Friday, July 27, 2007

Detroit in the Summer of Love

All week, there have been workshops and lectures throughout Detroit about the July 1967 riots. As someone who moved here ten years ago, it's all compelling to think about how culture and class have collided and intersected here. Many of the speakers are so young they weren't even alive forty years ago. Things are much better now than they were in 1967, aren't they? Just wave a wand and all is well, like ebony and ivory hand in hand.

I posted the John Lee Hooker lyrics for "Motor City's Burning" last year; here's a snippet from Gordon Lightfoot's "Black Day in July," which empathizes with the uprising.

Black day in July
Black day in July
Motor City madness has touched the countryside
And the people rise in anger
And the streets begin to fill
And there’s gunfire from the rooftops
And the blood begins to spill.

Today's Rune: Defense.

Birthdays: Alexandre Dumas, fils, Norman Lear, Vincent Canby, Juliana Hatfield, Maria Grazia Cucinotta.


Charles Gramlich said...

glad I wasn't living in Detroit at that time, or in Los Angeles during the Rodney King affair. New Orleans has been lucky to avoid such riots in general, although the post katrina rioting and looting was very nasty.

Anonymous said...

When I left in 1990 there were STILL burnt-out buildings from 1967. I wonder if there still are. Wouldn't surprise me.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy reading your posts as always Erik. I lived thru the riots in Detroit 1967 and the snipers on the roof tops were most frightening indeed. But no more frightening then the drive by shootings and fire bombings that occur now. MW

Pythia3 said...

I was a child, but I remember the planes flying overhead - from Selfridge International Air force Base to the downtown area - and I remember the whole "busing" controversy.
To say things are much better, well I just don't know. I think silent enemies (like racial tensions and prejudices that hide just below the surface) are by far more dangerous then the naming of the beasts. But, again, I just don't know what to think about all of this anymore. :(
Have a great night - I'm going to Zappa Plays Zappa!

the walking man said...

In order to understand the revolt of '67 you have to know a bit of the prior history. The kind of history that the victors always seem to leave out.

For a year or more their was a crime control unit that was tasked wit stopping street mugging. The name of this unit was called S.T.R.E.S.S. Atop the Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets.

The members would dress as women and wait for a thug to come and try and snatch their purse. During the tenure of this unit there had been mounting tension between the minority black citizens and the heavy handed mostly white police force. By the time this unit was disbanded they had been responsible for the murder of 15 or so black young men.

Some of the murders were very questionable as to whether the young men were actually in the act of committing a robbery.

Sociologically you have to understand that the black community felt they were living in a police state and were being kept in an area that can be compared to the Warsaw ghetto of Nazi Germany.

On a sweltering July night the police raided an after hours club, a house that sold liquor and had entertainment after the 2:30 am shut down time for the bars. These blind pigs were a long standing tradition in the area and usually the police looked the other way.

With the raid and arrest of close to a hundred people, the enemy (police) all over the house people came out of their houses and a mob mentality took over, that overwhelmed the police that were on sight. Thousands hit the streets in riot. Not a race riot mind you but a riot against all that was oppressing the black community of the day.

there were many injustices going on at the time, red lining in the realty market, realtor's steering blacks who wanted to buy in nicer neighborhoods to slightly better housing in black neighborhoods.

City services that could be had in the white neighborhoods, like snow clearing for example always hit the black neighborhoods last.

bank financing unavailable to them who wanted to open their own business's or get a mortgage they were able to afford which would allow them to move into neighborhoods with better schools, hospitals, grocery stores.

These are a few of the things that set off the the bomb attached to the fuse that was it by STRESS. People were fed up with having a vote but no voice because the majority population did not want them in their neighborhoods. It took federal intervention to actually change practices like red lining.

So fire hit the streets and 43 people died over five days.

Unfortunately one of the results of the riot was that it exacerbated the problem of white flight, new sunurbs were being built as fast as people could sell their houses, black from the south heard that Detroit was an open city for Black folk from their relatives and they moved up, leaving behind the still subtle Jim Crow attitudes of the south, remember it was the next year that Martin Luther King Jr was murdered.

Detroit was also one of the strongest black Muslim areas of the nation and the Black Panthers were here opening up schools and clinics but the police also harassed them to the point where they also radicalized beyond fear of a white armed police force.

One week after the riot My older brother (14) myself (13) and five or so other kids rode our bicycles through the burned out area on 12th street and saw with our own eyes what had been done. The worst thing I remeber about that bike ride is was long because my brother wouldn't stop until we got to the river, then we turned around and went back the same way we came.

The area did stay burned out for years, literally decades, now there is some empty fields and a few liquor stores rebuilt in the area and the house that are left standing. That portion of the inner city has never been a priority for rebuilding, renovation is moving ever so slowly down Rosa Parks Blvd (12th street)but the priority has always been downtown and eventually the gentrification east and north from there.

So yes i was here when the riots were burning and the shootouts were happening. I will never forget two things:

1) A half track full of armed soldiers pointing their weapons at us four or five kids doing nothing but sitting on our porch but being told to go inside immediately because marshall law had been declared and we were out past curfew.

2) the huge column of smoke that rose into the air four miles from my house which was still a mostly white neighborhood.

Now I know that that column was harbinger of a forest of for sale signs that went up in my neighborhood within a month of the end of the revolution.

It may not be the best city in the world or have the nicest places to want to come and visit but it is my home and i still care for her, despite all that has happened since a night a group of people decided they had had enough.