Stories from the 1967 Detroit Riots
ClickOnDetroit solicited readers' stories from the 1967 Detroit Riots.
Here are some of the stories we received:
"I was doing two weeks of my Army Reserve duty in Fort Bragg, N.C. when the riots broke out. I watched the troop carrier planes take off from Pope Air Force Base. I thought it was the 82nd shipping out to Viet Nam. Instead they were headed for Detroit to help put down the riots. Flying back to Detroit the pilot said he had to alter his normal flight pattern coming into Metropolitan Airport because they were shooting at the planes. Welcome home."
-- Bernie Case
"My father went to church that Sunday. We were at home. I was 12 years old and about that Sunday afternoon daddy came home and said, 'They are rioting, something happened with the police.' The 'Big 4,' they were called then, and people were breaking into stores. My only family members were out there as well. I remember being so scared and frightened we had to write 'Black Power' on the windows of our apartment. I remember seeing the armed guards. It was a summer to remember."
-- Ida Patterson
"I lived on Detroit's northwest side -- Cloverlawn and Schoolcraft. I was around 12 at the time. A few friends and myself were playing basketball in the backyard -- we were also setting off firecrackers -- when all of a sudden there was a helicopter hovering above us, close enough to where I saw a man with sunglasses on looking down at us. We were very excited to see a helicopter that close and a man in it. It wasn't until many years later that I realized why it was there. Someone must have reported shots being fired. I'm glad they saw we were kids."
-- Robert Bradley
"I remember being very young at that time. I had four other siblings. My mom and dad were going out of town. They never went away. They were so afraid for us. So we went to stay at our aunt and uncle's in Brighton, Mich. We lived in Redford Township."
-- Pamela Patrick
"I was only 2, so I'm too young to remember anything myself. However, my mom told me stories.
My mom was working on her degree at Wayne State (at night, of course). A lot of people told her not to go to classes, but she wasn't afraid of anything (we lived in Roseville). She said one night someone threw some boxes in front of her car. She hesitated for a moment, but plowed right through them and went home.
My dad was a Roseville firefighter. He was sent to Detroit for five days to assist. My mom was very concerned that he would not get his insulin. It was a fearful time.
When my dad died on duty in 1977, the Detroit Fire Department drum corps played at his funeral to honor his service during the riots. It was the first time they had been sent out of the city to perform this honor."
-- Rose Zook
"I was 10 years old at the time and my 9-year-old brother had went to a church convention along with our mother, our uncle, as well as the pastor of our church. We had a hard time getting back home and were scared because we'd never seen anything like it.
After making it to our house, we weren't allowed to leave. Our uncle had to get to the North End and we were scared for him. Our father had died 5 years earlier and his brother promised him that he'd look out for us before he died. We lived on 16th Street between Forest and Hancock and we could stand in our yard and see the National Guard in their tanks on Grand River. It seemed like it went on forever. People were looting like crazy on Grand River, but our mother didn't allow us to go nowhere.
Five of us were still at home along with my niece who'd just turned 1 earlier in the month. One of my sisters lived on 12th and Seward along with my 3-month-old nephew and brother-in-law, which was right in the heart of all the chaos. We were really scared. We slept on the floor and the only place we were allowed to go during the day is next door.
We moved the next month but I'll never forget the devastation that the riot left behind. Before the riot was the good old days, but things were never the same. Businesses were destroyed along with families and personal property, not to mention all the lives lost unnecessarily. There's a lot more I could say but I'd still be writing a week later."
-- Sharon Denise Manson
"I was 11 years old living in the Northeast side when the riots occurred. The whole neighborhood stood and watched as the tanks and troop carriers went down 8 Mile. The procession seemed surreal. It seemed to go on for hours.
The television stations were broadcasting the rioting and the rumor mills were running rampant. The area I lived in had many of the city employees -- policemen, firemen, etc., who were not at home because they were working -- and the fear was the rioting was going to spread to where I lived because of this.
The tensions between the black community and the police were not a secret. The neighborhood prepared for an all-out battle. I was living in an armed camp powder keg.
Even though these events occurred half a century ago they are forever burned into my memories and still affect me to this day."
-- Brian G. Bjorn
"I was only 7 years old when the riots broke out. I lived on the far west side -- Joy Road and West Parkway -- and could see the smoke from there. My neighborhood was entirely white. Everyone I knew was afraid the violence would come to our neighborhood.
As far as it being called a rebellion or uprising: This wasn’t what it was. It was chaos. Looters were the ones shot. It didn’t lead to any social justice. It only led to more segregation and ultimately deeper poverty for those left in the inner city."
-- Dan Black
"I was 10. We lived in Windsor. My dad worked at Rockwell Standard when everything erupted. The Detroit police came into the plant and gave any Canadians 10 minutes to get their cars and be escorted safely to the bridge to get back to Canada. He was home for two unscheduled weeks."
-- Dan Bryant
"I was about 9 years old at the time and lived on the west side across the street from Rouge Park. I still have vivid memories of the tanks parked across the street from our house and my dad helping the solders to fill their water jugs from our garden hose. The tanks would roll out every evening to head back down to the city and come back each morning."
-- Dave B.
"I was 2 months old when the riots broke out. I lived on 6 Mile and Van Dyke. We moved to 7 Mile and Schoenherr -- 48205. There were people who stayed because thank God it was a section of Detroit that did not get destroyed. I'm so proud to have seen the beauty of the east side before the real damage of crack in 1990."
-- Seraphina Ohff
"I was 6 and my brother was 4. He had an extended stay at Children's Hospital due to illness and surgeries. I recall whispered talk that he may die.
My mother was about 25 and visited him every day by herself. Even when the riots broke out, she had to see him. He was tied down to the bed so he wouldn't pull out IV's and other tubes, and all he could do was roll his head back and forth on the pillow. She described driving on the street to the hospital as if it were an assembly line -- the cars in a line moving slowly while rioters were pelting the cars with rocks, bricks, bottles, etc. There was a terrified older couple in the car ahead of her that was bashed mercilessly.
Then it was her turn. All I remember her saying was that they let her pass, glaring at her none-the-less, unscathed. Why? She was white, red-haired, freckled-faced, and young. Maybe they thought she was a nurse? As soon as she passed they began to pelt the car behind her with fury.
My brother was traumatized by all the sirens, and all that was going on around him while he lay helpless. For years, he was terrified by the sound of sirens and would go berserk thinking that something terrible was about to happen to us. He still rolls his head for comfort and to fall asleep, 50 years later. We don't visit Detroit much."
-- Colleen Rhodes
"I lived on Georgia Street near A.L. Holmes elementary. I was a young child of 7. I remember looking out windows and seeing smoke from fires all around our area, the National Guard walking through our yards and alley way. One of them stopped and asked me to stay away from all the windows.
I remember watching the neighbor across from us filling his garage with tons of new furniture -- TVs, lamps. It was a sad memory. We used to shop at Robert Halls on Van Dyke, which had beautiful large display windows, but then they were boarded up after being destroyed and became brick walls.
Before all of this, it felt like living on the "Leave it to Beaver" show. To turn to a war zone overnight ... it was never the same again. We had to lay in the backseat floorboard while dad drove to go get food for us. It was crazy by Chatham's at Gratiot and Harper. Dad didn't want to take us but he feared our home would burn if he left us there with a sitter. Even mom had to pack a gun in her bra to go do banking.
Horrible memories with a scared childhood. It only got worse from there. We moved to Warren two years later."
-- Sharon Blackwell
"I was 14. We had just moved from the northeast side to the lower east side of the city between Gratiot and Harper. I remember that Sunday morning going out on the porch and smelling a heavy odor of smoke in the air. My dad told me that I needed to come in the house because the people were 'rioting.' I did not even know what a riot was.
A couple of days later, I was sitting on my front porch and a convoy of tanks and artillery was rolling past my house and troops were walking along the sidewalk. All who were marching were white and my dad asked me to come into the house so that I would not get shot by them. Their staging area was at Kettering High School, the school I was to attend that fall semester. There were a couple of stores that were looted on Van Dyke, and on Harper there were a couple of stores that were looted -- Cunningham Drug store, Robert Hall and another furniture store, I think it was Van Dyke Furniture or something like that.
It was a scary time and while the investments that went into Downtown Detroit changed the city a lot, especially when the Renaissance Center was built, little else changed for the neighborhoods. There was a continual decline in each neighborhood and to this day it is still the same. The inner city sees very little change when the money flows into the city."
-- Reynolds O.
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