“They [the media] just referred to it as a riot. Down on the ground it looked like a rebellion. But the media and the power structure had a lot of things wrong,” said Ed Vaughn, activist and businessman in Detroit.
This is my story: Detroit 1967 is an oral history based multimedia project, which looks to residents and eyewitnesses to tell their stories of surviving the most devastating riots the city has ever seen. It allows residents to correct the highly media reliant narrative of what occurred without accounting for the systemic and institutional injustices Blacks say were the bedrock for the rebellion.
“It’s going to be a long, hot summer!”
The narrative of the Detroit uprising, also known as, the “Great Rebellion,” mostly told orally includes largely truth and ends with urban legends e.g. agent provocateurs. In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, outnumbered and unprepared officers arrived at a Blind Pig on 12th Street and Clairmont Avenue in the Virginia Park neighborhood prepared to shutdown a bar operating illegally with its liquor license. Patrons of the bar were celebrating the return of two Vietnam soldiers. The details following the raid inside the club and what occurred outside is obscure.
Frustrated residents terrorized, harassed and brutalized by officers known as the “Big Four” fought back, thus the rebellion was born. The “Big Four” were a group of four officers known around the neighborhood to make life unbearable for Blacks. Residents vandalized businesses, looted and/or set them ablaze.
“One thing the riots were not. They were not a massive Negro uprising against white people. There was little hatred in the Sunday outbreak. There were Negro and white looters and snipers fought by Negro and white policemen and soldiers. It wasn’t basically race against race. This needs to be emphasized because some terms used to describe what happened—Negro riots, ghetto uprising, negro rebellion—don’t really describe what occurred in Detroit.”
The four-day rebellion was by far the most devastating on record of the 20th century until the L.A. riots of 1992 following the Rodney King verdict. As expected, there’s conflicting information as to the loss and damages. Forty-three people died—at least that was what was reported. More than 2,000 people were injured; over 7,000 people filled the jails in the city and the overflow on Belle Isle; city firefighters either put out, watched or ignored the calls for roughly 2,000 building fires and millions were reported in damages.
The paradox of this leaderless uprising it drastically shifted the demographics, economics and politics of the city, reinforcing white flight to the suburbs, black flight to other urban centers and ironically black resistance to stay put and rebuild. “Let white America know that the name of the game is tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. Motown. If you don’t come around, we are going to burn it down!” said H. Rap Brown, political activist, former chairman of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and Minister of Justice for the Black Panther Party (BPP). Unlike most American cities, the rebellion tore Detroit apart and led to the slow and painful decades long demise and deterioration for the country to see, a city lost to the false promises of rebirth, growth, urban renewal and globalization.
During the long, hot summer of 1967 more than 100 cities went up in flames. The following year, roughly the same cities would once again erupt in violence as an emotional response to the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In no way is this project attempting to pathologize Detroit as the mecca of urban uprising madness; I’m simply giving those who’ve needed to speak their truth on the subject a platform to do so and a means to correct it all. Essentially, This is my story: Detroit 1967 is adding to and correcting the historical record as to what really happened July 23, 1967 and the days to follow, as well as, its cause.
 “As We See It: Sift Ashes for Reasons Behind Ghetto Outbreak” The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), July 27, 1967.