It has been an entire half century since the Detroit riots of 1967, a watershed mark in history for the largest city in the state of Michigan. The impact was felt throughout southeastern Michigan and local authorities had to take action.
The Trenton Times newspaper of July 25, 1967, reported on a special meeting of the Trenton City Council, with then Mayor Robert Wright declaring a state of emergency. The article read, “Mayor Wright said the entire atmosphere of the meeting was supercharged with near panic on the part of officials and they all voted to take whatever emergency measures needed, particularly for the formation of a tactical mobile unit by the local communities and the sheriff’s department.
“Mayor Wright did not feel there was any real danger to Trenton at the present, but that it was necessary to comply with the rest of the county to prevent trouble from spreading. Displaying determination the city dispatched four police officers and loaned one squad car to help in mutual aid with trouble in River Rouge and Ecorse.”
A 9 p.m. curfew was issued because Mayor Wright and other officials were afraid that outside agitators from Toledo were going to meet in Elizabeth Park with rioters from Detroit and use the park as a rallying site. Trenton and other Downriver cities imposed a 9 p.m. curfew for its citizens and businesses.
That was a different era then, because the public stayed out later than today, so to see the streets vacant by 9 p.m. was an eerie sight. The mayor also revealed “that two carloads of weapons had been purchased in Dearborn Heights by rioters or illegal gun owners” which added to his concerns. The announcement went forward that Trenton had recently formed a tactical unit, and these officers had received riot instructions.
The mayor asked the public not to panic because the Trenton police would be able to cope with any situation. The Trenton police set up a road block at West Jefferson and Vreeland road, where “several out-of-towners were thwarted from trying to enter Detroit by going through Trenton along West Jefferson,” but, in the end there were no major incidents with only one local business being busted for alleged violation of liquor sales. The shelves at the local supermarkets became bare and the public blamed some for hoarding but in 48 hours or so the curfew was lifted.
The aftermath of the riot brought “criticism from Mayor Robert Wright of the lack of coordination of the county and the governor’s office in the riots wake.” Throughout the entire riot there were political overtones between then-Michigan Gov. George Romney and President Lyndon Johnson, where Romney accused Johnson of dragging his feet with military aid to Detroit.
The riots of 1967 were the second great insurrection of the biggest city in the state of Michigan. The first Detroit riot was in 1943 in which 34 people lost their lives. The 1967 Detroit riots, sometimes known as the 12th street riots from where the riot originated, are often disputed as a race riot because whites looted stores along with blacks. The riot ignited with a raid on an illegal gambling operation, or “blind pig,” in the wee hours of Sunday, July 25, and spread from there. This was a powder keg issue that had come to fruition because of a black population at great odds with its police force. When it consummated four days later, 43 were dead and there was $40 million-$45 million worth of damage.
A great book which really details the 1967 riot is “Nightmare in Detroit” by Van Gorde Sauter and Burleigh Hines. This book captures the story about the rebellion and its victims. The riot was the single greatest factor that changed Detroit forever and accelerated the population flight to the suburbs.
Detroit went from a prosperous city of over 2 million in 1950 down to a city of less than 750,000 today, suffering from years of financial struggle. Many will point to Downtown Detroit and its revival, however there is still a disconnect with its sizeable percentage of residents who are below the poverty level.
Detroit is a city of nearly 140 square miles, with casinos, stadiums, theaters and many fine establishments in its downtown confinements — but in its thousands of homes and dwellings it has iron bars over windows and doors.
Crime in Detroit is the biggest issue that has perpetuated misery for its inhabitants for decades. Downtown is flourishing but it is the neighborhoods that are the fabric of the city. Hopefully someday crime in the inner city will evaporate, and industry and business will once again invest, a tax base will expand, and truly raise the city from ashes.
The news often reports of token gestures of progress in this matter but there is decades of work ahead, because most of the news from Detroit makes one want to tune out. However, let me conclude on a heartening note. Recently it was announced that Detroit had a $63 million surplus, and for the second straight year the city had a balanced budget. Too often politicians propose change and we are disappointed.
This latest news out of Detroit is change we can believe in.