Not a riot, not a rebellion, Detroit’s 1967 uprising gets an historical marker at Gordon Park

Last Updated by Bill Kubota on

Bill Kubota, Detroit Public Television’s One Detroit and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative

12th Street soldier on guard DHS.jpgA soldier stands guard on 12th Street near Gordon Park in July 1967 (Detroit Historical Society) July 20, 2017 - Last month, Gordon Park on Detroit’s west side hosted a ribbon-cutting with the upgrade of new playground equipment and facilities.

This weekend Gordon Park will get its own state historical marker acknowledging its location at the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Clairmount Avenue was ground zero fifty years ago, the spot where the Detroit uprising started.

The curatorial team at the Detroit Historical Society authored the text on the marker, working with Michigan Historical Designation board on the wording.

“When we were writing it, we didn’t want to sugarcoat it,” Detroit Historical Society Executive Director Bob Bury said, “on the other hand there’s no word ‘riot’ in there, there’s no word ‘rebellion’ in there.”

The marker uses the term ‘civil unrest’, citing the findings of the Presidential commission “that although the specific episodes of violence were spontaneous, they were in response to poverty, segregation, racism, unemployment, ‘frustrations of powerlessness’ and police actions that enforced a double standard for how people of different races were treated.”  

 What term should be used in describing what happened in 1967?

 With so many perspectives, you make your own decision, according to Bury.

Gordon Park marker revealed.JPGThe Detroit Historical Society gives a sneak preview of the marker to be erected at Gordon Park (Bill Kubota)

The two-sided marker reads, in its entirety:

Detroit July 1967
In July 1967 the civil unrest that had been spreading across the United States reached Detroit.
In the early morning hours of July 23, Detroit police officers raided a blind pig, an illegal after-hours bar, where patrons were celebrating the return of Vietnam War servicemen.
Located at Clairmount Avenue and Twelfth Street (later Rosa Parks Boulevard), the bar was within a mostly African-American business district that had an active nightlife.
While the police arrested all eighty-five people inside, a crowd formed outside.
Reacting to the arrests, a few people threw rocks and bottles at the police. .
By eight a.m., the crowd had grown to an estimated 3,000 people, and arson and looting were underway.
Mayor Jerome Cavanagh and Governor George Romney agreed to deploy the Michigan National Guard that afternoon.
Federal Army troops joined the guard two days later.
Detroit’s civil unrest on Twelfth Street continued for four days until July 27, 1967.
More than 1,600 buildings were destroyed as fires spread from the business district to nearby residences.
Property damage was estimated to be $132 million. Around 7,200 people were arrested, hundreds were injured and forty-three people died, including bystanders, looters, a fireman and a National Guardsman.
In response to the conflicts in Detroit and throughout the country, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the violence.
It concluded that although the specific episodes of violence were spontaneous, they were in response to poverty, segregation, racism, unemployment, “frustrations of powerlessness” and police actions that enforced a double standard for how people of different races were treated.

The marker arrives just in time for a series of 50th anniversary commemoration events scheduled for July 21-23rd at Gordon Park organized by a local community group, Brothers Always Together, along with the Detroit Historical Society.

S1-1 Gordon Park sign.JPGAn upgraded Gordon Park at Rosa Parks Boulevard and Clairmount Avenue, Detroit (Bill Kubota)

The transformation of Gordon Park can be seen in this story produced by Detroit Public Television last month and will air on a special American Black Journal Roadshow Sunday July 23rd at 9:30a recorded recently at the Joseph Walker Williams Center just south of Clairmount Avenue on Rosa Parks Boulevard.

One Detroit - Four million people. One story.

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