Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Something's Burning

I am about to reveal something personal about myself. I work hard at being private because my family deserves their privacy. But read on.

My oldest son was born in the spring in 1967. With one baby my husband and I were still fairly mobile. By that I mean that if we decided to go somewhere we grabbed the baby and his needs and off we went.

One Sunday we went to visit my husband's brother and his family. It was a pleasant day and we all had a nice time. Nothing unusual, just a family getting together.

Since Monday was a work day we were getting ready to go home when a man who had worked with my husband at one time came in. He sort of wandered from place to place to crash when he needed a place to sleep.

He commandeered the television and we were all slightly amused and slightly irritated. He said he wanted to know what time the curfew was. What?

We lived in Detroit. Big cities like that have no curfews. Many stores are open 24 hours. Curfew?

But there on the television was the newsman announcing that the curfew for the city of Detroit was 10:00 PM.

A blind pig had been raided in the early hours of the morning before. Things did not go well. People in the immediate area began togather. Things went from bad to worse and people were setting fire to buildings and rioting had erupted.

A blind pig is an after hours spot where people would go to gamble and drink. Both activities were illegal mostly because they were not licensed. I knew people who would open their homes after hours for people to gamble and drink. They did not do it all the time but they claimed it was a good way to make a bit of money.

Anyway this was the beginning of the infamous Detroit riot of 1967.

Because our apartment was very near downtown Detroit it was decided that we would spend the night at my brother-in-law's and sister-in-law's house. Things should be quieter tomorrow.

When we awoke the next morning the burning and looting had become worse. We were in Southwest Detroit. The rioting had started in the near west side of Detroit. Not real close but too close.

The sale of alcohol and firearms was prohibited. Most businesses closed. People were warned to stay inside if possible.

We watched the chaos on television. Of course it was pretty much all the stations were talking about. There was no way we could go home. We would have to travel through the worse areas of rioting and where we lived was none too safe. Thank goodness we had enough things for the baby. We also had my two very young nephews and a niece to protect also.

Stores were being looted. Businesses were being burned.

The police were making arrests. They had to ask for help from the Windsor police from Canada across the Detroit River to process fingerprints and guard prisoners. There was no room left in the jails so makeshift detention centers were found.

In the meantime the riots were on national news. That never entered my head. My parents and my husband's parents were frantically trying to find out if we were all okay. Eventually my parents sent a telegram to my apartment when they could not reach us by phone. I was not there so I did not receive it until after things settled down.

The governor of Michigan asked for help from the federal government. The President said that he could not help until the governor declared a state of insurrection. The Governor was relunctant to do so. The mayor of Detroit was also slow in asking for help from the state. Politics were more important to all of them than the fact that people were becoming violent.

Willie Horton of the Detroit Tigers baseball team had grown up in Detroit. He went out and stood on top of a car to plead with the rioters to stop. It did no good.

After about 4 days of being cooped up in the house my husband and his brother were climbing the walls with boredom. They decided against the wishes of their wives to go see what was happening for themselves.

They went to an area that was between five and ten minutes from where we were. The looters were raiding grocery stores and furniture stores there. The looters waved to them and told them to help themselves. They were greeted warmly by all.

When they came home they had tales to tell. I was just happy they came back unhurt.

On the fourth day of the riots my sister-in-law and I were standing in the front yard talking onver the fence to neighbors. Suddenly a car came racing down the samll residential street. Then came a police car racing after them while announcing on their speaker for us to get inside. We did.

The police were having problems with sniper fire. Of the approximately 26 people arrested for sniper fire none was found guilty.

After so much grueling time trying to restore order to the city the police were tired and ill-tempered. They became part of the problem. There were acts of violence committed by them as well.

It was a relief when my little family was able to go home. After calling my parents to let them know that we were all in one piece we relaxed. Life was returning to normal.

Some statistics resulting from the riots which lasted five days:

43 deaths ranging in age from 4 years old to 66

473 injured including firefighters, police, and civilians

7231 people arrested the youngest was 4 years old the oldest 82 (14% were for violating curfew)

2509 stores burned and/or looted

388 families homeless or displaced

412 buildings burned bad enough that they had to be demolished

Anywhere from $40 million to $80 million worth of damages

My family was close enough to the rioting to be able to see and hear a bit of it but far enough away that it did not threaten us directly.

My apartment was fortunately untouched even though it was in the dangerous area.

The Detroit riot remains one of the worst riots in the history of the United States. It was a terrible time for Detroit and its residents. And it is one more story to tell my children.


  1. Oh, that was of course a terrible thing. Although I 'm glad to hear your family was unhurt and hour apartment was safe, it is very sad to read about the casualties and damages that the riot has caused thd city.

    1. I was too young to be truly afraid. I was only 20 years old and extremely naive. But the police chase through the neighborhood scared me good. There was so much senseless destruction. But that is the way Detroit is unfortunately.

    2. That's a remarkable take on a historic event that we watched from a distance.

    3. Detroit is an interesting city. To be honest I do not even recommend a visit because of the crime there but there are so many historical places to see. Of course they are known for their sports teams . I am ever faithful to my Tigers. The theaters and live music concerts are also phenomenal. The problem is the streets and some of the people who inhabit them.

  2. Oh my. I haven't heard of this before. I always though Detroit has always been quiet and peaceful. :P

    Thanks for sharing your story. Hope you guys stay safe always.

    1. Detroit is anything but quiet and peaceful. And there have been other race riots there the most famous of which happened in 1943. Of course I was not there for that one.

  3. I thought before that Detroit was a peaceful city until it became "riotous" just maybe by 10-20 years ago, anyway, I have friends in Detroit and thankfully they seem to be enjoying living there

    1. I lived in Detroit for more years than not. I raised my children there. It has not always been the place it is now. It breaks my heart to see the abandoned houses and littered streets. It hurts to know the violence and neglect way too many people live with. I still have family in Detroit too. And some of my children and grandchildren live close by in suburbs of the city. My father absolutely loved it there. He had finally found his home. My parents and two of my brothers are buried there. My ties to Detroit will always be. But I see the faults as well as what good is left.

  4. I grew up and lived in Plainfield, NJ, which was also the scene of rioting in the 1960s. And, like Detroit, the city has never recovered.

    1. I wonder how a city can really recover from so much violence and destruction. My opinion is that Detroit has actually gotten worse. There have been bright spots and some progress at times. I only wish it could become the mighty city it once was.

  5. What a scary time for you and your family! So glad that you were all ok.

    1. Thank you. So were we. The truth is that we were fortunate to have gone visiting that day or we would have been in the riot area.