50 years on, AP photos show violence of Detroit’s riots

The 1967 riots have shaped Detroit for the past half-century

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)
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)

DETROIT (AP) — Protests that started 50 years ago in a west side Detroit neighborhood would grow into a riot and later a conflagration that threatened to swallow entire city blocks.

An angry crowd of blacks gathered near 12th and Clairmount streets in the early morning hours of July 23, 1967 after police raided an illegal after-hours club and made arrests. The crowd grew and a tense situation erupted in violence, gunshots and flames.

As smoke from dozens of fires rose cloud-like for five days above the Motor City, Associated Press photographers snapped shots of the burning storefronts and homes.

Just as startling are photos of the crowds that surged into Detroit streets, looters making off with stolen goods from hapless businesses and scores of national guardsmen called in to restore order.

The images have stood for a half-century, etched into Detroit’s fabric and history.

Detroit at crossroads 50 years after riots devastated city
COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press

This combination of July 23, 1967 and July 11, 2017 photos shows people running on 12th Street on Detroit’s westside throwing stones at storefronts and looting, and the same view looking north 50 years later. (AP Photo)

Five decades after a deadly riot devastated some Detroit neighborhoods, the city may be on the cusp of turning things around.

Protests and violence that started July 23, 1967, after police raided an illegal after-hours club lasted five days. Authorities called in the National Guard and Army.

More than 7,000 people were arrested and over 1,400 buildings burned. Forty-three people — 33 blacks and 10 whites — were killed.

The riot would speed up the departure of whites to the suburbs. Middle-class blacks would follow. The population has fallen by about 1.1 million since the 1950s.

But Detroit is fixing up its neighborhoods and its image.

Unemployment is down to 11 percent. Downtown is thriving and the population appears to be leveling out at around 670,000.

Recollections of the deadly 1967 rioting in Detroit

Some insights and recollections of Detroit’s 1967 riots, from those who lived through the unrest and its aftermath:

“Our apartment was on the first floor and it faced the alley. The looters were all in the alley. Bang, bang, bang — there were guns going off. I thought we’d be shot while we were sleeping. We didn’t go out for a couple of days because it was too scary.” — Theresa Welsh, a college student in 1967.

“In our neighborhood, everybody knew everybody. I saw people I had never seen. It wasn’t just black people out there looting. It was white people out there, too. I can remember going to people’s houses, friends. They were stocked up in terms of food in pantries and kitchens … all the kinds of things they had not eaten before or couldn’t afford before.” — Deborah Chenault Green, a 12-year-old then.

“I was a librarian at the Detroit Public Library. (It) did close — we were there and sent home. We were told to take a thick book and drive home holding it next to our head … in case we were shot at.” — Anne Watts.

“The riots didn’t do what they were supposed to do for us: Help us have people recognize the equality that was supposed to be part of our (nation’s) heritage. It just ruined neighborhoods. Some of the places I grew up … were never rebuilt, have never come back.” — Miller London, who had been a car salesman.

“Detroit really has been doing so much better. They gotta concentrate on the neighborhoods, but it’s also trying to bring the people back. If you don’t get people coming back and paying taxes it’s really not going to grow.” — Azerine Jones, a 13-year-old at the time.

Detroit’s ’67 riots halted music, helped recalibrate sound
JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press

In this Wednesday, June 28, 2017 photo, singer Martha Reeves stands outside the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Fifty years after the 1967 Detroit riots, the leader of Martha and the Vandellas still can’t quite believe it happened. Reeves had to tell an audience July 23 at the famed Fox Theatre the rioting was spreading through the city and everyone had to leave. “Imagine going out there lighthearted and ready to work,” she said. “My heart was beating so fast after returning to the dressing room.” (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In July 1967, Motown Records’ “Sound of Young America” was silenced onstage and in-studio by rioting in Detroit.

The hit-making studio dubbed “Hitsville USA” went silent for about a week while the city convulsed in violence that began when officers from the nearly all-white police department arrested black patrons at an after-hours bar.

Motown was near the epicenter but largely spared during unrest that enveloped 25 city blocks and claimed 43 lives. Records reveal studio work halted on July 22 and didn’t resume until July 31.

Martha and the Vandellas leader Martha Reeves had to tell an audience July 23 at the famed Fox Theatre the rioting was spreading through the city and everyone had to leave.

Fifty years later, she recalls her “heart was beating so fast” and still can’t believe it happened.

“Detroit,” the movie

On August 4, Academy Award-winning director Katherine Bigelow’s movie, “Detroit,” hits the big screen. It is based on the true story of how the riots began July 23,1967.

What happened that night is the subject of a new film by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, called “Detroit,” CBS Sunday Morning reports.

“These boys were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bigelow said.

“I had never heard of the Algiers Motel,” said Miller. “Had you?”

“No. I had heard of the Detroit riots, but not the Algiers Motel, not this true crime story at the heart of it,” she replied.

Seven black men and two white women were severely beaten, but survived. Their stories tell a tale of brutalization and terror.