Black women arrested during the Detroit uprising board a bus at the Wayne County Jail on July 28, 1967. (AP Photo)

History of Racial Injustice: Detroit Uprising

In 1968, African Americans in New York, Chicago, and other cities revolted after the April 4 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Within the previous year, grievances related to police brutality and systematic exclusion from economic opportunity had already resulted in major uprisings in places like Newark, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Boston.

The largest rebellion of 1967 occurred on July 23-27 in Detroit. After police raided an after-hours club, looting and fires broke out, and multiple law enforcement and military agencies were deployed. On July 26, police and National Guardsmen raided the Algiers Motel looking for an alleged sniper. They found not a single gun on the premises, but instead tortured the black men and white women they found there together and killed three black teenagers, shooting two of them with shotguns at point-blank range. Despite two officers’ confessions, no one was ever convicted for their deaths. By the rebellion’s end, 33 African American and 10 white people had been killed, most at the hands of law enforcement.

Urban rebellions were widely dismissed as senseless “riots,” but many people today recount them as uprisings against oppressive and discriminatory practices that subjected black residents to violence and inequality. “You see, you can only hold a person down for so long. After a while, they’re going to get tired. And that’s what happened,” explained Frank Thomas, who was 23 years old during the Detroit rebellion. “Basically, we wanted to be a part of the city of Detroit instead of being second-class citizens.”