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Looking Back and Forward: the 1967 Detroit Riots

While the city's downtown is again thriving, the summer of 1967 forever marked Detroit. (mikerussell/wikimedia commons)
While the city's downtown is again thriving, the summer of 1967 forever marked Detroit. (mikerussell/wikimedia commons)
July 21, 2017

DETROIT – This weekend marks 50 years since a police raid on an unlicensed Detroit club led to a massive weeklong uprising, and while the memories are painful, one expert believes a look back is a look forward.

Abayomi Azikiwe with the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights says many of the underlying issues and dynamics that led to the events of 1967 in Detroit still exist today.

He says ignoring the past will be at our own peril, given the current state of affairs in Detroit and many urban areas.

"The need to have better police community relations, the employment particularly of African-American and Latino youth is essential to maintaining peace in the urban areas, and also representative government, particularly in the municipal areas," he explains.

The 1967 riots lasted five days, during which 43 people died, hundreds were injured and thousands more arrested, with several Detroit neighborhoods entirely burned to the ground. That same summer, civil disorders of varying sizes broke out in dozens of cities nationwide.

Azikiwe notes there were significant policy and political changes in the aftermath of the uprising that helped improve Detroit's plight, including the passage of the Fair Housing Act and the implementation of affirmative-action programs. But he believes the past few years have seen major setbacks.

"Heightening of the rhetoric of intolerance and acceptance by too many people, particularly in the white community, of racism, misogyny and intolerance," he says. "So I think there was progress, but in many ways that progress is being reversed."

While Detroit's population already had begun to decline by 1967, it was still the fifth-largest city in the nation at that time. Today, it has dropped to 21st, although many believe the city is on the verge of a period of regrowth. Two years ago Detroit emerged from bankruptcy and is currently working to fix up both its neighborhoods and its image.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI