Riot? Rebellion? or Revolution?

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This is the fifth of my posts based on a recent tour of the eastern half of the USA. I visited a number of sites relevant to African American history. To mark Black History Month, I am relating some of the things I saw, in the order I saw them.

While in Detroit, I visited the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History. This museum is holding a special art exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the Detroit 1967 Rebellion. The exhibition is called: “Say it loud: Art, History, Rebellion”. The blurb says: “This exhibition brings together more than 40 nationally recognized artists from multiple generations, and relies on works across disciplines to help illustrate the awe, tragedy, and potential for transformation when the people rebel.”

The 1967 Detroit Rebellion is described by Wikipedia as follows:

The 1967 Detroit riot, also known as the 12th Street riot or the 1967 Detroit rebellion, was one of 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967”. This riot was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan. It began in the early morning hours of Sunday July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig, just north of the corner of 12th Street (today Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Virginia Park Avenue, on the city’s Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit’s 1943 race riot just 24 years earlier.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The result was 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the American Civil War,[2] and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

If you want to get a reasonable picture of what went on, you could do worse than watch the film “Detroit“. Though it is partially fictionalised, it presents a harrowing account of the so-called “Algiers Motel Incident” (during the ’67 Detroit rebellion) when police beat and murdered three teenage black civilians and tortured and beat nine others – seven black males and two white females.

Having watched the film, the art exhibition struck a chord, and was very moving. The one exhibit which stands out refers to the current day. Called “I can’t breathe” it refers to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being put in what was described as a choke hold as he was being arrested by police. He said “I can’t breathe” fourteen times. The art exhibit was a very large inflatable young black man lying on his side. Every two minutes it slowly deflated and then reflated. It was extremely powerful.

In parallel to the Charles H Wright Museum art exhibition on the Detroit 1967 rebellion, the Detroit Museum of History, just across the road, is holding an exhibition called “Detroit ’67: Perspectives“. They have a banner by their front door reading “Riot? Rebellion? Revolution?”

It seems that violence that goes on for five days cannot be described as “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd” (riot). The Detroit ’67 events would seem to be a better fit for: “the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention” (rebellion). Indeed, the Charles H Wright museum, a respected academic institution, uses the term “rebellion”. Going as far as “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system” (revolution) would seem a bit of a stretch, but that is how the docent at Charles H Wright described it to me.

One of the most frustrating parts of “Detroit” was to see justice eluding those who had been tortured and the family of those who died in the “Algiers Motel Incident”.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Oct '17 - 1:12pm


    Thank you for getting back to me and for this.

    The project I am working on , two in fact, one a movie the other a musical, I shall share info with you soon as both are of real interest to Liberal Democrats and especially you with your interest in American history and politics!

    This is very powerful , this story, and you this time recommending a film new to me.

    The R

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Oct '17 - 1:20pm

    The Romney you mention is the father of Mitt and was considered a very liberal Republican , as was his son compared to many, and it is sad how he and the then President Johnson, well meaning , but misguided, appear , in trying to ensure order, to have made a bad situation worse.

    It was an awful time for America. I had the great pleasure and , it felt like honour to me as a youth, to , as part of my degree at London university, to have spent a year studying American political history at the London School of Economics and political science, knowing that president Kennedy was an Alumnis there !

    Your posts, the short and powerful messages, take me back in my mind to then , the different and regular topics for consideration and debate.

    Well done, I look forward to one day travelling properly there , as my visits have only ever been to New York, New Jersey and such like , to family , and in laws!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Oct '17 - 3:06pm

    That,s in itself nice of you.
    My visits have been ones I cherished, but linked to family and emotion.I would like several that are also about history and my profession. My projects lead me to want contact there more, as do my views and political activity, especially in these Trump years and in the future in the need for candidates to emerge that can offer hope and the fulfillment of hope.

  • Paul,
    Just out of interest on the theme of Black History, the following is held in the US Library of Congress.

    It was a pamphlet produced by a Royal Naval Officer (Lt Sheringham) in January 1822. It shows an amusing scene of a mess deck of that time. One of the sailors is engaged in what is called “swinging the lamp”, that is telling the tallest of tales
    His mates have heard it all before but they are still laughing at him (the “grog” helps).
    Interesting things to note, in the engraving, is that the table hangs from ropes rather than sitting on legs – so it will be stable on a moving ship and they are using a huge cannon as a back rest.
    Oh, and the United States didn’t de-segregate its armed forces until 1947.
    Just to show we British aren’t as bad as we are sometimes painted.

    p.s. still much enjoying your themed pieces.

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