Detroit Riots and the Comeback City

On this day the 1967 Detroit Riots begin in sweltering heat. They were among the most violent and destructive riots in U.S. history; by the time the bloodshed, burning and looting ended after five days, 43 people were dead, 342 injured, nearly 1,400 buildings had been burned and some 7,000 National Guard and U.S. Army troops had been called into service.

The epicenter, Detroit’s predominantly African-American neighborhood of Virginia Park, was a simmering cauldron of racial tension. About 60,000 low-income residents were crammed into the neighborhood’s 460 acres, living mostly in squalor in sub-divided apartments.

The Detroit Police Department, which had only 50 or so African American officers at the time, was viewed as a white occupying army, as 40% of city residents were black. Accusations of racial profiling and police brutality were commonplace among Detroit’s such residents, and the only other whites in Virginia Park commuted in from the suburbs to run the businesses on 12th Street, then commuted home to relatively affluent enclaves outside Detroit.

The entire city cooked in a state of economic and social strife. As the Motor City’s famed automobile industry shed jobs and moved out of the city center, freeways and suburban amenities beckoned middle-class residents away, which further gutted Detroit’s vitality and left behind vacant storefronts, widespread unemployment, public health crises and impoverished despair.

50 years later, Forbes Magazine had dubbed Detroit “America’s Comeback City.” From their lips to God’s ears.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.