An event that happened in Detroit during 1967 was called many things: an uprising, rebellion, and even riot. But what was it really? That depends on whose point of view the events are seen from.
July 23, 1967, around 3:15 am at a local unlicensed bar know as a “blind pig.” What started out as a police raid ended in five days of civil disturbances that resulted in 43 deaths, hundreds of injuries, around 700 fires and well over 7,000 arrests.
Detroit police and fire departments tried to control the city with its officers but after the second day of mass theft of firearms and weapons, Michigan State Police, Michigan National Guard, and the U.S. Army got involved. And this arrival of battle-tested federal troops triggered some sort of order within the temporary urban war zone of Detroit.
This was a sort of turning point for the citizens of Detroit that sparked an already lit flame of white-flighters who fled out of the predominately black areas of this city.
Frank Joyce, a political activist and the son of early white flighters, said, “It was a rebellion, not a riot.”
In a July 2016 Detroit Free Press article he explained, “And as we know from whites destroying property by throwing tea into the Boston Harbor, rebellion is in the eye of the beholder.”
Before making the choice it is important to see what these events were a culmination of. Police brutality, underlying segregation in housing and schools along with rising numbers of black unemployment fueled this fire that lasted five days.
Around this same time, black urban areas had housing red lines around them that brought on huge tax increases and few jobs. While the white areas of this same city had tax breaks and an increasing number of jobs. The people of color were up against the structural economic disparity brought on by the overwhelming number of non-colored white supremacists.
This is why most whites, and the media, tend to use the term riot. Because this denotes criminal behavior and preserves the idea that blacks wouldn’t have anything to rebel about.
As the 50th anniversary of this rebellion approaches it is appropriate to compare and see if in fact change has been brought into this city.
Having no better words, Yusef Bunchy Shakur, native Detroiter and known activist, said, “It is worse today than it was 50 years ago.”
Shakur believes that this is not even a housing or school segregation problem anymore but a “social disease” that white people have of black people that is, “learned and ingrained into white people.”
And that is why Joyce always urges the importance to talk about these things. To talk about the things that you shouldn’t talk about.
In this podcast, I talk about the rebellion vs. riot debate and tie some strings back to the “A Time to Break Silence” speech by Martin Luther King given the same year that the rebellion took place, 1967.