One man's philosophy is another man's bellylaugh.

Jeff L. Howe

Jeff L. Howe
Location
Strasburg, Pennsylvania,
Birthday
April 19
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Visit the website: jeff-howe.net
Bio
Jeff Howe is a bonsai enthusiast and harmonica player who has very good reason to believe that the Universe tastes like a cheap buck-fifty melon. He is a product of Walled Lake and a former Poetry Slam Champion of Milwaukee. He once shook hands with Rocky Colavito, opened for Leon Redbone and took a piss next to Mose Allison (no hands were shaken). All things considered, his best single day was July 4th, 1987 when he marched in the Marmarth, North Dakota parade in the morning, discovered a rare dinosaur skull in the afternoon, and then sat in playing harmonica with a drunken cowboy band until way past tomorrow. It's been downhill ever since. Jeff is a misemployed geologist who specializes in interpreting rock outcrops at 70 miles per hour. It's a gift. His daughter loves cows. ................................................................................................................... FOR MORE STORIES, PHOTOS AND HARMONICA RECORDINGS VISIT: jeff-howe.net

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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 5, 2011 9:43AM

The 1967 Detroit Riots From A Rooftop In Walled Lake

Rate: 13 Flag

 DetroitRiots1967a

(Note:  Last week marked the 44th anniversary of rioting in Detroit so severe that the effects there are still being felt.  This is an account from the rural suburbs.)

The night sky to the southeast glowed a smoldering orange the color of embers, and from the roof of a neighbor’s house, the glow bounced off low clouds causing the reflection of flames to dance like the Northern Lights.  The night air was thick and stagnant and smelled like a garbage fire suddenly doused with water.  It was the summer of ‘67 and Detroit was burning.

And we were over forty miles away.

It had started in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, outside a bar in the black section of Detroit.  It spread rapidly, both on the street and in the news.  But for the first 48 hours it remained a stubborn but distant “city problem”.  It had nothing to do with us.  It was simply a disturbing set of images in the newspaper and on the evening news.

But by the third night it began to escalate to new levels of destruction.  We were shocked as we watched on TV: row after row, block after block of homes being destroyed.  It didn’t make sense - black people seemed to be killing and destroying their own.  The police forces were being overrun, the National Guard was called in, the President became involved.  There seemed to be no end to it. In the suburbs, white families were becoming uneasy.

•     •     • 

At the height of the rioting, on the third or fourth night, I was hanging out at a little local miniature golf course/pizza joint with some friends when a car came tearing into the gravel parking lot with lights flashing and horn blaring.  The owner of the car pulled to a stop and ran into the snack shop screaming something terrifying and unintelligible.  Moments later the owner's voice came over the loudspeaker informing us that “the niggers are burning their way out Northwestern Highway and are heading for Walled Lake!”  The golf course was closing, he ordered, and he shut down the lights.

 DetRiiotsb

What followed was one of the strangest nights I’ve ever experienced.  Word spread like wildfire – by phone and word of mouth - and by the time I got home, fathers were shouldering the family shotguns and climbing to the rooftops to defend their homes and their families from the hoards of savages advancing from the city like an army of ants.

Battle plans were devised, ammo was gathered from gun lockers and closet shelves, units were deployed in station wagons and pick-up trucks, and daughters were locked in basements.  All night long I laid awake in bed to the sounds of angry, frightened voices, squealing tires and occasional gunshots from outside my window.  And when morning came, it revealed a small battalion of fathers and older brothers on the roof tops of our neighborhood, lying in wait for whatever came next.

Well, of course nothing came next.  Although the riots lasted for five days and caused the destruction of entire sections of downtown Detroit, it never came even remotely close to Walled Lake.  It turns out that what DID happen was that someone robbed a hardware store out on Haggarty Road, hoping to go unnoticed in the melee.  A single, isolated robbery fifteen miles away caused a rumor that had spread faster than a shock wave out through the obviously nervous and terrified suburbs.  

It was anger, fear and misinformation that created the environment for the riots to begin in the first place. It was anger, fear and misinformation that caused them to spread. And it was anger, fear and misinformation that fanned them through the suburbs like a wildfire traveling at the speed of a rumor.

And it produced a night exactly like the one that many of the fathers in our neighborhood – mostly World War II veterans - had been preparing for all their lives.  Damn the ideals, families were at stake.  At least that's what it seemed like to a sixteen year-old. That’s how thick the night air was during that week in the summer of ’67 when Detroit was burning.

 

Photos Detroit News

© Jeff L. Howe, 2011, all rights 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have no interest in refighting these battles. I'm only trying to point out the irrational fears that existed throughout the community.
It is well to remind us of the harm that anger, fear and misinformation can do. We see some here crying of a falling sky over recent political-economic moves. Keeping our cool might just be the best answer to such alarmist rants.

ᴼᴥƪ

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Well said. Misunderstandings make bad events worse. But we continue to have these same problems -- not the violent long-lasting riots, but crime with guns that kills at least one person a day in my city. Yes, it's drug crime. Would making drugs legal reduce the killing?
a well-deserved EP, Jeff, and never, I fear, old news
i was there. the neighboorhood i grew up in was badly burned, the A&P where I worked on Hamilton and Calvert burnt to the ground. A recent study showed Detroit is still one of the most segregated cities in the US.

I moved to NYC but something happened there much different, though the living conditions were much worse than Detroit. (Those were nice neighborhoods, hardly the ghettos of NYC) Whenever tensions rose, Mayor John Lindsey, and his staff, immediately drove to the area and walked the streets talking to the residents with the police in tow letting it be known the civil authorities were in charge, and the cops friendly.

The people listened. Of all the major cities, NYC, which was by far the most congested, diversified, and impoverished, DID NOT HAVE RIOTS.

Now please. Think about that. Why does Detroit especially, where people live in houses who own cars and work in factories and enjoy a higher standard of living burn, and New York not?

Was it perhaps leadership? Did it have something to do perhaps with the segregation in Detroit? Did it have something to do, perhaps, with the attitudes and mores of the local populations? Religion? Community spirit? Frank Sinatra songs? The violence inherent in Detroit rather than NY?

You tell me. I've only thought about it all of my life and still not come up with answers, certainly not easy one, though I have written a book about it based on the lives of Detroiters that nobody will buy because it isn't nice, and it looks at the price the city had to pay for not confronting racism before it got out of control.

Isn't there a lesson here? Forgive if I am intrusive and wrong. Maybe we should do what Detroit did--and forget about it.
Great writing, Great Post and EP deserved~~I'll bet if it was as hot then as it is now, then that played a factor.
skypixeo: Keeping our cool is always a good call.

Lois: Drugs are a crime because we make them a crime.

Sarah: Thanks.

Ben: I have no answers.

scanner: As I recall, it was very hot...
It's odd. You never know how a post is going to do. Some are toss-offs that do well, others are one's with high hopes that do poorly. Last week I had an example of the former, this one is the latter. I really thought this post would do well... but despite an EP it performed very poorly. Obviously no one is interested in a 44 year-old battle in an unattractive section of a much maligned town. Live and learn. (I guess this is an example of 'stick to what you do well'.)

Moving on.
First, excellent post, well deserved EP, and I'm glad you posted it, even if it didn't get the reception you expected, Jeff. (I can't count how many times mine don't get the reception I expected . . . ) My own feeling is that "stick to what you do well" is good advice, as long as you count this in that category. Because it's well done. "Well done" and "big response" are not the same thing at all.

Now to the post: I lived in that city, East Side. My mother took the bus to work downtown through some of the outlying sections that were burned. Tell you the truth, I don't remember being frightened at the time, but I sure was sad. And perplexed. Your vivid story of those nights in what should have been a sleepy town out of range of any trouble is fascinating.
Pilgrim: your points are all well-taken, very true. Thanks. And although I can't help but feel more than just a little disappointed that more people didn't see it, there was a genuine satisfaction in doing a prideful piece of work in 24 hours just because something I recently read provoked this memory. I understand, it's part of the game, and honestly, I feel I'm just a little bit better at the game for having written it.
As a boy, I was always awed by the idea that it pretty much burned up to the corner of Tiger Stadium and went no further - like a divine Detroit Tiger moment. It was a miracle, like Jeezus in the toaster.
Laughing: Ah, Tiger Stadium... Briggs Stadium before that. It was like watching a ball game in the hollowed out hull of a WWI battleship. Last time I was there was around 1979, haven't seen the new stadium yet. My era: Kaline, Colavito, Cash, Don "Ears" Mossi and Chico Fernandez.
Jeff,
Fine piece.
Detroit has certainly been a vortex of American identity through the years. Two previous race riots in 1943 and 1863. Detroit a symbol of , well, automotivity. “How is Detroit doing,” I hear once in awhile. Everyone knows how to answer that question, according to the present state of their most obvious contribution to the material culture.


Here, in this post, you remind us that Detroit is more than this.

r
Interesting read! Thanks for sharing.
Hi there. Pardon me. I'm just passing through, giving the feed a little noodge before I wander off to winks. Thanks for stopping by.

Noodge. Off.
The Newark riots, preceded those of Detroit by six days, and the results were pretty much the same.

Being one accustomed to living on the edge, I was out there dodging trigger-happy "peace officers, who wrecked the city, such that it has never, really, recovered, despite the ERECTION of a stadium to house a sports complex.

One needs to see this kind of stuff with their own eyes to realize what kind of faux democracy, america has been for a VERY long time.

Yeah, right, racism has disappeared!!

Thanks for posting this, as we DO need to revisit our past to know who we truly are.


-R-
i read the comments, too, and will first say i think the piece got less attention than it deserves because OS was horrible for some of us all day friday when you posted this, and yesterday wasn't much better. slow, slow, impossible. i tried loading this and couldn't until today.

it's an excellent piece, jeff. i had just graduated from high school in june of '67 and thought the entire world would soon be on fire. in san diego, the closest it had come was in '65 when watts in LA burned. i've never heard a firsthand account of what happened in detroit. this was riveting and beautifully written. thanks for putting it up.
Jeff,

My family was living in Wayne at the time of the riots. To this day I clearly remember the announcement of the riots on TV. We were "up north" and driving home that morning. I remember feeling a knot in my stomach as I saw the looks on my parent's faces. What you describe was exactly what I remember in Wayne that week. I remember the streets being almost deserted out of fear that the riots would reach our town. It's not a pleasant memory but part of the whole Detroit suburb experience growing up.
This brought back memories. I had just graduated from high school and was living in Grosse Pointe Woods just upriver from Detroit. We were under a dusk to dawn curfew and could see the sky ablaze in the evenings. The National Guard stationed tanks in front of our city hall. I drove downtown several days later and took some pics (still have them somewhere). Entire sections of the city looked as if they had been bombed. The National Guard was everywhere and on every block – armed and ready for something. The 82nd Airborne was finally deployed via Selfridge Air Base and we stood on the overpass of the Henry Ford Fwy at 8 Mile Rd. and waved flags and cheered them on as they convoyed into the city. A weird time in life. I left later that summer for college in NC and never returned again – except to visit my folks. Thanks for the memories – depressing as the events were. Detroit never recovered.
I lived just north of 8 Mile Road, a few houses from the not-yet-completed I-94, when the riots broke out. It was a frightening time, to be sure. With the other kids in my neighborhood, I watched the tanks and soldiers from Selfridge ANG base rumble through the uncompleted freeway road bed south to Detroit. That image is etched indelibly in my mind. Hard to believe it was 44 years ago!
We were camping near Pontiac (Walled Lake?--don't remember) with our three small children. We were terrified--this was way before cell phones and we had only the Park Rangers to contact the "outside world". No one could get accurate information. I remember a group was guarding the campground; perhaps National Guard? A sad time for all.