July 23 - August 4, 1967
Rumors of an uprising swirled throughout the city for the better part of the summer of 1967. Radicalism was on the rise, and talk of self-determination and separatism became more commonplace. Though Detroit thought of itself as a progressive “model city,” Black Detroiters still lagged behind in nearly every respect.
The spark that set off the Civil Unrest was the arrest of 82 Black party-goers during a random raid at a “blind pig,” a community gathering place without a license to serve alcohol, on 12th Street in the early hours of Sunday, July 23. Outraged by the treatment of those arrested, someone threw a brick at a police cruiser. Soon after, someone smashed a clothing store window and the looting began.
Despite the efforts of the police, looting and fires were widespread, and flames soon consumed entire city blocks. The next day 483 fires were reported. The State Police and federal troops, as well as a curfew instituted between 9:00 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., were not enough to prevent the situation from escalating.
As tanks rolled through the city and widespread food shortages took their toll, the chaos began to dissipate. Sniper fights, fires, and small outbursts of violence continued sporadically until July 27, when the conflict officially ended. In the end, the Civil Unrest of 1967 proved to be one of the most destructive civic events in the nation’s history, exceeded only by the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War. Over 465 people were injured and 43 people lost their lives, the youngest only 4-years old. Property damage exceeded an estimated 50 million dollars, with 2,509 stores burned or looted and 388 families displaced by fire.
The Unrest had an even more damaging impact on race relations in the city. A sense of unease and mistrust settled over the area, and although the drain of population out of city started more than a decade before, the events encouraged the departure of the middle class, both black and white, to the suburbs.