Detroit made weapons and all kinds of equipment for the war. It was the No. 1 producer of army goods in the United States, and because of that was nicknamed "the arsenal of democracy." What do you need to make all those weapons? You need workers, and Detroit had plenty of them. In the years leading up to the war, recruiting agents from Detroit's steel plants had gone down South in search of hardworking people eager for jobs. The agents promised good pay and a comfortable life in the growing city of Detroit.
Both blacks and whites were recruited to come to Detroit: word of the "promised land" spread throughout the South and great numbers of people moved northward. Between 1933 and 1943, the number of African Americans in Detroit doubled to 200,000. With almost everyone working, the city's unemployment problems were long gone.
As the population and the housing problem grew, so did racial tensions. The Ku Klux Klan had monitored the migration northward, and in the steel plants it was obvious that tensions between whites and blacks were growing. Any job given to a black was considered a stolen job by whites. On one occasion, 25,000 workers in a Packard plant, which produced engines for bombers and PT boats, stopped work to protest the promotion of three blacks. On the streets, fights between whites and blacks were simply a part of life. Racial tensions were so high that they were simply impossible to get away from. It was like waiting for a bomb to go off, the fuse growing shorter and shorter.
The situation grew closer and closer to becoming violent. Fighting broke out when two blacks tried to drive through the picket line, and skirmishes between whites and blacks lasted into the evening. Mounted police eventually stopped the fighting that night, but didn't and couldn't come close to ending the huge tensions between the white and black communities.
In June 1943, two black men went to Belle Island to meet two whites. They had differences to settle and they were going to settle them there. Little did they know, the whites had brought a few friends. Cars entered the island by the dozens. Knowing there was something going on, blacks also flocked to the island. The police began to search cars entering the island, but only those driven by blacks. Eventually, an all-out brawl broke out, involving 200 people.
The fighting was broken up two hours later, but the angry energy - and rumors - were flowing. After the fight, a large group of blacks gathered near the Forest Social Club. Two young men told the crowd that whites had thrown a black women and her baby off the Belle Island Bridge. Five hundred angry blacks took to the streets, breaking windows and looting stores.
On Woodward Street, whites overturned several cars owned by blacks. Cars and vehicles of public transportation were set on fire, and innocent bystanders - both black and white - were beaten and shot while running away. Detroit was in the midst of all-out war.
The Mayor called for military assistance, and federal troops moved in to defuse the situation. Armored cars and Jeeps with automatic weapons rolled down Woodward Street, and by morning the mobs dissipated and the riots came to an end.
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Stephen - The sweet solace of a farm in war time