A City On Fire: 24 Harrowing Photos Of The 1967 Detroit Riots

Published July 23, 2017
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A City On Fire: 24 Harrowing Photos Of The 1967 Detroit Riots
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It's since become known as the "Long Hot Summer." Throughout the middle months of 1967, the United States experienced more than 150 race riots in cities across the country.

And perhaps the worst rioting of the entire summer erupted in Detroit between July 23 and July 27.

Despite the gains made by the civil rights movement, many African-Americans in Detroit — and across the United States as a whole — were frustrated with the slow pace of progress. Despite the passage of legislation like the Voting Rights Act two years before, relatively little had changed in the lives of most African-Americans, who still faced discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system.

In Detroit, discriminatory practices even left African-Americans barred from visiting many bars and receiving liquor licenses to open up their own. Thus, many came to rely on "blind pigs," informal, unlicensed bars, for their drinking and socializing.

Early on Sunday, July 23, police raided a blind pig located in the offices of the United Community League for Civic Action. The patrons of the drinking club were celebrating the return of two local boys who had just come home from fighting in Vietnam, when police entered the building and arrested all 82 people in attendance.

The riots began when a doorman for the club threw a bottle at the police officers. Quickly, the entire surrounding fell into chaos as a community vented their frustrations in the form of looting and destruction.

The rioting began on 12th Street, but soon spread, with people looting and burning buildings across the city. Police and firefighters that attempted to stop the rioting were met with torrents of bricks and empty bottles, as well as some gunshots. Through late Monday, black and white owned business alike were stolen from and set ablaze.

Just before midnight on Monday, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the use of federal troops in Detroit, and sent in the National Guard as well as two Army Airborne divisions. The decision took until Monday because of political animosity between the Republican governor of Michigan at the time, George W. Romney, and the Democratic President Johnson and mayor of Detroit, Jerome Cavanagh.

The police and federal troops clashed with rioters, arresting both criminals and civilian bystanders. Snipers fired at police and troops from rooftops. A curfew was instituted and those caught in violation of it were arrested or shot.

From Tuesday to Wednesday, the conflict reached its peak, with rioters and troops fighting in the streets. While the Army forces were able to avoid killing more than a single person, the National Guard shot and killed 11 U.S. citizens.

Some Detroit police officers took advantage of the chaos to commit civil rights abuses, beating and sexually assaulting suspects, and even torturing and killing several black men in the infamous Algiers Motel incident.

Finally, the 1967 Detroit riots ended on the night of Thursday, July 27. All told, 43 people died, with an estimated 1,189 injuries. More than 7,200 people were arrested and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed. The riots left large portions of the city destroyed, with many middle-class black neighborhoods hit especially hard.

Afterward, the 1967 Detroit riots resulted in the passage of a number of laws designed to limit discrimination against African-Americans in areas like housing and employment, but the destruction that the rioting wrought had disastrous effects on outward migration and the local economy that would cripple the city for years, even decades, to come.

After this look at the 1967 Detroit riots, see some of the most intense photos from the 1992 LA riots. Then, see how far the Motor City has fallen in the decades since the 1960s with this gallery of abandoned Detroit.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.