50th Anniversary of the Detroit Rebellion

July 24, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


July 2017 is the 50th anniversary of one of the most powerful uprisings of the 1960s—the Detroit Rebellion.

It began at 3:45 am on Sunday, July 23, 1967, when cops raided a “blind pig” after-hours club where a party was going on for two Black GIs, back home from Vietnam. The cops broke down the door, and an angry crowd gathered as people were brutally arrested and loaded into a paddy wagon. As the cops left, they were pelted with bricks and bottles.

Bill Scott, the 19-year-old son of the club owner, later wrote, “For the first time in our lives we felt free. Most important, we were right in what we did to the law. I felt powerful and good inside for being a part of those who finally fought back regardless of fear.... Within the aggregation of people this night there was a certain unique madness that had taken possession of everyone’s body and soul which was almost what could be called the unification of the rebellious spirit of man; a fearless spirit ordained for complete liberation of the self, combined with and supported by a community at large. Guess one could say it was like fighting and gaining your citizenship, after having given it away to obedience to the law—police law—which was a one-man judge and assassin that ruled Black people.” (Hurt, Baby, Hurt)

In a city with 600,000 Black people, the police were 95 percent white—known for going into Black neighborhoods and beating the hell out of people “for recreation.” Black people faced systematic discrimination in housing, jobs, and social services. In the area where the rebellion began, about 30 percent of Black people under 25 were unemployed, and population density in the rundown apartments was 21,000 persons per square mile—double the city average.

Built-up anger against all this, and more, erupted and continued for five days. Buildings were set afire, and people took food, household goods, and other things from stores. An estimated 10,000 people took part in the rebellion. People rebelled against the whole way they had been cut out of society—given no real future, no decent way to live.

The youth—who faced extreme unemployment and police brutality—were the backbone of this rebellion, including some white youths who became part of “black-and-white teams.” Veterans just back from Vietnam brought what they had learned to bear in the rebellion.

The city imposed a 9 pm-5 am curfew. By Monday, the night of the first day of the rebellion, 350 state troopers and over 8,000 guardsmen had been sent in; 4,750 federal troops were also dispatched. Tanks thundered through the streets. And all these hated figures of authority and repression became targets of gunfire from the people. During a single hour on Monday, a police dispatcher reported that two precinct stations, two riot command posts, and five fire stations were all under sniper fire.

The scale and scope of the rebellion was huge—affecting 40 of the city’s 140 square miles. Some 1,300 buildings were burned and 2,700 “looted”; property damage exceeded $45 million; 7,231 people were arrested (6,407 of them Black), 400 injured, and 43 died (33 of them Black).

This was a just, righteous rebellion against decades of systematic oppression. News and photos of the rebellion spread throughout the country and internationally, inspiring millions of people. It ignited smaller rebellions in other cities including Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, and Grand Rapids in Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio. The rebellion dramatically changed the thinking of many people, including many white people. It shook society and forced the rulers to grant concessions—after the rebellion, thousands of Black people were hired right off the streets to work in the auto plants. Because people rose up and militantly fought back—telling the world, “We refuse to tolerate this living hell”—many more people came to support the struggle of Black people and other oppressed people.



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