Library to collect oral histories on 1967 Detroit riot

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published March 2, 2017

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SOUTHFIELD — The Southfield Public Library is looking for residents willing to share their memories of the 1967 Detroit riot for an oral history collection commemorating the 50th anniversary of the event.

According to the Detroit Historical Society, the Detroit riot — also known as the Uprising of 1967 or the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 — began following a police raid on July 23, 1967, at an unlicensed bar, which was known locally as the Blind Pig.

Over a five-day period, the Detroit police and fire departments, along with the Michigan State Police, the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Army, were called to combat what historians described as the largest civil disturbance of 20th-century America.

During the crisis, 43 people died and hundreds were injured. There were almost 1,700 fires and over 7,000 arrests, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

The riots were fueled by decades of institutional racism and segregation, the Detroit Historical Society’s website says.

Alicia Bell, adult services librarian at the Southfield Public Library, said the library is working with Southfield’s City Cable 15 department to put together a video compilation of oral histories from residents about the uprising.

Tapings will take place March 6-12 and March 20-26.

“The community rejected the way the police were detaining people at that point,” Bell said. “One thing led to another. A bottle was thrown, a window was shattered, and a riot commenced.”

Bell said the compilations of the oral histories will be on display at the library in July for patrons to see. Various speakers will also be on hand over the summer to discuss the 1967 riot, Bell said.

Wayne State University associate professor Danielle McGuire will speak at the library at 7 p.m. June 26 about the summer of 1967. McGuire teaches in the history department at the university and is a civil rights and African-American history scholar.

McGuire said she is working on a book detailing an incident that occurred on July 25, 1967, at the Algiers Motel.

“Police stormed the Algiers Motel under the pretenses that they were looking for a sniper,” McGuire said. “They found young black men with two white women, who were prostitutes, probably. They terrorized them. They beat them. They brutalized them. They lined them up in the lobby and put pistols to their head unless they told them where the gun was. They ransacked the hotel but never found any weapons, and in the process of their search, they killed three young black men.”

Witnesses of the incident, McGuire said, testified in court that police involved committed outright murder.

McGuire said she is working on a book called “Murder in the Motor City” about the incident. Knowing what happened at the Algiers Motel can help to make sense of current events, she said.

“Understanding the history of the Algiers and the larger issues of police violence in Detroit helps us make sense of Black Lives Matter,” McGuire said. “I don’t think there’s a contest. I think people need to be treated with dignity and respect no matter who they are.”

Those interested in sharing their stories for the project are asked to contact Alicia Bell at (248) 796-4381 or at abell@southfieldlibrary.org to schedule a time.

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