The 50th Anniversary of the Detroit Riots

by: The Associated Press
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Gun battles raged in Detroit’s streets. Snipers clashed with National Guardsmen and police. Many residents huddled for safety in their homes, while others — both Black and White — looted businesses. Many of the businesses were then set ablaze.

FILE – In this July 24, 1967 file photo, multiple fires burn in a section of riot-torn Detroit, about three miles west of the downtown area. Five days of violence would leave 33 blacks and 10 whites dead, and more than 1,400 buildings burned. More than 7,000 people were arrested. (AP Photo/File)

The riots engulfed the city beginning July 23, 1967, and continued for five days — one of many to hit the U.S. that summer. The violence prompted President Lyndon Johnson to send in federal troops to quell the upheaval.

Forty-three people — 33 Blacks and 10 Whites — were killed. More than 7,000 people were arrested. Over 1,400 buildings were burned. Fifty years later, Detroit is still recovering.

FILE – In this July 23, 1967 file photo, hundreds of people run down 12th Street on Detroit’s westside throwing stones and bottles at storefronts. The riot started after police raided an after-hours club in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The raid, though, was just the spark. Many in the community blamed frustrations blacks felt toward the mostly white police, and city policies that pushed families into aging and over-crowded neighborhoods. (AP Photo/File)

On the anniversary, The Associated Press offers excerpts of its coverage from those tumultuous days. Some of the dispatches have been edited to correct typos.

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The trouble began before dawn Sunday after police raided a Negro nightspot in a predominantly Negro neighborhood and arrested 73 persons. Sixty-one were later released.

Police said the nightclub was selling liquor illegally.

FILE – In this July 26, 1967 file photo, an Army soldier stands guard as men captured in the vicinity of the 10th Police Precinct in Detroit peer from under a garage door awaiting transfer. The precinct building came under fire in daylight hours and an Army force, using armed personnel carriers and tanks came to the police station. (AP Photo/File)

Negroes in the neighborhood claimed police kicked a hand-cuffed teen-aged Negro down two flights of tenement steps in making the arrest.

Some 200 Negroes milled about in a three-block area near where the raid was made and began pelting police with stones and bottles.

FILE – In this July 24, 1967 file photo, a Michigan State police officer searches a youth on Detroit’s 12th Street where looting was still in progress after the previous day’s rioting. The July 23, 1967 raid of an illegal after-hour’s club, though, was just the spark. Many in the community blamed frustrations blacks felt toward the mostly white police, and city policies that pushed families into aging and over-crowded neighborhoods. (AP Photo/File)

Rioters set fire to a shoe store and looted about a dozen other stores in the area, most of them owned by whites.

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Fires flared anew Monday, as the nation’s fifth largest city reeled under the second consecutive day of rioting, plundering and killing.

By midafternoon, at least four new fires had been set on the fringe of downtown Detroit. One collapsed the roof of a supermarket, which had been looted throughout the night.

FILE – In this July 25, 1967 file photo, firefighters try to control blazing buildings after riots in Detroit. Hundreds of fires were reported in the city. Five days of violence would leave 33 blacks and 10 whites dead, and more than 1,400 buildings burned. More than 7,000 people were arrested. (AP Photo/File)

As firemen struggled to control flames two stories high, an integrated crowd of looters continued to pillage a five- and ten-cent store across the street.

“Ooh, golly, look at what that man is bringing out,” shouted a small Negro boy as a White man passed by carrying a hobby horse just taken from the store.

Groups of young girls — Negro and White — streamed from the stores dodging firemen as they struggled to carry pairs of shoes, dresses, pole lamps and boxes upon boxes of sweaters and blouses.

The only law enforcement in sight was a single national guardsman standing by nearby fire trucks.

“Why don’t you stop them?” he was asked.

FILE – In this July 1967 file photo, a National Guardsman stands at a Detroit intersection during riots in the city. Detroit wasn’t the first of the riots in the summer of 1967, and it was far from the last. Buffalo, New York, and Newark, New Jersey, preceded it; in the course of the summer, more than 150 cases of civil unrest erupted across the United States. (AP Photo/File)

“Would you?” he countered, gesturing toward several muscular White men wearing beards and dressed in tight pants, colorful shirts and sun glasses, much like hippies, as they carried off armloads of loot.

“My orders are to watch the engines,” the Guardsman added. “I don’t like it any more than you do.”

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The Negroes who live near 12th Street hate what their own people have done to the neighborhood, but they hate the police even more.

They blame the police for showing up too late with too little, dealing brutally with those arrested and failing to help the sick and wounded.

FILE – In this July 27, 1967 file photo, residents of Detroit’s riot area stand in line for free emergency food from a neighborhood organization. Hundreds of grocery stores were burned or looted during the rioting. (AP Photo/File)

But when a group of them gathered Monday at the corner of 12th and Taylor, one block from the illegal after-hours saloon where a Sunday morning raid touched off mass violence, they spoke of the looting and store-smashing with revulsion.

Johnny La Duece, 26, said it reminded him of Vietnam, where he served with an Air Force rescue team until seven months ago.

“We’d go to the small villages that had been bombed,” he said. “People would go through the garbage looking for food. This reminds me of that — and it’s sickening.”

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Shouting Whites as well as Negroes ravaged one integrated Detroit neighborhood, residents said Monday, looting and burning to the ground furniture warehouses and homes.

“This wasn’t no Negro riot,” said a Negro woman who lived two doors down from a blackened front wall, all that remains of a three-story brick warehouse on 14th St., just south of one of the heaviest damage areas along Grand River Avenue. “It’s an all of ’em riot. They’re putting it on one side but it’s both sides.”

Earlier, a newsman observed White looters emerging from the shattered windows of supermarkets and grocery stories on Third St., cradling loads of beer and whiskey bottles in their arms.

“There were almost as many Whites as Negroes,” said Mrs. Theresee King, a White woman who watched all evening from her front yard across the street (from where) the warehouse was turned into a pile of rubble.

“They were laughin’, talking, having a good time. It seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves.”

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Crack Army paratroopers rolled into this beleaguered city Monday night to help police and National Guardsmen quash two days and two nights of wild rioting.

At least three police precincts in widely separated sections of the city were besieged by snipers as the toll of dead rose to 17.

A fireman, shot down by a sniper, and a civilian were the latest to die.

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(President) Johnson, appearing before a national television audience, said he made the decision to send the troops from their stations outside the city “with the greatest regret and only because of clear, unmistakable and undisputed evidence.”

He said that the federal government intervenes only in “extraordinary circumstances.”

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National Guard tanks clattered along the expressway in the darkness and police cars, their lights out, sped at 70 and 80 miles an hour toward areas of heavy sniper fire.

Streets in the riot area were deserted except for small pockets of people near the sniper zones.

Women screamed from apartments at each volley of gunfire.

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As the battles intensified Guardsmen opened fire with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on armored personnel carriers. A raging gunfight blazed within a mile of the affluent Grosse Pointes several miles east of the main trouble center.

Associated Press Photographer Eddie Adams, a veteran of front line photography in Vietnam, saw two Guardsmen shot down in a 1 ½-hour exchange of sporadic gunfire at one intersection.

“We were pinned down,” he said. “Then the Guardsmen pulled out, so I got out of there. Their radio told them: ‘Shoot anything that moves.'”

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