More than 40 years after the Detroit Riots, the city is still rebuilding. Panelists discuss the progress that has been made and what still needs to be accomplished as the NBC Learn Town Hall series "Finishing the Dream" continues in Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit 40 Years After The Riots: What's Changed?
CARMEN HARLAN, Moderator:
A culmination of many factors, including a fear of police brutality, poor housing, economic inequality and black militancy added to the racial tension that finally erupted in 1967 in five days of rioting. This piece done in 1987 -- twenty years after the riots shows the efforts to rebuild a heart-broken city.
JIM CUMMINS, reporter [IN CLIP]:
It was one of the worst big city riots of the sixties. In only five day forty-three people were killed, seven hundred fires were set; twenty-five hundreds stores were looted. Seven thousand people were arrested. Then Governor George Romney called out the National Guard.
George Romney, former Governor of Michigan [IN CLIP]: When I flew over Detroit Sunday afternoon I saw the massive fire that was like a battlefield.
CUMMINS [IN CLIP]: 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 underway.
But many of the places of when the rioting occurred twenty- years ago are still run-down and abandoned. Among big cites 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 then they were before the riots in 1967 and yet nobody expects a repeat of those uprisings. Because now the city has 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 [IN CLIP]: Detroit can handle the white exodus and it can handle, to a degree, the loss of businesses going out to the suburbs. But once the black middle class goes, that’s it.
CUMMINS [IN CLIP]: John Nash and Mike Pruitt, a couple of young college graduates, have returned to their neighborhood that was destroyed by fire twenty years ago to open a clothing store. 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.
PASTOR ROBERT SMITH [IN CLIP]: If we can believe that things are going to get better, if we can believe there’s a brighter day that’s--that’s a cause for not rioting, that’s a cause for not going to the extreme. We can believe in the system.
HARLAN: Pastor Smith I’m not going to ask you where you got the red outfit from. But we heard you. That piece was done twenty year ago. And here we are more than forty years after the riots. The city is still trying to rebuild. You said it then, do you still believe that the brighter days are ahead for the city of Detroit?
REVEREND ROBERT SMITH, PASTOR NEW BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH: There’s a famous saying “keep hope alive,” but it’s actually hope that keeps you alive. I think if I didn’t believe that I too would have abandoned the city. But I believe because I have friends like the friends on the panel, Dan has been my church matter of fact sat in my pulpit. So, with that kind of reaction with that kind of interaction I think that there’s still hope and there’s going to be a better Detroit in the very near future.
HARLAN: I’m curious, I heard one of the people in the piece say that Detroit can handle everything. It can handle Whites moving out of the city, it can handle businesses moving out of the city, what it can’t handle is the black middle class moving out of the city. And I believe that many members of the black middle-class have actually moved out of the city of Detroit.
CAROL GOSS, PRESIDENT & CEO THE SKILLMAN FOUNDATION: Well I--I agree I--I mean I live in the city and I love living in this city, I love living downtown but I think that a-- a healthy city does need a robust middle class that lives, works, shops and does everything in the city as well. So Detroit has to-- to really have the things that attract young people back and the middle-class population. So we need restaurants, we need lofts, we need the clubs, we need all those things that people like to do and I think before the economic meltdown of two years ago I actually believe that we were on a trajectory to-- to really create some change. And I also believe that we are a resilient city we--we cannot not ever give up hope.
HASSAN JABER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACCESS: We also have to change this saying of we can handle this group leaving the city and that group leaving the city. I think we need to say that everyone needs to come back to the city. We need Detroit; we need a buyable strong core city. We are going to have to change the thinking into “let’s get back here.”
KARY MOSS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU MICHIGAN: I was just going to say there are two things that haven’t been mentioned yet that I just wanted to throw out. One is the need for regional transportation. We have to make our city bigger and easier. We-- we need to make it easy for—and as is true in every other suburban-urban area, just to move around come and use the clubs and, you know, the stores and all of the--the great businesses that I think have been emerging in Detroit in just the last five years. The other thing I want to emphasize is the important of voting and getting out and making sure that the people who run the city are really good, are the best, at doing what they do. And I think too long people have been willing to settle for mediocrity.
DR. DANIEL KRICHBAUM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS: And I think we shouldn’t forget that not everybody is moving out. I mean we definitely need a strong African-American middle class but I bet that new census will show that we have more Latinos in Detroit. I bet it shows that we have more Arab-Americans. They are looking at their self-interest or they wouldn’t be coming and moving into Detroit. And if we market it right and, you know, change the way we frame things I think Detroit will survive.
SHIRLEY STANCATO, PRESIDENT & CEO NEW DETROIT, INC: I--I--I think that we need--we need businesses, we need young people, we need people of all races and-- and backgrounds to be in Detroit so I agree with Dan and-- and what others have said up here. One of the reasons I think people don’t get involved--there really two reasons, that’s fear and trust. We don’t know each other so we fear each other and we don’t trust each other. We have to be open to new ideas, that comes from young people and open to doing-- to doing new things and that means all kinds of folks we got coming to the city.
HARLAN: Where are those ideas going to come from? I mean, certainly a conversation dialogue like this gets it started but in a couple of weeks if we don’t keep it going--how do you keep this momentum going so that we can break down some of these barriers?
STANCATO: One person can do it. Young people you can do it at--at the university at lunch. It doesn't have to be anything extravagant. It could be, you know, as I said let’s go to lunch with somebody who doesn’t look like you.
HARLAN: All right Shirley thank you for that.
Two years ago, Hamissi Mamba was living in Burundi. He came to Detroit, Michigan, as a refugee and joined his wife and young twin daughters who were already living in the United States — moving to a new country, navigating a new culture, mastering a new language.
Civil rights Movement, Detroit, Michigan, Henry Ford Museum, WDIV, Carmen Harlan, Carol Goss, Kary Moss, Robert Smith, Shirley Stancato, Hassan Jaber, Dr. Daniel Krichbaum, Detroit Riots, Rioting, Rebuild, Rebuilt, Poverty, Suburbs, New Bethel Baptist Church, Revitalization, Middle Class, Latino, Arab American