Note: This is the second installment in a four part series of articles on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion.
The first part examined the historical background to the rebellion chronicling and analyzing events which developed from the 19th century to five decades ago. This segment reflects on the political and economic dynamics which created the powder keg in Detroit that erupted on July 23 at the United Community League for Civic Action on 12th Street and Clairmount.
Rebellions had erupted in numerous cities around the U.S. in the previous four years leading up to the summer of 1967. Detroit had avoided large-scale unrest in early August 1966 on the eastside in what became known as the “Kercheval Incident.”
Seven African American youth had gathered in the area of Kercheval and Parkview when they were approached by the police. Some of the youth dispersed while others refused. The scuffle which ensued attracted crowds onto the streets.
Detroit police immediately deployed Tactical Mobile Units (TMU) to the Kercheval area sealing off a one-mile radius in order to control movement in and out of the neighborhood. Some windows were broken, projectiles thrown at police as well as some Molotov cocktails. However, the momentum of events did not spur unrest in other sections of the eastside and law-enforcement agents bolstered by local religious and community leaders were sent into the community to calm the situation.
The Kercheval neighborhood around Pennsylvania had already been under surveillance by law-enforcement in Detroit for quite some time. An organization known as the Adult Community Movement for Equality (ACME) had been active in doing outreach including political education, the tutoring of youth and activity surrounding employment discrimination and housing since 1964. ACME later spawned the creation of the Afro-American Youth Movement (AAYM) by early 1966. The activities of ACME-AAYM were connected with the previous efforts of the Northern Student Movement (NSM), a Civil Rights organization which provided support and served a similar purpose as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South.
As a result of the containment of the Kercheval mini-rebellion of August 1966, Mayor Cavanaugh and his staff believed that the city had developed a formula to prevent large-scale violent unrest. The Johnson administration’s Model Cities Program created in 1966 targeted Detroit as an important base for its Great Society vision. Plans for the assistance and rehabilitation of neighborhoods populated by over 130,000 people were slated to take place on the Model City initiative.
Cavanaugh had appointed African Americans as aides in his administration who established links with community organizations. Despite these efforts conditions did not improve in any significant manner.
It Cannot Happen Here
Although the Cavanaugh administration, its allies and many others in Detroit strongly believed that the city was “rebellion-proof”, others were as equally convinced that the nation’s fifth largest municipality had the potential for a social explosion. Three racial incidents in June and July of 1967 served to enflame tensions within the African American community.
Carado Bailey, an African American who was married to a European American woman, moved into a home in suburban Warren in June 1967. The family was targeted by a white mob on June 12 when 100 people marched around the lawn throwing missiles and smoke bombs into the home demanding that the family move out of the neighborhood. Community leaders believed that Warren police officers who cordoned off the area had encouraged the whites.
Several weeks later on July 1, Vivian Williams, an African American woman, was shot to death by a white police officer at the corner of 12th Street and Hazelwood. Police Commissioner Ray Girardin issued a statement claiming that Williams was a sex worker and was murdered by either a client or a pimp.
Many neighborhood people rejected this version of events. Some believed that Williams had been accosted by the policeman on June 29 in an arrest attempt. She resisted the attempted detention and was said to have cut the officer with a knife. In retaliation, the community narrative claimed, the policeman returned and gunned down Williams.
This homicide was reminiscent of the fate of another African American woman Cynthia Scott who was fatally shot three times by a white police officer in July 1963 just weeks after the Detroit Walk to Freedom down Woodward Avenue. In response to the failure of the law-enforcement to arrest and prosecute her assailant Theodor Spicher, the African American community rose up in protest staging a march on police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien.
An account of the events surrounding the murder of Scott said: “Theodore Spicher was a policeman who Blacks thought was exceptionally cruel to their race. In July, 1963; he claimed that he saw Cynthia Scott—a commercial sex worker well known in the black community with the street name of Saint Cynthia —walking along John R. with money in her hand. Spicher stopped Scott and attempted to arrest her, assuming that she had rolled a client and taken money from his wallet. Officer Spicher contended that not only did Cynthia Scott resist arrest, but that she started slashing him with a knife and then tried to flee. Officer Spicher shot Cynthia Scott twice in the back as she ran away. The shots slowed her but when Officer Spicher approached her, he claimed that she once again tried to slash him so he issued a fatal shot to her stomach. Detroit’s Civil Rights leaders made this killing into a major issue. Many Blacks assumed that Officer Spicher was shaking down Cynthia Scott who resisted turning her hard-earned money over to the police. They believed that Spicher and Scott argued, and then as Scott walked away, Spicher shot her in the back. Civil rights leaders demanded an investigation, but whites wondered why Detroit’s African Americans would be so concerned about the shooting death of a Black prostitute. Indeed, some in the white community derisively described her as Saint Cynthia. The prosecutor quickly exonerated Officer Spicher and called the killing justified…. [T]he prosecutor’s decision about the appropriateness of Officer Spicher’s killing Cynthia Scott stood. The killing of Scott symbolized to Blacks how the police treated the city’s African Americans.” (http://www.detroit1701.org/River%20Rouge%20Park.html)
The suppression and distortion surrounding yet another racial incident in the weeks leading up to the rebellion unfolded in Rouge Park in late June. Daniel Thomas and his wife Louise lived on West Euclid between 14th and 12th Streets just one month prior to the rebellion. They went out with another couple to Rouge Park located on the northwest side. In 1967, the Rouge Park area was all-white with largely working class and some middle class homeowners.
This park was located near a neighborhood which had been notorious for gang activity during the 1950s. The Warrendale Gang maintained a reputation for violent activity extending into the early 1970s well after its demise. That night the Thomas’ partied with their other friends in the section of the park near a structure known as the white house. Playing music and drinking beer they danced and enjoyed themselves on this hot summer night.
As the night went on the other couple was ready to leave. The Thomas’ drove them home and later returned to the same Rouge Park area. This time they were met by a hostile crowd of white youth that shouted racial slurs demanding that African Americans get out of the park going as far as to threaten to rape Louise Thomas.
The couple quickly moved to their vehicle in an effort to get away from the park. However, the car would not start and Danny told Louise that someone had tampered with the wires under the hood.
Attempting to seek refuge in the white house, the attendant, who is reported to have been African American, told them no one was allowed in the facility at that time. Eventually, Louise Thomas begged the racist mob to leave them alone. Danny attempted to walk toward them to persuade the racist mob to not attack. After assaulting Thomas the mob chased him and shot this African American man to death. Louise screamed for help for considerable time before the police arrived.
Police later arrested Michael W. Palchlopek and five other white men in connection with the murder. Palchlopek was acquitted of the crime 17 months later. The other five whites were never charged as prosecutors claimed that Louise Thomas failed to identify them in a police lineup. Louise, who was pregnant at the time, had a miscarriage due to the trauma of watching her husband beaten and shot to death.
A Detroit Free Press article on June 26 reported on the killing of Thomas. However, no mention of its racially-motivated character was acknowledged. Later the Michigan Chronicle conveyed the details of the mob violence and the racial insults hurled at the African American couple.
Once again the African American community was outraged. These developments were occurring with the backdrop of urban rebellions breaking out in numerous cities every day in June and July of 1967.
On July 12, Newark, New Jersey, located near New York City, erupted in response to the arrest of an African American taxicab driver. For five days the city was wracked with arson and property damage. A white police officer was killed and scores of Blacks were beaten, injured and killed by targeted gunfire by Newark police, New Jersey State Troopers and National Guard soldiers who fired into public housing complexes and commercial streets. Other cities in New Jersey also had rebellions such as Plainfield where a white policeman was stomped to death by angry African Americans.
Consequently, only a spark was needed to ignite a rebellion in Detroit. While the Cavanaugh administration basked in favorable national publicity and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds from Washington, African American communities in many areas of the city were suffering from high rates of joblessness, gross economic exploitation, no effective existing political representation, police brutality, substandard overcrowded housing and inferior educational facilities. In 1965, Cavanaugh served as president of both the National Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities. Detroit had earlier in 1963 made an unsuccessful bid to host the 1968 Olympics.
Large numbers of African Americans began to move into the Virginia Park district in the early 1950s when Detroit Plan of 1947 and the Master Plan of 1951 began to be implemented. Thousands of people were in search of housing in an atmosphere of rampant discrimination and rising labor displacement due to industrial restructuring. From 1947 to 1963, the city of Detroit lost 134,000 manufacturing related jobs. In most cases African Americans were the last hired and first fired. They were confined to the menial and unsafe categories of employment.
Many small business owners who had survived and thrived in the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods on the lower eastside were unable to secure an economic base in neighborhoods on the west side. Along 12th, 14th, Linwood and Dexter Avenues, some African Americans did operate businesses. However, there remained a dominate sector of Jewish and other white-owned businesses and absentee landlords who exploited the growing African American residents.
By and large the housing stock was far superior in the Virginia Park district than what had prevailed on the lower eastside in the 1950s. Many of the residential streets on the east and west sides of 12th were well maintained by incoming African American families who were working and middle class. LaSalle Blvd. was characterized by large homes with stately architecture and wide lawns. The Boston-Edison District just north of Virginia Park featured homes that were constructed by the industrial and commercial magnets of the earlier decades of the 20th century.
Henry Ford I had built his mansion on Edison and Second in 1908 and lived there until 1915. Other wealthy families such as the Kresges, Fishers and Dodges had homes along Boston Blvd., Chicago Blvd. and Longfellow Street during the earlier decades of the 20th century.
Contrastingly, just a few blocks away on 12th, 14th and Linwood, sections of housing and commercial establishments fell into disarray. Municipal services were neglected during the years of the administration of Mayor Albert Cobo (1950-1957), Louis Miriani (1957-1962) as well as Cavanaugh who took office in 1962. Cavanaugh, an Irish Democratic Party liberal was often projected in the mode of President John F. Kennedy. African Americans supported Cavanaugh’s election after the anger generated by the administrations of Cobo and Miriani in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Many of the apartment units in the Virginia Park district were split up into spaces that were 50 to 25 percent smaller. Jewish American residents began to move out of the area in mass in the 1950s relocating in neighborhoods further into the northwest side, Southfield and Oak Park.
Nonetheless, many of the Jewish and other European American businesspeople maintained their establishments along 12th Street. The perception of their presence during the 1960s was one of exploitation and indifference to the concerns of the African American community now an overwhelming majority in the area.
A report submitted by the Mayor’s Committee for Community Renewal in the aftermath of the rebellion on August 14, 1967 to Richard Strichartz from Harld J. Bellamy, under the subject heading of “Social Profile of the 12th Street Area”, was quite revealing. This report begins by noting that: “The social data, which is presented below, for the 12th Street area does not fully reflect the nature of the area or the factors that have contributed to its present composition.”
This analysis continues saying: The renewal of Detroit’s Skid Row area, previous to the enactment of legislative and social controls concerned with the relocation of both individual and businesses, has greatly affected the 12th Street area. There has been a steady relocation into the area of those displayed by renewal activity. This type of indigent population usually results in an area characterized by unemployment, sub-standard housing, high density of both people and dwelling units, high mobility, welfare and high crime rates.”
Acknowledging the problems associated with the failure of the City of Detroit to properly plan for this massive dislocation, the report notes: “The influx of people moving into the 12th Street area where a housing shortage already exists has caused an apparent overcrowding of dwelling units. This is further complicated by the fact that the area is also situated in a section of the city where open space and recreational space is almost non-existent. Police records indicate that there has been a sharp increase in crime and vice in the 12th Street area over the past few years. This is evidenced by extremely high night crime and prostitution violations.”
In 1967 there were approximately 1, 640,000 people living in Detroit where 35 percent were African Americans. A study conducted by the Greenleigh Associates for the Mayor’s Committee for Community Renewal in 1964 indicated that difficulties for residents were already apparent and events over the following three years aggravated the social conditions. The report from the Mayor’s Committee for Community Renewal admitted in its conclusion that the data collected by Greenleigh Associates were extrapolations and could not capture the full picture of the situation in the 12th Street area.
A paragraph in this report stresses: “In addition, the conditions described are extremely conservative because the blight surveys for this area did not indicate a poor rating. This was largely due to the fact that multiple structures were difficult to rate and therefore these areas do not rate poorly.”
The unemployment rate in Metropolitan Detroit according to the Mayor’s Committee for Community Renewal report at the time of the rebellion was 4.5 percent in 1967. Nevertheless, among African Americans the rate of joblessness was 11.7 percent as contrasted with the white community at 5.7 percent.
Unemployment among African American youth in the inner city neighborhoods was calculated at 18.8 percent in comparison to 12 percent for whites living in the same area. 80 percent of the caseloads for people receiving assistance from social services agencies in Wayne County were located inside the city of Detroit.
Police Raid the United Community League for Civic Action
9125 12thStreet where the rebellion erupted was a two-story commercial building located between Clairmount and Atkinson. The facility bore a sign which said “Economy Printing” on the outside. The establishment was the headquarters of the United Community League for Civic Action (UCLCA) housed on the second floor.
UCLCA was run by Walter Scott II a former industrial worker displaced in the early restructuring of the 1950s. Scott was repudiated to have been involved in the illegal lottery (numbers) business and hosted social events in the second floor area of the building. UCLCA sought to improve and reverse the deteriorating conditions along 12th Street and its environs. Members in the organization were designated as representatives of various wards throughout the neighborhood.
In the early morning hours of Sunday July 23, the location was the scene of a party hosted to celebrate the return of two military veterans fresh from serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. Alcohol was being served at the location which was prohibited after 2:00am. A Black police officer attempted several times to gain entry and was denied. Eventually he walked in with a crowd of women from the 12th Street area and bought a bottle of beer from the operators of the after-hours club popularly known as a “blind pig.”
Soon enough at around 3:45am police arrived at the location to carry out a raid. When the law-enforcement agents knocked down the door and climbed the stairs to the second floor they were amazed that 83 people were occupying the second floor. The police announced their presence and placed everyone under arrest. Reports vary on whether there was resistance to the raid since such operations by the police were routing in Detroit at the time.
Police Sgt. Arthur Howison, who later wrote a report on the raid, called for additional transport vehicles to accommodate the arrestees. Howison decided to carry the detainees out the front door onto 12th Street because the back door was made of steel and padlocked.
Having to wait for the additional patrol wagons delayed the transport of the patrons to the 10th precinct located on Livernois and Elmhurst. While the arresting process dragged on for an hour, hundreds of people gathered outside the building across the street on 12th. As the crowd grew larger, people began to shout at the police. As the last transport vehicle left the 12th and Clairmount area, missiles were tossed at a police vehicle breaking its rear window.
Within minutes of the police departure the situation at the intersection grew increasing agitated as groups of youth began to break into stores along 12th Street. By dawn thousands of people were converging on the street where they broke windows and began to take merchandise from the stores. Police units were deployed back to the area but were far outnumbered by the burgeoning crowds.
The first arson attacks began at around 6:00am on 12th and Blaine. City administration officials unprepared to conduct a substantial show of force as was done on Kercheval the previous year, sought to cordon off the area hoping that the unrest would dissipate. However, just the opposite took place. Property damage grew at a fever pitch and people openly confronted the police pelting them with stones and other missiles. News of the unrest was suppressed initially by the corporate media seeking not to attract attention to the area.
Community members let others outside the immediate 12th Street area know about what was going on through telephone calls which attracted even more people into the commercial strip between Clairmount and West Grand Blvd. By midday the rebellion began to spread into the Linwood corridor just three blocks west of 12th Street.
By early afternoon organized groups of youth began to firebomb stores along 12th Street and similar events unfolded on Linwood. Mayor Cavanaugh sought to quell the unrest by sending in African American political functionaries to plead with people to leave the streets and go home.
U.S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. and Assistant Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Arthur Johnson drove into the center of the rebellion on 12th Street by midday on Sunday July 23 climbing on top of a vehicle and pleading with the crowd to leave the area. They were shouted down and a bottle landed close to where they were standing. Both men quickly fled 12th Street and the thousands of people continued to defy the police.
By early afternoon Mayor Cavanaugh appealed to the then Republican Governor George Romney to deploy the Michigan National Guard and State Police units to the affected areas of the city. National Guard troops attempted to sweep Linwood and 12th Street as the evening approached. By this time fires were raging through several blocks on both commercial strips. The rebellion was expanding throughout large swaths of the city from the west side to the eastside.
Gov. Romney, a former chief executive of American Motors Corporation, came into Detroit and toured the hardest hit sections of the city concluding that the situation was getting beyond the capacity of the local and state authorities, including the National Guard, to control. He would send a telegram to President Lyndon Johnson asking for the assistance of federal troops to put down the rebellion.
Johnson was reluctant initially to send in troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions of the U.S. Army. The situation was complicated by the fact that Romney had declared he was attempting to win the nomination for the Republican Party as its candidate for President in 1968. Johnson would send his aide Cyrus Vance to Detroit to survey the situation to determine if federal troops were needed. By late afternoon on Monday July 24 a decision had been made and soldiers were flown into Selfridge Air Base awaiting orders to enter the city.
In the meantime thousands of National Guardsmen, State Police and Local law-enforcement patrolled the city. Firefighters attempting to put out the hundreds of fires were attacked by residents with missiles and sniper fire.
The first deaths in the rebellion occurred during the evening hours of July 23. As the days passed, brutal reprisals by police officers and guardsmen resulted in the deaths of scores of residents, who in many cases were not guilty of any crime. Mass arrests for looting and arson took place. However, there was nowhere near the necessary space to house the detainees.
Many were kept on buses for days and in makeshift facilities on Belle Isle. Gross abuse and brutality by police and guardsmen became common in the detention facilities and on the streets. National Guard men shot out street lights ostensibly to eliminate easy targeting by snipers.
Merchants still operating in the impacted neighborhoods inflated prices of staple goods such as bread and milk. Shortages inside these communities created conditions of food and material deficits where humanitarian agencies and churches set up aid distribution centers. As a result of fire and other forms of property damage several hundred people were left homeless in need of temporary shelter.
Business activity in many sectors was disrupted as property damage and arson spread throughout various sections of the city. Security concerns after the first day of the rebellion shifted to the role of the law-enforcement agents and the National Guard. Paranoia over snipers and arsonists created a sense of panic principally among the security forces who engaged in random and targeted acts of shootings and beatings of community residents.
One European American woman, Helen Hall, 51, visiting the city on business in the New Center area was struck by a hail of National Guard fire while merely peering out of a Harlan House Motel room window overlooking the John C. Lodge expressway near West Grand Blvd. Four-year-old Tanya Blanding was being held by her father in an apartment unit located on 12th Street and Blaine. Guardsmen operating in a panic mode opened fire on the building killing the young girl saying a flash inside the building from the lighting of a cigarette was mistaken for sniper fire.
Perhaps the most egregious act of racist murderous violence against the people took place at the African American owned Algiers Motel on Woodward Avenue and Virginia Park. The establishment was a Black owned business located on the major thoroughfare dividing the east from the west sides of the city.
Several youth had taken up residence in the annex of the Algiers Motel on Virginia Park which was a spacious house next to the main building sitting directly on Woodward. On the fourth day of the rebellion, during the early morning hours of July 26, several African American teenagers were gathered in the annex along with two teenaged white women.
Eyewitness reports from survivors of the what became known as the Algiers Motel Incident, labelled as such by writer John Hersey who published a book on the events the following spring in 1968, indicated that one of the youth, 17-year-old Carl Cooper, was in possession of a starter pistol and had fired it off in an apparent act of levity towards the other patrons. Just the day before, some of the police implicated in the deadly events of July 26, had raided the Algiers to purportedly investigate stolen goods being sold out of the annex. Inhabitants of the building later conveyed that both Carl Cooper and Aubrey Pollard were robbed and beaten by the police prior to the massacre which occurred hours later.
The shots from the harmless device may have possibly been heard by someone outside the facility leading to a police radio call saying there were snipers firing weapons from the annex of the motel. Detroit police, state police and guardsmen stormed the building on Virginia Park. In the initial onslaught 17-year-old Carl Cooper was shot dead.
After entering the annex, the African American youth and two white women were lined up in the hallway and violently interrogated about the presence of weapons in the building. They denied there were any weapons in the annex and none were ever found. Even the starter pistol was never presented as evidence by the police.
Hersey’s book based on the accounts of those present in the Algiers annex said that the youth were viciously beaten by several white police officers and an African American private security guard. Several of the young people were taken into private rooms individually for questioning while police fired bullets into the floor and walls to intimidate others still being held in the hallway area.
Police officer Ronald August was reported to have severely attacked 19-year-old Aubrey Pollard to point of breaking a part of his shotgun. Pollard was then taken into a private room and shot-to-death. August was the only police officer of the three whom were later indicted to admit under oath that he had killed Pollard claiming it was justifiable because the youth had grabbed for his shotgun.
After the interrogations and beatings, those being held in the hallway were ordered to leave the annex and not speak about what had occurred. 18-year-old Fred Temple asked the police could he retrieve his shoes from one of the rooms. Apparently in the course walking into the room he saw the body of Pollard therefore making him a potential witness against the police. Temple was later found dead with the two other African American youth, Carl Cooper and Aubrey Pollard, who were left in the annex as the police exited the building. State police and guardsmen recognizing the severity of the situation had left the annex much earlier.
Police claimed that the three youth were snipers killed in a gun battle with the security forces. This story quickly crumbled as independent investigations by community leaders prompted a series of articles in the local Detroit Free Press and the Michigan Chronicle.
Leading community activists, progressive lawyers, family members of the victims and their friends met together in the weeks following the Algiers Motel massacre. Eyewitnesses were placed in hiding in order to protect them from retaliatory actions by the police.
The massacre at the Algiers Motel was symptomatic of the security situation in Detroit after July 23. A largely white police and National Guard force engaged in random and targeted killings on a routine basis. Many people who died from July 23-30, the authorities claimed were looters, arsonists or snipers.
Other incidents of repressive state-sanctioned violence against the people of the city included the deaths of the following:
–Frank Tanner, 19, was shot by police as he was reportedly fleeing a pharmacy on corner of East Grand Blvd. and Helen. Police claimed he was taking items from the establishment.
–Arthur Johnson and Perry Williams, ages unknown, were both shot to death by police as they were said by these law-enforcement agents to have been looting a pawn shop at 1401 Holbrook.
–Manuel Cosbey was looting at a store according to police when he was gunned down by them on Tuesday July 25 at 4441 E. Nevada on the city’s eastside.
–Julius Dorsey, 55, was a private security guard on duty protecting a store from being targeted when he was shot by the police. Prosecutors said Dorsey was accidentally killed in a hail of police bullets.
–Henry Denson was in a car on Mack Avenue on the eastside when he was mortally wounded by a bullet fired by a National Guardsman. City officials alleged the car he was riding in attempted to rundown police and guardsmen operating a checkpoint near East Grand Boulevard. Denson, whose co-workers he was riding with, denied the police account, saying he had halted the vehicle.
–Ronald Evans and William Jones were shot and killed by Detroit Police at Bob’s Market at 4100 Pennsylvania on the eastside. The police claimed they were taking property out of the business.
–Willie McDaniels, 23, was killed at the Domestic Outfitting Store on Gratiot and Canton on the eastside. Police alleged he was shot to death in an exchange of fire between police and snipers.
–Helen Hall, 51, a white woman from Connecticut, was in Detroit on assignment related to her employment. A Detroit Free Press investigation concluded by September 1967 that the woman was killed by a bullet from a police or guardsman and not a sniper as was falsely reported earlier. She was looking at the movement of National Guard troops in the area of John C. Lodge and West Grand Blvd. on the fourth-floor of the Harlan House Motel when she was struck by the gunfire.
–Tonya Blanding, 4, was shot in an apartment building located at the corner of 12th and Euclid several blocks away from where the rebellion started. National Guardsmen had fired into the building saying they were being targeted by snipers. Later a story surfaced that she was being held by her father when someone in the apartment lit a cigarette. The flash from the match or lighter may have prompted the guardsmen to fire into the building. After the building was searched by the police and guardsmen no weapons were found. Blanding was the youngest person to be killed that fateful week.
–William Dalton, 19, was killed by police with a shotgun blast. Police claimed he was an arsonist.
By Tuesday July 25, the African American community in Detroit was an armed camp occupied by 9,000 National Guardsman, 4,700 troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, Michigan State Police units along with over 4,000 local law-enforcement agents. A curfew from 9:00pm to 5:30am had been imposed in the evening hours of Sunday July 23 since it became quite evident that after twelve hours the police and incoming guard regiments were not able to suppress the rebellion.
Romney on Sunday evening July 23 banned the sale of alcoholic beverages and gasoline in large containers. Journalists asked the governor during a press conference held after less than twenty-four hours into the rebellion whether he would use his authority to declare Marshall Law in Detroit. The governor was quite circumspect in his response to the question suggesting that it was a matter of semantics.
With extensive property damage throughout vast swaths of the city and the occupation of the African American community by approximately 18,000 security forces from the local and state police along with guardsmen and army personnel, crowds of people seizing commercial property diminished greatly. Arson attacks and gunfire continued at significant levels through Thursday July 27.
Mayor Cavanaugh temporarily lifted the curfew for the evening of the 27th. However, thousands of people flooded into the 12th street area where the rebellion began to survey the damage. Traffic jams quickly developed and the curfew was re-imposed for several more days.
A phased withdrawal of army units and guardsmen began over the weekend of July 28-30. All guard units had been pulled from Detroit by August 4. Other cities with substantial African American populations throughout the state of Michigan erupted as well during this period including Pontiac where two people were killed.
When the rebellion subsided in Detroit, President Johnson announced the impaneling of a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. The findings of the panel was not surprising to the African American community that the police, corporate media, the economic conditions under which Blacks lived was the underlying factors involved in the urban rebellions. The society was moving into a more polarized conjuncture: one Black and oppressed and the other white, privileged and dominant.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire