By: Curious Theatre Company On: December 05, 2017 In: Uncategorized Comments: 0

by Emily Whalen

The summer of 1967 was meant to be the Summer of Love in Detroit, but no “love-in” could deny that the city was drastically changing.

Detroit had grown significantly after the end of the Civil War; many Southern black residents migrated north to Detroit. This helped fuel the city’s power, particularly in the auto industry, during the industrial revolution.

After World War II, the auto industry began to move to the suburbs where they had cheaper costs and more land. Soon after, the affluent white residents of the city followed. This left behind rising segregation, dilapidated structures, lower tax revenue, and mass unemployment. In 1967 the overall unemployment rate of Detroit was 6.2%, but the black community saw unemployment as high as 25%-30%.

In 1962, Jerome Cavanagh ran for mayor, and eventually won the seat, largely campaigning to the black community. Cavanagh criticized the formers mayor’s treatment of the black community and promised an end to the police’s stop-and-frisk policy. Police brutality was already a growing concern in Detroit and the black community showed up to the polls in force to elect Cavanagh. In turn, the police of Detroit saw Cavanagh as an enemy, standing up for the black community and not the police. The Detroit Police Department, which only had about 50 black cops at the time, turned on Cavanagh; they demanded higher pay and held a “Blue Flu” protest during which 20% of the police force called in sick in one day.

Stop-and-frisk, police brutality, and racial profiling continued as Cavanagh was in office. Many prominent black leaders considered sueing the city after near constant complaints from residents of the brutality and the dismissive attitude the police took when responding to crime reports from black citizens.

In the summer of 1967 Cavanagh pushed for answers from the warring communities. He went on TV and said, “the police are doing their job and doing it well.” Anger in the black community grew. Coleman Young, who would go on to be the city’s first black mayor summed up the situation: “At its core was the basic attitude that police were not there to serve the citizens of the black community, but to beat them back; not to protect them, but to discipline them; not to comfort them, it to contain them.”

On the night of July 22, William Scott was holding “Blind Pig,” an illegal party, at the United Community League for Civil Action at 12th and Clairmont in Detroit. The party was larger than expected, some 85 people, and was being held in honor of two black soldiers who had returned from the Vietnam War. On July 23 at 3:55am, the police raided the party. As they dragged people out of the building a crowd grew. The frustrated crowd riled against the treatment of those being arrested, eventually throwing bottles. A skirmish began that would last 5 days, leave 43 dead (33 black,10 white) injure another 342, destroy some 1400 buildings, and draw 700 troops to the city.

People say the looting was so bad that in the aftermath the city streets were riddled with old furniture. But the scars of the events of the Summer of ’67 go much deeper. Even the modern police force still feel haunted. In fact, the majority of the land the events took place in are now empty lots and there are still bullet holes on those buildings that do still stand.

The scars are most evident in the people who have lived to tell the tale. While history has gone on to call the events the “Detroit Race Riots,” the black community then and today often refer to the events as “The Detroit Rebellion,” or the “The Uprising of 1967,” shifting power from a traditionally white history to honor their fight against police brutality.