Wayne State University recently released a privately-produced film that recorded scenes of the devastating 1967 riots in Detroit. Filmed 49 years ago this week by Ray Grudzinski, the 8-millimeter silent footage offers scenes of burning and burnt-out buildings, soldiers at checkpoints, and military vehicles patrolling the streets of the Motor City in the aftermath of riots that were characterized by racial conflict. The Walter P. Reuther Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at the Detroit-based institution said in a post accompanying the film at YouTube, "Never-been-seen-before home movie footage of the aftermath of the 1967 uprising in Detroit."
Apparently taking from a moving vehicle, the film shows military helicopters flying overhead as U.S. Army patrols, in the midst of the war in Vietnam, can be seen keeping order in the smoldering city. Among the smoking ruins is a family apparel and shoe store festooned with a green-and-white awning. It was called “Joe's Men's Women's & Children's Wear.”
To help end the disorder, Republican Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and elements of the 1st Cavalry Division. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the U.S. Civil War, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Grudzinski also went past two soldiers standing on guard at a checkpoint behind concertina wire on the streets of Detroit. Also evident are stores and businesses that display the hastily marked words, “Soul bros.” These properties, being owned by black Americans, were spared by the rioters.
History records that rioting began that hot summer after police raided an unlicensed after-hours "blind-pig" bar, north of 12th Street, which is now known as Rosa Parks Boulevard (named in honor of the Civil Rights-era notable) and Clairmount Avenue on the west side of the city. The butcher’s bill after almost a week of wilding, burning, and sporadic gunfire, was 43 known dead, 1,189 injured. In addition, there were 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.
Detroit enacted a citywide curfew and prohibited sales of alcohol and firearms, while business activity was informally curtailed in recognition of the serious civil unrest in sections of the city. Several other communities also enacted curfews. Approximately 70 miles away in Flint, Mayor Floyd McCree -- the first black man elected to the mayoralty of a major American city -- was credited with quelling passions in his city and thus prevented copy-cat rioting. In Detroit, because there was significant white participation in the rioting and looting, questions have been raised to whether or not the incident can be defined as fitting the race riot category.
No information was offered concerning the citizen journalist Grudzinski who documented the damage done to Detroit. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of what the opening slide of the WSU video calls “the 1967 Detroit uprising.” The university is asking for citizens to share any home movies or photographs from the time of the riots.
John Boyega -- who starred in the latest "Star Wars" film. In addition to getting ready to act in another Star Wars epic, he announced that he will appear in a Hollywood treatment of the 1967 Detroit riots. He tweeted the news last week, announcing that he will work under director Kathryn Bigelow. So far, the movie is untitled but will reportedly feature an ensemble cast. He used the hashtag #12thstreet on Twitter, a tribute to the place where it all happened in real life. Bigelow's latest film was 2012's Zero Dark Thirty. The release date is expected to come sometime in 2017.
Below is a contemporary television documentary of the riots.