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Semicentennial glance

A look at some of the best recent works docmenting the Detroit Riot of 1967

With an event that altered both Michigan and the nation’s landscape as deeply as the Detroit riots did, numerous new books exist on the topic, highlighting its semicentennial anniversary.

Some of the most noteworthy include “Detroit 1967,” published by Wayne State Press and edited by Joel Stone; “The Fifty-Year Rebellion” by Scott Kurashige; and “The Intersection” by Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. The Michigan History Magazine, a part of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, also has a worthwhile piece.

Each of these pieces investigates some aspect of the riots. “Detroit 1967” takes an especially thorough look back at America’s racial history, from the history of colonial slavery along the Detroit River to the events that led to the Detroit riots. “The Fifty-Year Rebellion” takes a more political view, linking current practices and events to the precedent set by politicians in late 1960s Detroit.

Bridge Magazine’s piece is for those interested in introspection; its full title is “The Intersection: What Detroit has gained and lost, 50 years after the uprisings of 1967.” It covers the riots from a journalistic perspective, compiled by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

However, for those interested in capturing a glimpse of the events from a perspective directly tied to the events, there are several previously published books worth returning to: the seminal 1968 “Algiers Motel Incident” by John Hersey; the 1999 “The Origins of the Urban Crisis” by notable author and professor Thomas Sugrue; “Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts and the Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide,” by Joe Darden and Richard Thomas, and “Violence in the Model City” by Sidney Fine. The last two books were published by the MSU Press.

Pulitzer Prize winner Heather Ann Thompson’s book, “Whose Detroit? Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City” and Hubert G. Locke’s “The Detroit Riot of 1967,” originally published in 1969 and recently re-released by Wayne State Press, are worth highlighting.

Hersey’s book is especially notable since it was the first to look at the Algiers Motel Incident. Evidence three African Americans were executed on the Wednesday of riot week. Yet during the riot, the murders at the Algiers Motel received a one-sentence mention in news accounts. An even more controversial portion of the incident, is the 1969 trial of a policeman accused of killing one of the victims.

His trial underwent a change of venue to Mason, Michigan, where an all-white jury found him innocent. In a related federal civil rights trial held in Flint, Michigan, another all-white jury found the participants of the incident to be innocent. The Mason trial was delayed six months due to the publication of Hersey’s book.

On August 4, the movie “Detroit” will premiere in the city. The movie by Academy Award winning director (“Hurt Locker”) Kathryn Bigelow will revisit the Detroit riot focusing on the killings at the Algiers Motel. If the trailers are any indication, the movie will be an intense replay of the disturbing events.

Also, both the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum have upcoming exhibits on the 1967 riot.

Bill Castanier is the president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.


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