Normally, we hope you enjoy our magazine. But “enjoy” doesn’t quite express the right sentiment about our 50th anniversary coverage of Detroit’s summer of 1967. It’s an incident that needs to be commemorated, not celebrated.
Researching this issue made me uncomfortable at times, and might make you feel the same. If you look around the country — from places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore — many of the issues and challenges that led to the unrest of the 1960s still exist.
Oh, they’re not so blatant anymore. But they’re there.
During an interview with the Detroit Historical Society’s senior curator Joel Stone, we compared Detroit in 1967 with 2017. Some things are actually worse — including food access, transportation, and our public schools. I also chatted with veteran reporter Bill McGraw, who wrote a piece for Bridge magazine last year citing poverty and joblessness statistics that are even worse today.
In researching this issue, I read several history books on Detroit’s unrest and also went to see I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary based on the works of the late James Baldwin. The movie was filled with uncomfortable truths and powerful moments. One scene that mixed archival footage of police violence against black people in the ’60s with videotape of eerily similar actions today brought to mind a quote from philosopher/musician Frank Zappa.
In “Trouble Every Day,” his 1966 song about the Watts riots, Zappa expressed a heaping helping of “white guilt” — long before that term even got into the lexicon: “Hey, you know something people? I’m not black, but there’s a whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white.”