Detroit's riots destroyed the city's music scene and its black middle class
DETROIT--"A roar went up in the city of Detroit," says Martha Reeves, recalling the late afternoon of July 23, 1967, when she and the Vandellas were getting ready to sing "Jimmy Mack" at the Fox Theatre. Though the song was already a national hit, they hadn't yet performed it live in their hometown. "I never heard a roar like that before and hope never to hear it again."
It was the sound of a riot, one that began 40 years ago next week and would become one of the largest and costliest in the nation's history. The riot's immediate spark had been a rough police raid on an illegal drinking and gambling establishment. The deeper causes included decades of police abuse and discriminatory labor practices.
The burning and looting would wipe out most of the commercial streets in black neighborhoods and badly damage many of the residential areas. Over 2,000 buildings caught fire, 43 people died, over 450 were injured and some 7,500 were arrested. Businesses and houses were simply abandoned, plunging the city into a four-decade economic decline.