What caused Detroit to erupt in violence the summer of 1967? Perhaps Marlowe Stoudamire, project director of the Detroit Historical Society’s ambitious Detroit 67 program, says it best: “People didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I’m pissed off.’ The blind pig raid was the straw that broke the camel’s back. [If] we were in perfect harmony … it wouldn’t have sparked what was already building up in the community.”
There have been many studies about what led up to the unrest in the summer of 1967. But several books stand out, including Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Sidney Fine’s Violence in the Model City: The Cavanagh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967, and Hubert G. Locke’s The Detroit Riot of 1967.
Now a new book is about to join that august company. Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies ($39.99, Wayne State University Press), edited by Joel Stone, a Detroit Historical Society senior curator. Here’s just a taste of the new book, plus short takes on those other seminal works
Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies (2017)
One of the main goals of the Detroit 67 Project was to dispel the myth that 1967 was the start of white flight. What happened is a “deep story,” says senior curator Joel Stone. And Detroit 1967 is a deep dive. It ranges from colonial slavery in Detroit to the present day, and includes some suggestions for the future. It offers up memories, facts, and analysis from nearly 30 contributors, with chapters by journalists like Bill McGraw as well as historians such as De Witt S. Dykes, Danielle L. McGuire, and Kevin Boyle.
It concludes with an essay by Desiree Cooper titled “It Can Happen Here.” She says that Detroit is once again being considered a “Model City,” but cites incidents like the 2015 incident when an Inkster police officer “was caught on his cruiser dash cam pummeling the black motorist Floyd Dent.”
Cooper ends the book with a cautiously optimistic take: “Fifty years after the riots, Detroit is living up to its motto. It is seeing better things. It is rising from the ashes. And if city leaders, residents, and businesses are willing to build a city that works for everyone, they are sure to avoid the fire next time.”
The Origins of the Urban Crisis (1996)
Thomas Sugrue stresses that it was not the social programs and racial unrest of the 1960s that caused “white flight,” but rather a slow and painful process of “deindustrialization” that began in the 1920s. In the preface to a 2005 edition, Sugrue says: “One of the greatest migrations of the twentieth century was the movement of whites from central cities to suburbs. From the opening of ‘greenfield’ factories to the rise of corporate ‘campuses’ to the proliferation of shopping malls, suburbs have attracted a lion’s share of postwar private and public sector investments.” The crisis emerged from two “important, interrelated, and unresolved problems in American history: that capitalism generates economic inequality and that African Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of that inequality.”
He also describes visitors in the 1960s passing through “two Detroits, one black and one white.”
We may be somewhat more integrated today, but the danger of “two Detroits” remains just as problematic.
Violence in the Model City (1989)
Sidney Fine picks up the narrative in 1962 and the election of Jerome P. Cavanagh. It sets the scene with talk of separate but equal education. He also focuses on housing issues and the state of police-community relations.
At the time of the 1943 riot, the Detroit Police Department was reportedly “one of the most bigoted” departments in the nation. While the racial composition of the force had changed slightly by the 1960s, the NAACP reported that Detroit blacks were subject to “unreasonable and illegal arrests, indiscriminate and open searching of their person on the public streets … and violent, intimidating police reactions to their protests against improper treatment.”
Even 20 years after 1967, there were lingering issues. Fine cites former Detroit Free Press reporter Barbara Stanton as saying there was “far more destruction and violence in Detroit in 1987 than in 1967,” adding that it was “as if the riot had never ended, but goes on in slow motion.”
Asked if it could happen again, Stanton answered: “It is happening right now, a riot without end, a tragedy still without resolution.”
The Detroit Riot of 1967 (1969)
First published in 1969, The Detroit Riot of 1967 is being re-released this September by Wayne State University Press. It’s an intimate telling of the events of 1967 from Hubert G. Locke, who was then an administrative aide to Detroit’s police commissioner. At one point, he covers the riot in an hour-by-hour account, including its outbreak, the looting, arson, and the sniping. He also details how the police, National Guard, and federal troops attempted to restore order. The book also includes Locke’s take on the community’s response, from political and civic leaders to the religious and social agencies. And in one section foreshadowing recent controversial police interactions with the community, Locke explores the problems of urban law enforcement.