Example Oral History Topic Summary

Topic - The Detroit Riots of 1967

Interview subject - Martin Taft (Taft’s father)

Violent riots hit many cities in the summer of 1967, with the bloodiest and costliest taking place in Detroit, Michigan in July. For five days, fires burned throughout the city, looters pillaged local businesses, snipers brought fear to the citizens, and the city was paralyzed.A combination of economic problems in the highly segregated ghettos of the city and the rising black power movement helped fuel the uprising.The riots led to many affluent whites leaving the central city, worsened the economic condition in Detroit, and drove a larger wedge between blacks and whites.

The riots began when Detroit police officers raided an illegal after-hours bar (a “blind pig”) and arrested 82 patrons, all black.Word spread that the officers had used excessive force, and the looting began.Stores were plundered and burned, fires blazed and spread from Molotov cocktails thrown at stores, and snipers shot at firemen.Both white and black owned stores became targets.The mayor imposed a curfew and asked for the National Guard to assist the city police force and help restore order. Governor George Romney brought in the Guard to suppress the riots.Eventually, federal troops entered the city as sniping continued.The entire city was “saturated by fear”, and Mayor Jerome Cavanagh remarked “It looks like Berlin in 1945.”

To some, race played a major role in the riot. According to Rev. Albert Cleage “This is a racial incident… it represents one simple thing: black people want control of black communities.” The government’s Kerner Commission eventually detemrined that the riots in Detroit an other cities were a result of two societies, black and white, separate and unequal.

When order was finally restored, 43 people were killed (33 blacks and 10 whites) and 1,189 were injured.Police and guardsmen killed 27 people, only 17 of whom were looters. The jails overflowed with detainees as over 4,000 people were charged with crimes. Most of the businesses destroyed during the riot were not rebuilt within the city. Many affluent Detroiters migrated to the suburbs after the riot, which further depressed the economy in the ghetto. The property damage was estimated to reach $500 million.More than 30 years later, many buildings and lots remained vacant. Other smaller cities in the state suffered riots as well, including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, Muskegon, West Michigan City and Pontiac.

“Detroit riot of 1967.” American History. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 4 May 2008 <**http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com>.**

“The Fire this Time”. Time Magazine, Volume 90 No. 5, August 5, 1967. [[http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,837150,00.html%3C/span%3E%3Cspan|http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,837150,00.html<span]]

“Riots in Detroit – 1967″. Eyes on the Prize. 2007 American Experience. 8 May 2008. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/story/13_detroit.html



Video clip from American Experience – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/resources/vid/13_video_detroit_qry.html.

August 5, 1967 Time cover – http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19670804,00.html

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A look back at the riots, 40 years later, from NBC News


Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, recently returned from Vietnam, guard the streets of Detroit a few days after the riot erupted in 1967 – http://www.sharingwitness.org/DetRiots67-12_5Av2.jpg


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