EMU professor to discuss the summer of ’67 at library

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published July 19, 2017

 Guardsmen are seen in Detroit during the summer of 1967.

Guardsmen are seen in Detroit during the summer of 1967.

Photo provided by Jennifer Hassell

FARMINGTON — Fifty years ago, budding with optimism, Melvin Peters decided to move to Detroit from the South to create a better life for himself as a Detroit Public Schools teacher. However, the then-22-year-old did not realize that he had picked a tumultuous time — right before the summer of 1967 — to relocate. 

He moved on the cusp of the unfolding death, violence and destruction that descended upon Detroit. About 43 people died, with hundreds injured over the span of five days that year. Those five days still have long-lasting effects that reverberate throughout the city to this day.

“I was just about to begin my career as a public school teacher in Detroit at that point in time,” Peters, an Eastern Michigan University professor, said during a recent phone interview. He added that the rebellion impacted many people, especially him. “It changed everybody’s lives,  but being a black person as an educator, and being in Detroit at that point in time, and witnessing the energy and direction that came from that, made a big change in a lot of people in the education (field).”

The 50th anniversary of the sobering event that took place in the city will be discussed by Peters during “The 1967 Detroit Rebellion: 50 Years Ago and Today” at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Farmington Community Library Farmington Branch meeting room, 23500 Liberty St.

“I’m going to be talking about, basically, the immediate situation prior to the rebellion and the social conditions that led to that and social-political, so-called racial-ethnic conditions ... and how that relates to today,” Peters said.

Peters will also discuss how the unresolved nature of relevant human rights issues continues to impact people even 50 years later.

He said that the event that sparked the rebellion in 1967 was an incident of police raiding and arresting hundreds of people, alongside police harassment and manhandling women and men.

“Some of these conditions have returned: the educational deprivation,” Peters said, adding that Detroit Public Schools is “in the hands” of the state government. “The educational system for blacks is worse now than it was then (in the 1960s) … these are circumstances that only black people have to bear.”

Peters added that after the riot, however, there was a movement that birthed black-centered education.

“At that point in time in 1967-69 … there was no such thing as black studies or teaching or acknowledging black history (in) the North, period,” Peters said, adding that in the South, though, he studied Negro history.

There were some contradictions, too, during that time period where it would be rare to find a black administrator, principal or even a black college in the state.

He added that the rebellion changed a lot of that.

“All of these things relate to me personally, and so much of that came from the energy that the rebellion produced the student activism that existed as a result of that rebellion,” he said. “The whole era (of) the 1960s was an immense era of social-political rebellion. A lot of people these days … try to play it off and low-rate it as a riot as opposed to a rebellion — as if there were no negative social conditions in Detroit.”

He added that the terminology “riot” gives a negative connotation that includes images of criminal-type behavior, or when people burn couches in the streets after a sporting event.

“But a rebellion … is tied to social-political causes,” he said, adding that the rebellion occurred in the context of the civil rights era and the “burgeoning black power era.”

“Detroit was a town that was on the political motion … people in America are always shocked that somebody is (upset). But you live in these ghettos — if it is your kid living in Detroit and going to these schools where there are not enough seats for people to sit on. Where the  government appointed leaders of the educational process who have no educational expertise whatsoever … these things are hideous and negative,” he said.

Farmington Community Library Adult Services Librarian Jennifer Hassell said in an email that the happenings in the summer of 1967 impacted many people. Hassell added that the library held two programs on the rebellion in May.

“The 1967 Detroit riots are defining to so many lives and memories of our community members,” she said in the email. “Also, we wanted to recognize this anniversary, not just for its historical significance, but as a reflection of how things have and have not changed in America.”

For more information on the event, go to www.farmlib.org.

‘Flash Point: Detroit 1967’ opens July 23
Perspectives from Detroit: Summer 1967