On this dayJul 27, 1967

Detroit Uprising Ends, Leaving Over 40 People Dead, Most at the Hands of Law Enforcement

Declan Haun, The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images

On July 27, 1967, a multi-day uprising of violent clashes between police and Black residents in Detroit ended. The conflict, which began on July 23, was the largest of the year and foreshadowed the violent unrest in cities across the nation the following year. At the conclusion of this conflict, dozens of people had been killed by law enforcement.

Beginning during World War I and continuing through the end of the 1960s, racial terror lynchings in the South fueled a massive exodus of African Americans from Southern states into urban ghettos in the North and West. In a brutal environment of racial subordination and terror, close to six million Black Americans fled the South’s racial caste system between 1910 and 1970. In 1910, Detroit’s population was 1.2% Black; by 1970, that number had risen to 43.7%.

After several years of postwar migration had increased Black populations in Northern cities, pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education, and housing resulted in the continuing exclusion of Black people from the benefits of economic progress. Police brutality was rampant in Black communities, and law enforcement was rarely, if ever, held accountable. In the summer of 1967, these issues culminated in a series of uprisings across several major Northern cities.

The Detroit rebellion began after police raided an after-hours club. Looting and fires broke out, and multiple law enforcement 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.”

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