Detroit, a film set for nationwide release on August 4, 2017, chronicles one of the deadliest incidents of civil unrest in the United States.
(Adapted from the Detroit Historical Society.)
The Uprising of 1967, also known as the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, and the 12th Street Riot began following a police raid on an unlicensed bar, known locally as a “blind pig.” Over the course of five days, the Detroit police and fire departments, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan National Guard, and the US Army were involved in quelling what became the largest civil disturbance of twentieth century America. The crisis resulted in forty-three deaths, hundreds of injuries, almost seventeen hundred fires, and over seven thousand arrests.
At 3:15 a.m. on July 23, 1967, the vice squad of the Detroit Police Department executed a raid on a blind pig at 12th Street and Clairmount. Despite the late hour, the avenue was full of people attempting to stay cool amidst a stifling heat wave. As the police escorted party goers to the precinct for booking, a crowd gathered and the situation grew increasingly antagonistic. When the final arrestees were loaded into police vans, a brick shattered the rear window of a police cruiser, prompting a rash of break-ins, burglaries, and eventually arson.
Law enforcement was immediately overwhelmed. While the department had 4,700 officers, only about 200 were on duty at that hour. Early efforts to regain control failed and a quarantine of the neighborhood was imposed. Hoping to ease tensions, Mayor Jerome Cavanagh ordered that looters not be shot; as the word of his order spread, so did looting. The Michigan State Police and the National Guard arrived to reinforce police and fire units. Clashes between the mayor and Governor George Romney—both of whom had presidential aspirations—and President Lyndon Johnson increased confusion and delayed the deployment of federal troops.
By the end of the first two days, fires and looting were reported across the city. Additionally, the mass theft of firearms and other weaponry turned Detroit an urban war zone. Sniper fire sowed fear and hindered firefighting and policing efforts. The arrival of battle-tested federal troops on Tuesday, July 25 brought order.
For many people, the uprising was a turning point for the city. White flight in 1967 doubled to over 40,000 and doubled again the next year. Yet, many Detroiters remained. The city saw a massive growth in activism and community engagement. As the city’s demographics continued to shift, Detroiters elected the first black mayor in the city’s history, Coleman A. Young.