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Detroit Riot of 1967

The struggle of African Americans for equality reached its peak in the mid-1960s. After progressive victories in the 1950s, African Americans became even more committed to nonviolent direct action. Groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), made up of African-American clergy, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), composed of younger activists, sought reform through peaceful confrontation.

Urban riots in 1966 by angry and frustrated Blacks did not compare to the magnitude of the Watts riot a year earlier, but violence spread to more cities, 43 for the year, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Dayton, St. Louis, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. By the end of the summer, 7 persons were dead, over 400 injured, 3,000 arrested; property damage was estimated at over $5 million.

By May 1966, Stokley Carmichael, veteran of numerous voter registration drives, had established himself as the new head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the principal student organization of the civil rights movement, whose leadership was growing increasingly impatient with the gradualist strategy of Martin Luther King and his associates. In a speech at Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael raised a call for "Black Power." The Black Panther Party (some accounts trace the name to a visual emblem for illiterate voters used in an Alabama voter registration drive), founded in Oakland, California, in October 1966 by activists Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, employed armed members -- "Panthers" -- to shadow police officers who, they believed, unfairly targeted blacks.

1967 was a year of widespread urban violence, sanctioned by some Black militant leaders while abhorred by moderates who saw the uprising as ultimately counterproductive to Black interests. It appeared to some that the phase of the Black protest movement characterized by nonviolent demonstrations led by Dr. King was coming to an end. Many civil rights leaders thought violent upheaval inevitable. In an April 16, 1967, news conference, Dr. King warned that at least 10 cities "could explode in racial violence this summer."

Urban racial violence did plague over 100 cities in 1967. During the Spring, minor disturbances had occurred in Omaha, Louisville, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, Wichita, Nashville, and Houston. Then in June, Boston and Tampa experienced serious disorders. The most devastating riot since Watts in 1965 occurred, however, in Newark, from June 12 to 17, 1967, an outburst that resulted in 25 deaths, 1,200 persons injured, and over 1,300 arrested. The following month Detroit was the site of the worst urban race riot of the decade, one that left 43 dead, over 2,000 injured and more than 3,800 arrested. Rioting continued around the country, with outbreaks in Phoenix, Washington, D.C. and New Haven, among other cities. According to a report of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations released in November 1967, 75 major riots occurred in that year, compared with 21 in 1966; 83 were killed in 1967, compared with 11 in 1966 and 36 in 1965.

The Detroit Riot of 1967 began when police vice squad officers executed a raid in the early morning hours of July 23, 1967 on an after hours drinking club or "blind pig" in a predominantly black neighborhoods located at Twelfth Street and Clairmount Avenue. They were expecting to round up a few patrons, but instead found 82 people inside holding a party for two returning Vietnam veterans. Yet, the officers attempted to arrest everyone who was on the scene. While the police awaited a "clean-up crew" to transport the arrestees, a crowd gathered around the establishment in protest. After the last police car left, a small group of men who were "confused and upset because they were kicked out of the only place they had to go" lifted up the bars of an adjacent clothing store and broke the windows. From this point of origin, further reports of vandalism diffused. Looting and fires spread through the Northwest side of Detroit, then crossed over to the East Side.

The protests became so violent that neither the Detroit or Michigan State Police could contain them. Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh appealed to the Governor. Governor Romney called out the Guard on July 24th by ordering the 2nd Brigade, 46th Infantry Division to state actual duty. The other two brigades of the 46th were at Camp Grayling conducting annual training. Their training was cancelled and the troops quickly moved to Detroit. The situation worsened and by July 26th, twelve square miles of Detroit were burning. As police and military troops sought to regain control of the city, violence escalated.

Mayor Cavanaugh and Governor Romney consulted with U.S. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey; they decided to commit more troops to Detroit. At the same time, the Michigan National Guard was federalized and placed under command of the U.S. Army's XVIII Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, N.C. One brigade each from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were flown to Selfridge Air National Guard Base and joined Task Force Detroit under the command of Lt. Gen. John Throckmorton. A total of 10,253 Michigan ARNG federally mobilized from 23 July - 2 August 1967; authorized by EO 11364 of 24 July 1967.

The task force cracked down on the rioters. By July 29th, the situation was calm enough to pull regular army troops out and leave the city in the hands of the federalized Michigan National Guard. The Guard returned to state control and demobilized on August 2nd. At the conclusion of 5 days of rioting, 43 people lay dead, 1189 injured and over 7000 people had been arrested. During the Detroit rioting, fatalities included one Guardsman -- Corp. Larry L. Post of the 182nd Field Artillery. In all, 8,500 Michigan National Guardsmen were involved in quelling the rioting.

The origins of urban unrest in Detroit were rooted in a multitude of political, economic, and social factors including police abuse, lack of affordable housing, urban renewal projects, economic inequality, black militancy, and rapid demographic change. Following the July 1967 riots in Detroit, 496 Negroes who had been arrested and imprisoned were questioned about their economic and employment status, family status, views about the riot and its causes, and rankings of Negro leaders. Negro interviewers conducted the survey at the prisons. Despite some stated shortcomings in the data collection process and in the instruments, a profile of these men is presented. The typical prisoner was a single man about 30 years old, protestant but not a regular church-goer, and a nonveteran high school dropout. He was southern born and had lived in Detroit for at least 15 years. A blue collar worker, he earned about $120 per week and had been out of work more than 5 weeks in the past year. The prisoner thought the riots had been caused by"police brutality." He believed that poor housing, lack of job opportunities, and discrimination also had contributed to the conflict. Martin Luther King, Jr. was his favorite leader, and nonviolence was the preferred means for achieving civil rights. In general, the prisoner felt that conditions for himself and other Detroit Negroes had improved recently, and he was hopeful of eventually achieving what whites now have.

On July 27, 1967, President Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, chaired by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, to investigate the origins of the disturbances and to make recommendations to prevent or contain such outbursts. On July 26, Dr. King, with Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, and A. Philip Randolph, issued a statement from NAACP headquarters calling on Blacks to refrain from rioting and urging them to work toward improving their situation through peaceful means.

Violence flared early in 1968 as students at South Carolina State College, on February 5, organized a protest against segregation at a local bowling alley. Following the arrests of several demonstrators on trespassing charges, a clash between students and police left eight injured. On February 8, renewed conflicts on the campus led to the shooting deaths of three Black students. The bowling alley was ultimately integrated, but only after the National Guard was called in. Still, sporadic disruptions continued.

On February 29, a jolting summary of the final report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was made public. The Commission found that the urban riots of 1967 were not the result of any organized conspiracy, as fearful whites had charged. Rather, it concluded that the United States was "moving-toward two separate societies, one Black, one white--separate and unequal." The report warned that frustration and resentment resulting from brutalizing inequality and white racism were fostering violence by Blacks. The Commission suggested that the Nation attack the root of the problems that led to violence through a massive financial Commitment to programs designed to improve housing, education, and employment opportunities.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:23:09 Zulu