Logo Click BACK to return to Basecamp
Lost Teachers
Search Info
White beveled edge

Nick Dispatch

Meet Nick

Nick Archive

Cool Links
Daphne's Ku Klux Klan dispatch

Learn more about the race riots in Detroit

Extra, Extra! Read all about it! Riots in Detroit!



Ruckus and Rioting on the Streets of Detroit

A car tipped over and burning on Woodward Street
As the soldier marched through rough terrain - sick, tired and hungry - he thought of his home and how much he wanted to be there. He couldn't wait to get back and spend time with his wife. The reality was, though, that he wouldn't see home for a long, long time, and that when he did, it would be a lot different than he remembered. Far-away Detroit, his hometown, was now a battleground itself and on the verge of all-out war.


Nothing cozier than an '89 Honda

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.

Nick on Woodward Street, the street of racial divide in Detroit
But Detroit was incredibly overcrowded. The plants provided jobs but not housing, and there was no place for all of the newcomers to live. Houses were few and far between, and apartments that became available weren't available for very long.Many people lived in little shacks, some with other families. The "arsenal of democracy" was now the overcrowded arsenal of democracy.

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.

In an effort to solve the housing problem, Detroit decided to build a development called the Sojourner Truth Project. In December 1942, the housing commission decided that the site would be for whites only, but when another site for blacks couldn't be found, it agreed to allow blacks into the development. One night three months later, burning a cross in a field near the new homes, 150 angry whites picketed the development, vowing to keep out black homeowners. By the next morning, the crowd had swelled to about 1,200 people, many of whom were armed.

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.

A mob of rioters on Woodward Street
But there were tens of thousands of blacks living in unsanitary conditions. They lobbied - along with union leaders and some whites - for the right to live in the Sojourner Truth homes. Eventually, blacks were allowed to move in - with state troopers and Detroit police on hand to make sure the transition was safe. This second move took place without violence.

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.

 A street car that was set on fire
On the other side of town, another rumor was started, virtually at the same time. Supposedly, blacks has raped and murdered a white woman on Belle Isle. Whites also gathered in a huge mob, and headed toward the black part of town. Woodward Street divided Detroit, and would be the point where the two mobs clashed.

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.

This is what Detroit looked like after the riots
The 1943 Detroit riot was a tragedy for everyone involved, but it seemed that once again African Americans got the short end of the stick. The result was 36 hours of rioting and 34 deaths, 25 of them black and nine of them white. More than 1,800 people were arrested for looting and participating in the riots, most of them black. Thirteen murders remain unsolved. The race riot in Detroit was one of the many struggles that the African American community has had to endure. It has come a long way from slavery, but the struggle continues.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephen - The sweet solace of a farm in war time
Nick - When you must survive, you will find a way
Becky - Suit up! It's time for Zooting in Los Angeles
Irene - You are a U.S. citizen but we will still put you in a concentration camp
Daphne - Saving the world is a full time job
Becky - The making of the world's largest vaporizer: The Bomb
Stephen - What did the war mean to the fighters?
Team - Why wouldn't you help, if you could?