50 Years Ago, Bar Raid Ignited Detroit’s Simmering Rage

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In a series of articles, the Detroit Free Press looks back at the deadly race riots that engulfed the Motor City 50 years ago. The five days of violence began on July 23, 1967, and evolved into one of the most destructive riots in U.S. history. Forty-three people died, including 24 African Americans who were shot by police and National Guardsmen. Nearly 1,200 people were injured, and 7,231 were arrested. More than 2,500 businesses were destroyed.

The trouble began with a routine police raid on a blind pig — an illegal bar — on Detroit’s near west side at 3 a.m. on that Sunday. As police loaded 85 people into patrol wagons, a crowd gathered and grew increasingly rowdy. A man yelled, “Are we going to let these peckerwood (expletive) come down here any time they want and mess us around?” “Hell, no!” people replied. Bottles and bricks were thrown at police, and the riot had begun. The Free Press said the raid touched a nerve: “Fifty years later, we can now recognize that Detroit in 1967 was a city of deep divisions that permeated every level of public life. The city’s segregation and prejudices led to omissions in coverage and perspectives. The city’s African American community was under-represented in news stories and often delegitimized.”

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