Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Lessons Unlearned from ’67 Race Riots

 
Detroit Tigers left-fielder Willie Horton. (Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

A long time ago, in a Detroit far, far away, the Tigers split a doubleheader with the Yankees. Tiger pitcher for the first game, Mickey Lolich, had just lost his 10th straight game, a club record. During the second game, left fielder Willie Horton hit a home run to help the Tigers beat the Yankees. Radio announcer Ernie Harwell had been instructed to say nothing about the thick, black smoke billowing north of iconic Tiger Stadium.

In the long, hot summer of 1967, a tinderbox had been constructed of police distrust by black citizens, unemployment woes, a war far away, agitators, and “politics out of doors,” as it was called a century earlier. A raid of an after-hours bar struck a match when more than 80 people attending a party celebrating the return of a couple of soldiers from Vietnam were arrested and someone threw a bottle at police, then a brick through a window. Hours after the early morning raid, some described a carnival atmosphere in the neighborhood. The pastor of a local church later recalled a scene of “…gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of buildings,” first a clothing store in the neighborhood, later grocery and retail stores in other neighborhoods. The media didn’t want to incite a spread of the violence so nothing was reported, deliberately, at first. But the violence and looting by both black and white spread anyway. Aided by a hot windy day, Detroit was in flames.

After the ball game, Willie Horton left the stadium wearing his Tiger uniform and drove north to his childhood neighborhood at 12th and Clairmount. He got out of his car and climbed onto the roof. In his autobiography, he recalled:

“Why are you burning up and tearing up the neighborhood you live in?” I asked. I kept asking why are you doing this, but no one had an answer. I told them this wasn’t the way to do it. Don’t loot. Don’t destroy your neighborhood. This is your neighborhood. Your schools.

People recognized Horton in his Tigers uniform. They urged him to leave for his own safety. He did.

Congressman John Conyers tried to do the same thing. He went out into the crowd without the benefit of a baseball uniform. He was pelted with bottles and bricks.

Pitcher Denny McLain sat up all night with his uncle and a rifle. “The fear some of the media put into us was uncalled for.”

A 16-year-old black boy was shot and killed. A 45-year-old white looter was shot by the store owner. After ignored curfews, armed store owners and homeowners, 800 state police, 8,000 National Guardsmen including pitcher Mickey Lolich and 4,700 members of the 82nd Airborne, the smoke cleared and the riots ended. Five days, five nights. Businesses and homes destroyed. Thirty-three blacks and ten whites killed. Nearly 1,200 wounded. Thousands arrested. Millions of dollars in damage. Blocks and blocks of Detroit laid waste for years and years.

1967. Detroit, Cleveland, Newark, Tampa, Buffalo, Portland, Toledo, and many, many more. Burnt-out buildings were bulldozed and never rebuilt. Black and white families fled Detroit and other cities.

In 1967, the tinderbox was built by economic and racial inequities, fears and opportunities, war, anger, and greed.

In 2020, the tinderbox was built by illness and fear, unemployment and lockdowns, confinement and frustration, race and the politics of outdoors. Handcuffs and knees and necks. A police officer who failed to close his cover before striking the match.

Riots are not a way for members of the press to make a name for themselves. Riots are not an opportunity to “stick it to the man.” Riots are not an opportunity for a five-finger discount. Lives and livelihoods are destroyed. Neighborhoods never recover.

Riots still kill and destroy. They still frighten children, who will ask their fathers if the rioters are mad at us, will they come and hurt us, will they destroy our home or your business. But the tinderboxes continue to be built. And the matches continue to be struck.

Heaven help us.

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  1. Arahant Member

    9thDistrictNeighbor: 8,000 National Guardsmen

    A friend of mine was one of those. He had some stories. One he liked to tell was when they had a truckload of rioters they had brought to be processed. He was some level of sergeant in the National Guard. He ordered one of his men, “Assist the detainees down from the truck.”

    The young National Guardsman took the first guy, and administered a buttstroke to “assist him off the truck.”

    “No, Jenkins! Not like that. The truck is high up. Help them get down, not knock them off.”

    • #1
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. GrannyDude Member

    This is going to sound strange, but for those inclined to riot (mostly young, mostly male) rioting is probably a lot of fun. Being part of a mob must gratify something in the human spirit. Rioters have been given an intoxicating license to smash stuff and stomp people and call this justice. 

     

    • #2
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:22 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  3. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    That may have been the first time tanks were used in an American city. [update: tanks were used in an American city in 1932. h/t ToryWW]

    • #3
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:22 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  4. Arahant Member

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    This is going to sound strange, but for those inclined to riot (mostly young, mostly male) rioting is probably a lot of fun. Being part of a mob must gratify something in the human spirit. Rioters have been given an intoxicating license to smash stuff and stomp people and call this justice.

    I think you are correct.

    • #4
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:31 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    That may have been the first time tanks were used in an American city.

    Nope that honor likely goes to Hoover vs the Bonus army.

    At 4:45 p.m., commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry RegimentFort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six M1917 light tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch. The Bonus Marchers, believing the troops were marching in their honor, cheered the troops until Patton ordered[citation needed] the cavalry to charge them, which prompted the spectators to yell, “Shame! Shame!”[citation needed]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonus_Army

    • #5
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:33 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Seawriter Contributor

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    That may have been the first time tanks were used in an American city.

    A friend of mine told me a tale about one of those tanks. Firefighters were being shot at by a sniper in an adjacent building. A tank rolled up to protect them. The tank had a coaxial machine gun mounted next to the main gun. To suppress the sniper the tank’s commander rotated the turret at the building the sniper fire was coming from and raised the main gun so the coaxial machine gun could fire at it. 

    As the gun started elevating, a rifle was tossed out of the window. Next, a man was seen, leaning out of the window with his hands high over his head. It turns out he thought the tank was going to cut loose with the main gun.

    • #6
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. Arahant Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It turns out he thought the tank was going to cut loose with the main gun.

    Works for me. Not the building he was in, but it would work for me.

    • #7
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:38 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Ralphie Member

    My dad’s freind, who was a character, flew over and took a home movie of the smoke. I remember as a kid, it seemed like a war movie. We lived in Troy at the time, and the next year, we moved to northern Michigan, back to my mom’s hometown.

    Michael Barone was an assistant, I think, to the Mayor Cavanagh, whose philosophy seemed to be let them get their anger out. It would be interesting to hear his take on what is going on today.

    I’ve read Banfield’s Unheavenly Cities, and he makes a very good case that rioting is for Fun and Profit, more than a cause of justice.

    • #8
    • May 30, 2020, at 8:54 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. ddavewes Member

    I grew up in Detroit’s Downriver suburbs and was a teen at the time of the 1967 Detroit riot.

    Many of the buildings destroyed during the riot were never rebuilt. There were many gaps in blocks that still exist today.

    The feel-good part of the story is that the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1968, coming back from down 3 games to 1 to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7.

    As mentioned by the OP, Tiger starting pitcher and National Guardsman Mickey Lolich ended up winning 3 games in that World Series and was named Series MVP.

    • #9
    • May 30, 2020, at 9:31 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. PHCheese Member

    I lived in Pittsburgh during the MLK riots in 1968. The riots were centered in an area called the Hill District. The rioters burned to the ground the only grocery store in the district. It took roughly 50 years for anyone to take a chance of building another store. It was only open a few years and it closed. The owners cited the cost of shoplifting and the security to try to stop it as the reason for the closing. The residents of the Hill bitched and moaned the whole fifty years about being underserved in the grocery area. Go figure.

    • #10
    • May 30, 2020, at 9:35 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. BeatFeet Member

    I did my senior year of high school in 1971 in Taylor MI, a Detroit suburb. I joined the Army just prior to graduation and had to process in at the AFEES station located in downtown Detroit. We were taken there on a bus and had to go through downtown Detroit to get to the station. Every building for blocks was a burned-out shell. It looked like the pictures of Berlin at the end of WWII. The only more miserable place I ever saw was an Indian reservation in North Dakota.

     

    • #11
    • May 30, 2020, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Seawriter Contributor

    BeatFeet (View Comment):
    I did my senior year of high school in 1971 in Taylor MI, a Detroit suburb. I joined the Army just prior to graduation and had to process in at the AFEES station located in downtown Detroit. We were taken there on a bus and had to go through downtown Detroit to get to the station. Every building for blocks was a burned-out shell. It looked like the pictures of Berlin at the end of WWII

    Yeah. When I joined ROTC I had to go to the same place. That was in 1973 or 1974. The appearance of the neighborhood had not improved. 

    • #12
    • May 30, 2020, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Jon1979 Lincoln

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    This is going to sound strange, but for those inclined to riot (mostly young, mostly male) rioting is probably a lot of fun. Being part of a mob must gratify something in the human spirit. Rioters have been given an intoxicating license to smash stuff and stomp people and call this justice.

     

    When you’re young and/or ignorant of consequences, you aren’t going to either see or care about the aftermath of your actions. In the case of M-SP over the past few nights, it’s a pretty good guess none of the rioters who actually live in those areas have thought about where they’re going to go by clothes, food or groceries if Target, Wendy’s and Cub Foods are looted and burned to the ground, or they think those companies or some similar ones will just rebuild on site (or the government will force them to rebuild). 

    If it ends up like aftermath of the 1960s riots and nothing gets rebuilt, the people who rioted will blame the companies, and many in the media will be happy to toss a race card or two for them, based on the idea that the companies should be willing to risk losing millions even if the people running the cities and states they’re in aren’t willing to guarantee the security of the neighborhoods in the future (New York City’s business deserts, including the riot/looting decimated areas of Brooklyn from 1977, only recovered after Giuliani’s police reforms arrived, because major companies again felt safe to locate in those areas and be able to make profits. All that could be undone over the next several nights if Bill de Blasio orders NYPD to stand down after Friday night’s clashes near downtown Brooklyn, and the area that’s redeveloped over the past 20 years ends up being trashed or burned. But for pols like de Blasio or Keith Ellison in Minnesota, the problem is entirely on the police, while even the worst of the rioters is blameless because of root causes).

    • #13
    • May 30, 2020, at 9:52 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Samuel Block Support

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    This is going to sound strange, but for those inclined to riot (mostly young, mostly male) rioting is probably a lot of fun. Being part of a mob must gratify something in the human spirit. Rioters have been given an intoxicating license to smash stuff and stomp people and call this justice.

    Oh, yes. 

    • #14
    • May 30, 2020, at 10:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. KentForrester Moderator

    My uncle Berle’s sporting goods business was ruined in the Watts riots of 1965. He sold guns and ammunition, and once the riots started, he knew the rioters would be coming after them. He and my aunt cowered in their store, my uncle with a rifle in his hands to protect the store and my aunt.

    The rioters busted through the window and came after the guns. My uncle Berle shot into the crowd and killed one of them. After that episode, he began to get death threats. He had to sell his store at a discount and move. He ended up a man frozen with arthritis so bad he couldn’t lift food to his mouth. My mother, his sister, always blamed the trauma of the Watts on his condition. 

    My uncle sponsored little league teams, consisting mostly of black boys. He was a good and gentle man who was a friend to all.

    • #15
    • May 30, 2020, at 10:17 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  16. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    …even the worst of the rioters is blameless….

    Minnesota Governor Tim Walz went full George Wallace and noted that 80 percent of those arrested last night were outside agitators, while he activated the National Guard for the first time since WWII.

     

    • #16
    • May 30, 2020, at 10:21 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    ddavewes (View Comment):
    As mentioned by the OP, Tiger starting pitcher and National Guardsman Mickey Lolich ended up winning 3 games in that World Series and was named Series MVP.

    Winning 3 games in a 7 games series is nuts. That season Denny McLain had 31 wins! No pitcher will ever break that record. 

    • #17
    • May 30, 2020, at 10:25 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Ralphie Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    When you’re young and/or ignorant of consequences, you aren’t going to either see or care about the aftermath of your actions. In the case of M-SP over the past few nights, it’s a pretty good guess none of the rioters who actually live in those areas have thought about where they’re going to go by clothes, food or groceries if Target, Wendy’s and Cub Foods are looted and burned to the ground, or they think those companies or some similar ones will just rebuild on site (or the government will force them to rebuild). 

    Bingo, you’ve observed what Banfield did. He defined the classes by how long their outlook and planning was. The underclass aims for immediate gratification without thought about tomorrow. That’s why it is hard to keep some in school, the reward is years in the making. He noted that it wasn’t a money issue. I think his book is out there somewhere on pdf online. I read it a while back. 

    Other social observers have noted the strange connection between the upper and under classes, a sort of similarity. The upper upper don’t have many to impress, and the poor don’t care to either. It is the middle classes that strive to achieve, to keep up with the Jones’es, that worry.

    • #18
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:14 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Jon1979 Lincoln

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    …even the worst of the rioters is blameless….

    Minnesota Governor Tim Walz went full George Wallace and noted that 80 percent of those arrested last night were outside agitators, while he activated the National Guard for the first time since WWII.

     

    Mayor Frey is getting absolutely torched in the comments for this tweet about who is responsible for the looting and burning:

    • #19
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    ddavewes (View Comment):
    As mentioned by the OP, Tiger starting pitcher and National Guardsman Mickey Lolich ended up winning 3 games in that World Series and was named Series MVP.

    Winning 3 games in a 7 games series is nuts. That season Denny McLain had 31 wins! No pitcher will ever break that record.

    Just thinking the same thing. 

    • #20
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Ralphie Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    ddavewes (View Comment):
    As mentioned by the OP, Tiger starting pitcher and National Guardsman Mickey Lolich ended up winning 3 games in that World Series and was named Series MVP.

    Winning 3 games in a 7 games series is nuts. That season Denny McLain had 31 wins! No pitcher will ever break that record.

    They don’t pitch enough to do that. He was a character, remember seeing him play the organ on local tv. He said on a talk show once, Detroit is a great sports town with terrible sports writers. 

    • #21
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:30 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. tigerlily Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    …even the worst of the rioters is blameless….

    Minnesota Governor Tim Walz went full George Wallace and noted that 80 percent of those arrested last night were outside agitators, while he activated the National Guard for the first time since WWII.

     

    Mayor Frey is getting absolutely torched in the comments for this tweet about who is responsible for the looting and burning:

    I sure hope he is. He is pathetic.

    • #22
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    … white supremacists …

    Catch one and trot him out.

    … members of organized crime …

    Members of organized crime usually have a profit motive. Where is it? Stealing flat-screen TVs? They usually go for bigger profits than that.

    … out of state instigators …

    Probably, but see “white supremacists.”

    … and possibly even foreign actors

    I knew it! The infernal Russians!

    • #23
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:47 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    The Watts riot in 1965 was during the Chief Parker era of the LAPD. The LAPD were tough and honest. I know they abused blacks as shown in the good movie, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” but I wonder if that would have evolved with the Civil Rights movement. They did not mess around with rioters. I was a medical student and had left for Boston the day before it began so I watched it on TV from a motel room in Bakersfield. I did get the stories from the folks at County Hospital when I got back in December. The surgery department admitted something like (I forget the exact number) 450 gun shot wounds of the trunk. They called in all the voluntary faculty and ran all the operating rooms for four days. The only patient they lost was a black woman who was machine gunned by the National Guard running a roadblock with a trunk full of Molotov cocktails. She refused treatment. I used to see that once in a while and I would reply, “You are the one with the gunshot wound, not me. Call me if you change your mind.”

    One intern I knew said the chief of the Jail Ward (which was the 13th floor of “Big County”) called him about 10 PM to see how it was going. He told her it had been quiet until an hour ago when he got “40 red blankets.” A red blanket was an emergency admission that could not wait for the usual admission process. It was a disaster situation but the medical system handled it well.

    The consequences for the city were a different matter. The Rodney King riots were different as the police pretty much let the riot happen. Chief Parker was long gone. The Korean store owners did a good job of defending Koreatown. They were on the roofs of their stores with rifles.

    • #24
    • May 30, 2020, at 11:56 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Jon Gabriel, Ed. King

    My family was returning from two weeks at a cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My dad hadn’t listened to the news over vacation and was driving home to Toledo, OH. (I was only eight months old, so I don’t remember much.)

    Nearing Detroit, he saw columns of black smoke rising from the city. He frantically turned out the radio, wondering if the world was ending or something. Apparently, there were riots in Toledo as well, so we soon moved to a calm, safe city: Chicago.

    Needless to say, five years after that we got out of dodge and wound up in Arizona.

    • #25
    • May 30, 2020, at 1:19 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    Apparently, there were riots in Toledo as well….

    The empty land at the corner of Door Street and Detroit Avenue has been vacant for more than 50 years since the burned out clothing and furniture stores were torn down.

    • #26
    • May 30, 2020, at 2:41 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Arahant Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    New York City’s business deserts, including the riot/looting decimated areas of Brooklyn from 1977, only recovered after Giuliani’s police reforms arrived, because major companies again felt safe to locate in those areas and be able to make profits.

    Exactly. Business people don’t take chances where the rule of law does not apply.

    • #27
    • May 30, 2020, at 2:46 PM PDT
    • Like
  28. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    New York City’s business deserts, including the riot/looting decimated areas of Brooklyn from 1977, only recovered after Giuliani’s police reforms arrived, because major companies again felt safe to locate in those areas and be able to make profits.

    Exactly. Business people don’t take chances where the rule of law does not apply.

    I have read a bit about the astonishing level of shoplifting that drives most food markets out of these areas.

    • #28
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:08 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gazpacho Grande' (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    ddavewes (View Comment):
    As mentioned by the OP, Tiger starting pitcher and National Guardsman Mickey Lolich ended up winning 3 games in that World Series and was named Series MVP.

    Winning 3 games in a 7 games series is nuts. That season Denny McLain had 31 wins! No pitcher will ever break that record.

    Just thinking the same thing.

    The Tigers lost the ’67 pennant to the Red Sox by 1 game. Lolich missed 15 days due to his guard call up. Some of us old Tiger fans still feel the Tigers would have won if not for that.

    • #29
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Ralphie (View Comment):

    My dad’s freind, who was a character, flew over and took a home movie of the smoke. I remember as a kid, it seemed like a war movie. We lived in Troy at the time, and the next year, we moved to northern Michigan, back to my mom’s hometown.

    Michael Barone was an assistant, I think, to the Mayor Cavanagh, whose philosophy seemed to be let them get their anger out. It would be interesting to hear his take on what is going on today.

    I’ve read Banfield’s Unheavenly Cities, and he makes a very good case that rioting is for Fun and Profit, more than a cause of justice.

    I have heard Michael talk about it. The event had a considerable, long-term effect on him.

    • #30
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes