Any longtime resident of Southeast Michigan has a story about the Summer of 1967 and the infamous events that escalated to a citywide state of civil disobedience, known alternately as the Detroit Riots and the Detroit Rebellion. This divergence in naming is just one way of underscoring that everyone’s perspectives on causes and conditions of that long, hot week in July of 1967 are different, and that histories and recollections are worth revisiting.
So, when the Detroit Historical Society began working on a community engagement program that would launch with the 50-year anniversary of the civil unrest that occurred that July—Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward—they picked a rather different approach than one usually sees with a history museum.
“We built it in a much different way than we’ve ever built any exhibit before,” said Rebecca Salminen Witt, who began her tenure as Chief Development and Communications Officer for the Detroit Historical Society in January of this year, of the exhibit Perspectives. “Most historical institutions are good at delving deep into history, finding out what the facts tell us, building something around it, and then inviting people to it. Instead, we reached out widely into the community, collecting stories from—at this point—almost 500 people, listened to those stories, and gleaned from it what people remembered most, what was most important to those memories, what was different about those memories—kind of how the multiple perspectives of the events formed how they thought about it. And then we built the exhibit around those ideas.”