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Resurget Cineribus: The Detroit Riots Of 1943 And 1967

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Resurget Cineribus: The Detroit Riots of 1943 and 1967

One can pick many instances in Detroit's last hundred years and conclude that the two riots of 1943 and 1967 were the presiding factor for this once great city's fatal turn. Detroit has come to be known as the Motor City due to its insurgence of the automotive industry, has been dubbed Detroit Rock City for its groundbreaking revolutionary music throughout the 20th century, and has even been hailed as Hockeytown for its euphoric love of the city's hockey king known as the Red Wings. While the city continues to be the automotive juggernaut of this nation, what with the Big Three - GM, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler all located in and around suburban Detroit; its music industry still a hotbed among markets in the U.S, the largest per capita in the nation; and the Red Wings having one of the largest attendance grosses among its league for the better part of almost two decades, this city is a dying city. The events that led up to and after these riots spell a far greater concern for the future of Detroit, or what is left of her.

The causes of the riots were many: inadequate housing for both whites and blacks, the refusal of whites to work alongside blacks, racial segregation, unemployment, U.S involvement in the wars, and uneven distribution of housing for the masses. (Chuang 1) The results of each catastrophic when examined throughout the years, one of which became known as "white flight," the mass exodus of whites relocating to the Detroit suburbs.

Detroit's roots lie in its history. The city became a part of the Underground Railroad; therefore many of its settlers were enslaved blacks that would live in the already white community. (Chuang 1) This was the start of the racial tension and diversity that still attacks the city today. Detroit's population increased immensely during the first half of the 20th century, due to a massive influx of Eastern European and Southern migrants-both black and white- who came for the promise of jobs during the boom of the auto industry. (Wikipedia 4-5) However, many whites brought their hatred for blacks with them. The Klu Klux Klan and the Black Legion, an organization of whites that worked to obtain jobs for Southern whites coming up north to work, began to target African Americans, Jews, and others. (Chuang 1)

"Housing shortages became a huge problem. Between 1930 and 1942 12,000 families moved in the city; however only about 5,200 housing facilities were built." (Mith 1) When housing communities were built later they were segregated to whites, while less were given for the blacks to live in. Blacks were excluded from public housing except for their own, around "their" communities. In 1941 when the Detroit Housing Commission decided to build two housing communities, one for whites and for blacks, they decided on two "white communities" to put them in. When the project was finished in 42' no one moved in due to white opposition. By 1943 racial tensions had skyrocketed. The number of blacks had increased to about 200,000/ 16 percent. (Baulch, Zacharias 1) By 1967 the black population would increase to about 40 percent. "By 1967 many of the black communities lost their homes due to "urban renewal," where entire neighborhoods were bulldozed to make room for freeways that linked city and suburbs." (67 riots 2) The loss of many black residents enraged the masses for years to come.

The fact that during these two periods America was at war did nothing to change the mindset of the communities and parties that were involved. It is thought that due to the United States heavy involvement during the wars, it caused our government to forget about its domestic problems. During the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the Black power movement were in full swing at this time, giving the people of these communities a means of speaking out against past hardships. They brought pride and inspiration to the black communities, making them willing to fight back.

In June 1943 racial tensions were at an unprecedented high. On June 20th, more than 200 blacks and whites broke out in melee at Belle Isle, a tiny island off of the Detroit River. The fight was started when two young blacks were ejected from Eastwood Park five days earlier and decided to go back for revenge. Police began to search the cars of black people, but not whites. The fighting happened around 10 p.m. and was controlled by midnight. Shortly days after rumors began to fly. Two blacks had told a crowd of people at the Forest Social Club that whites had thrown a black woman and her baby off of the Belle Isle Bridge. Angry gatherers went into the streets and started to break the windows of shops. Another rumor swept toward the white community that a black man had raped and murdered a white woman on the Belle Isle Bridge. Angry mobs formed in the street of Woodward, the dividing line between whites and blacks. The fighting had begun

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