AP Was There: The 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots
By The Associated Press
Jul. 16, 2017
Gun battles raged in Detroit's streets. Snipers clashed with National Guardsmen and police. Many residents huddled for safety in their homes, while others — both black and white — looted businesses. Many of the businesses were then set ablaze.
The riots engulfed the city beginning July 23, 1967, and continued for five days — one of many to hit the U.S. that summer. The violence prompted President Lyndon Johnson to send in federal troops to quell the upheaval.
Forty-three people — 33 blacks and 10 whites — were killed. More than 7,000 people were arrested. Over 1,400 buildings were burned. Fifty years later, Detroit is still recovering.
On the anniversary, The Associated Press offers excerpts of its coverage from those tumultuous days. Some of the dispatches have been edited to correct typos.
The trouble began before dawn Sunday after police raided a Negro nightspot in a predominantly Negro neighborhood and arrested 73 persons. Sixty-one were later released.
Police said the nightclub was selling liquor illegally.
Negroes in the neighborhood claimed police kicked a hand-cuffed teen-aged Negro down two flights of tenement steps in making the arrest.
Some 200 Negroes milled about in a three-block area near where the raid was made and began pelting police with stones and bottles.
Rioters set fire to a shoe store and looted about a dozen other stores in the area, most of them owned by whites.
Fires flared anew Monday, as the nation's fifth largest city reeled under the second consecutive day of rioting, plundering and killing.
By midafternoon, at least four new fires had been set on the fringe of downtown Detroit. One collapsed the roof of a supermarket, which had been looted throughout the night.
As firemen struggled to control flames two stories high, an integrated crowd of looters continued to pillage a five- and ten-cent store across the street.
"Ooh, golly, look at what that man is bringing out," shouted a small Negro boy as a white man passed by carrying a hobby horse just taken from the store.
Groups of young girls — Negro and white — streamed from the stores dodging firemen as they struggled to carry pairs of shoes, dresses, pole lamps and boxes upon boxes of sweaters and blouses.
The only law enforcement in sight was a single national guardsman standing by nearby fire trucks.
"Why don't you stop them?" he was asked.
"Would you?" he countered, gesturing toward several muscular white men wearing beards and dressed in tight pants, colorful shirts and sun glasses, much like hippies, as they carried off armloads of loot.
"My orders are to watch the engines," the Guardsman added. "I don't like it any more than you do."
The Negroes who live near 12th Street hate what their own people have done to the neighborhood, but they hate the police even more.
They blame the police for showing up too late with too little, dealing brutally with those arrested and failing to help the sick and wounded.
But when a group of them gathered Monday at the corner of 12th and Taylor, one block from the illegal after-hours saloon where a Sunday morning raid touched off mass violence, they spoke of the looting and store-smashing with revulsion.
Johnny La Duece, 26, said it reminded him of Vietnam, where he served with an Air Force rescue team until seven months ago.
"We'd go to the small villages that had been bombed," he said. "People would go through the garbage looking for food. This reminds me of that — and it's sickening."
Shouting whites as well as Negroes ravaged one integrated Detroit neighborhood, residents said Monday, looting and burning to the ground furniture warehouses and homes.
"This wasn't no Negro riot," said a Negro woman who lived two doors down from a blackened front wall, all that remains of a three-story brick warehouse on 14th St., just south of one of the heaviest damage areas along Grand River Avenue. "It's an all of 'em riot. They're putting it on one side but it's both sides."
Earlier, a newsman observed white looters emerging from the shattered windows of supermarkets and grocery stories on Third St., cradling loads of beer and whiskey bottles in their arms.
"There were almost as many whites as Negroes," said Mrs. Theresee King, a white woman who watched all evening from her front yard across the street (from where) the warehouse was turned into a pile of rubble.
"They were laughin', talking, having a good time. It seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves."
Crack Army paratroopers rolled into this beleaguered city Monday night to help police and National Guardsmen quash two days and two nights of wild rioting.
At least three police precincts in widely separated sections of the city were besieged by snipers as the toll of dead rose to 17.
A fireman, shot down by a sniper, and a civilian were the latest to die.
(President) Johnson, appearing before a national television audience, said he made the decision to send the troops from their stations outside the city "with the greatest regret and only because of clear, unmistakable and undisputed evidence."
He said that the federal government intervenes only in "extraordinary circumstances."
National Guard tanks clattered along the expressway in the darkness and police cars, their lights out, sped at 70 and 80 miles an hour toward areas of heavy sniper fire.
Streets in the riot area were deserted except for small pockets of people near the sniper zones.
Women screamed from apartments at each volley of gunfire.
As the battles intensified Guardsmen opened fire with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on armored personnel carriers. A raging gunfight blazed within a mile of the affluent Grosse Pointes several miles east of the main trouble center.
Associated Press Photographer Eddie Adams, a veteran of front line photography in Vietnam, saw two Guardsmen shot down in a 1 ½-hour exchange of sporadic gunfire at one intersection.
"We were pinned down," he said. "Then the Guardsmen pulled out, so I got out of there. Their radio told them: 'Shoot anything that moves.'"