Twenty years after some of the worst riots in United States history, a look at how Detroit, Michigan has revitalized itself.
Detroit: 20 Years After the Riots
CHRIS WALLACE, Anchor:
It was 20 years ago tonight, when Detroit Police raided the Blind Pig Bar, an after hours illegal drinking pub on the city’s west side. Rumors of police violence spread quickly, and so did street violence, sniping, and looting. Detroit went to war with itself for the next five days. And today, the city still struggles to regain its prosperity and its peace. NBC’s Jim Cummins reports.
JIM CUMMINS, Reporting:
It was one of the worst big city riots of the ‘60’s. In only five days 43 people were killed. Seven hundred fires were set, 2500 stores were looted, 7,000 people were arrested. Then Governor George Romney called out the National Guard.
GEORGE ROMNEY (former governor): When I flew over Detroit Sunday afternoon there were massive fires, sort of like a battlefield.
CUMMINS: the riot was sparked by tension between black residents and white cops. It was bred by poverty, hopelessness, and despair. Today there are glittering new buildings along the riverfront. City leaders say a renaissance is under way. But many of the places where the rioting occurred 20 years ago are still run down and abandoned.
Booker Williams, a retired rubber worker in this west side neighborhood where the riot began, says that the violence has never ended.
BOOKER WILLIAMS: you can’t go out in the street and walk down the street like you used to and be freely, you got to have a stick or something when you go out there.
CUMMINS: among big cities last year, Detroit had the highest murder rate and the highest unemployment rate. White people have left this city in record numbers. Experts say many of the black people who remain are worse off now than before the riots in 1967. And yet nobody expects a repeat of those uprisings.
Because now the city has a black mayor. Black policemen are patrolling the neighborhoods. And people like Michael Patterson, a successful lawyer, are buying homes in Detroit, and planning to stay here.
MICHAEL PATTERSON: The city of Detroit can handle the white exodus, and they can handle, to a degree, a loss of businesses going out to the suburbs. But once the black middle class goes, that’s it.
CUMMINS: John Nash and Mike Pruitt, a couple of college graduates have returned to their neighborhood that was destroyed by fire 20 years ago to open a clothing store.
JOHN NASH: the people I meet through the store here, and just being in the area, I’m very optimistic.
MIKE PRUITT: I’ve watched this community grow. I’ve seen it at its worst peak, and we’re growing up now.
Pruitt and Nash were helped by the reverend Robert Smith and members of his New Bethel Baptist Church congregation who are buying real estate in the neighborhood. So far they’ve torn down two dozen abandoned buildings that were havens for dope dealers and prostitutes. Now they are urging other legitimate businesses to move back in.
SMITH: If we can believe that things are gonna get better, if we can believe there’s a brighter day, that’s a, that’s a cause for not rioting, that’s a call for not going to the extreme, we can believe in the system.
CUMMINS: Last night, members of the choir in Reverend Smith’s church rehearsed for a recording they plan to make soon with Aretha Franklin. Some of the profits will be used to further restore the neighborhood and erase the scars of some of the worst urban riots in the nation’s history. Jim Cummins, NBC News, Detroit.
In every town there’s an old abandoned house or two, a forlorn-looking former residence with broken windows, an old linen curtain blowing in the wind, a roof in need of patching. Have you walked or driven past a rundown, empty house and wondered about the lives once lived inside it?