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Five Days of Violence in Detroit

What began as a routine police call ended with more than 40 people dead and tens of millions of dollars worth of property damage.

At about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 23, 1967, the Detroit Vice Squad raided an illegal after hours club on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue. The police had raided the club before, with little problem, but this time patrons were having a party to celebrate the return of two black servicemen from Vietnam. The police ended up arresting all 82 people in the bar. It took about an hour for all of the prisoners to be taken from the scene, during which time a crowd of about 200 people gathered outside the bar, agitated by rumors that the police had used excessive force during the raid. At about 5:00 a.m. a bottle was thrown into the rear window of a police car and a waste basket was thrown through a storefront window. Within an hour, thousands of people had spilled out onto the street. Looting and fire-setting had begun by 6:30 a.m., and by midmorning every policeman and fireman in Detroit had been called into duty. By 3:00 p.m. the rioting had spread to other parts of the city, and by 5:30 p.m. the Fire Department had completely abandoned an area of about 100 square blocks around 12th Street.

12th and Clairmount at the height of the rioting.
12th and Clairmount at the height of the rioting

Fires rage during the height of the rioting.
fires rage during the height of the rioting

At 5:30 p.m. Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh asked that the Michigan National Guard be sent in to stop the violence. The first troops arrived in the city about 7:00 p.m., and soon after Mayor Cavanaugh instituted a 9:00 p.m.-to-5:00 a.m. curfew.

The first Michigan National Guard troops enter the riot area.
National Guardsmen arrive

Seven minutes after the curfew began, a 10-year-old African-American boy became the first victim of gunfire. Five store looters were shot overnight, one of them (a 45-year-old white man) by a store owner and another while struggling with the police. By the early morning hours of July 24, some 800 State Police officers and 8,000 more National Guardsmen had been sent into Detroit by Governor George Romney. President Lyndon Johnson also sent 4,700 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division into Detroit, but by the time they arrived the rioting was beginning to lessen. Calm was finally restored on July 27, but the National Guard and the curfew remained in place until August 1.

What had begun as a routine raid on an illegal bar left 43 people dead (33 blacks, 10 whites) and another 342 injured. A total of 7,231 people were arrested during the riots, but about half of them were released without charges being filed. Approximately 2,500 stores were looted, about 1,400 buildings had been burned, and the total property damage was estimated at about $50 million. Although many other U.S. cities were hit by riots during the year, the Detroit Riot was by far the worst in terms of both lives lost and property damaged.

Some of the damage left behind by the Detroit rioters.
riot aftermath

Black Past

President Lyndon Johnson

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The Robinson Library >> In The Year... >> 1967

This page was last updated on February 13, 2018.