Detroit Remembers – The 1967 Summer of Peril  

*In this three-part summer series, the Michigan Chronicle is discussing the Detroit Rebellion 1967 and its 54th anniversary. This second installment delves into the rebellion’s subsequent impact and what one local organization is doing next.

 

Enjoyable summers are typically spent on vacations, going to the beach or the pool, visiting friends and loved ones, and don’t forget barbecuing to your heart’s content.

In the summers of the 1960s — especially in the City of Detroit — neighborhoods chock full of people from the East Side, West Side and elsewhere celebrated the warm season as families and locals lived up the moment – all while death loomed around the corner during one particular year.

San Francisco celebrated the summer of love in 1967.  Juxtapose that with Detroit where violence ruled the summer. Forty-three people, 33 of whom were Black, died in five days during what is known as the Detroit Rebellion. Racial unrest, social tensions and tragedy struck a chord for many.

The Rebellion began at 9125 12th Street at a place illegally selling alcohol.

Although Paquenia Suggs, 39, director of the social justice organization Programs & Operations at Public Allies Detroit, was not alive during that period, her father – born in 1953 – was 14 years old at the time.

She said that her father told her of the impacted neighborhoods, degradation, crime and blight following the days of violence.

Suggs said that people, especially Black people, felt like they didn’t have a voice.

“I think for him at the time he said it was crazy — Detroit is not the Detroit I grew up in,” she said of what her father has told her over the years. “One thing he always as a parent has tried to instill in us … is this idea that there are going to be things that you’re going to see that you’re not necessarily going to like or agree with. But being able to know that you have the voice and power to be able to speak up for yourself, stand up for yourself — don’t let anybody feel like they can walk over you. That comes from him living in that time.”

Suggs, who says the present-day environment of Detroit exists “because of this history,” is working to change the environment as the Public Allies organization leader.

Suggs said that the organization she helps lead is all about empowerment. Empowerment to encourage others to speak out and exact change.

“While it is unfortunate that the riots and rebellion happened, how it happened, there were positives that came out of it,” she said, adding that finally enough people were tired of being oppressed and they expressed their opinions by fighting back against discrimination and unfair treatment. “Unfortunately, [when people are pushed to] that point, that is their reaction a lot of times, [especially] for people oppressed.”

Suggs said that the organization has everything from leadership curricula and education on what it is like being oppressed to defining how to navigate out of that space while partnering with nonprofits. The organization works with community members to improve the lifespan of people locally and beyond.

She said that Detroit is always “reinventing” itself and the city is always trying to shift for the better.

“Because we have to,” she said. “There is always still space for people to feel like their voices aren’t being heard. There are always people that are like the fringe on the outliers … feeling like there are two [types of] Detroiters … the folks that have the money … and folks in the communities that had to fight to get lights on.”

Suggs said that Public Allies is bridging that gap and helping, especially, standing in the gap for people who don’t always feel empowered – just like the countless Detroiters who felt helpless that summer of 1967.

Much like her father years earlier who encouraged her to use her voice, she is doing the same with others in her city so massive, unbalanced power doesn’t wreak havoc against the community again – even if that is in the form of inequitable business development.

“There is still work to be done,” she said of Detroit’s progress toward Black residents. “I don’t care about the fact that there are all these new restaurants, Downtown, on Woodward … We care about making sure that our communities are here and functioning and are able to have spaces that communities can live in and grow in.”

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