Host: Lester Graham

This July marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit uprising, a civil disturbance that turned into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States. The uprising resulted in dozens of deaths, thousands arrested, and National Guard and U.S. Army units deployed to patrol the streets of Detroit.