DETROIT — It’s been 50 years since a weeklong mass civil uprising took place in Detroit, an event that is sometimes seen as an isolated riot, but in fact was an expression of decades of racial inequity. The events of the summer of 1967 have been one of the defining incidents connected with the city. Buildings burned, businesses were looted, and eventually the National Guard was called in to control the populace. What failed to happen then, and largely in the following decades, was any sort of detailed or uncomfortable conversations about the long-term social and economic factors that set the scene for the summer of 1967 — issues that were in the making for 50 years or more prior to the uprising, as an African-American labor force was lured to a white population center that was unprepared to offer the kind of equity and social progress promised by the Great Migration.
As cultural institutions all across the city have launched and hosted commemorative events, each has developed their own take on Detroit’s history, and made decisions about which voices to amplify. The Detroit Institute of Arts put together Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement, a concentrated survey of some of the most influential African-American artist collectives of the 1960s, linking art of the Civil Rights Movement in Detroit to that across the country. The Detroit Historical Society launched Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward, an ambitious, multi-year documentation effort, collecting 500 stories from those who were in Detroit when it was under siege (July 23–August 1, 1967). This ongoing work has created the most comprehensive archive on the subject, and directly informed the Detroit Historical Museum’s interactive exhibition, Detroit 67: Perspectives, that brackets the tempestuous week with an entire century of historical context in the form of documents, artifacts, and oral histories.