Grief and Hope: Detroit Church Remembers the 43 Victims of 1967 Riots

Harry Walker, left, and Mark McGowan, hold hands in prayer during Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church on Sunday, July 23, 2017.
(Photo: Elaine Cromie, Special to the Free Press)

One by one, the names of the 43 people who died in the 1967 Detroit riot were read out loud Sunday inside a church on Detroit’s west side.

With each name came the ringing of a bell and the lighting of a candle in Christ the King Catholic Church.

“May they rest in peace,” said the Rev. Victor Clore, pastor of the church.

“Amen,” the congregation responded.

A few minutes later, they strolled outside to the front lawn, where 43 crosses painted black and white were placed in memory of the 43 who were killed during one of the worst civil disturbances of the 1960s. Clore then sprinkled the crosses with water, blessing them. In back of the crosses, the church’s sign read: “Grieve Those Who Died 1967. Give Hope To All Alive 2017.”

That message of mourning — coupled with optimism for Detroit’s future — was the main theme at a special mass to remember the riot that started 50 years ago Sunday. Parishioners, both black and white, spoke during the mass about their memories of the riot and the issue of race relations then and today in Detroit. Other churches and synagogues in metro Detroit have been holding services and events to recall the impact of 1967.

Inside Christ the King on Sunday morning, every seat in the church had on it a copy of the front-page of the Detroit Free Press of July 26, 1967, with a headline that read: “New Gun Battles Shatter Riot Truce. … Death Toll Grows.”

And on the altar was a large photo of the Black Jesus statue that stands on the campus of Sacred Heart Major Seminary and was painted black during the riot as a symbol of black pride.

“I was 10 years old when the riot started,” Amanda Rajabzadeh, 61, said during the mass. “It was hot. It was very hot. … The soldiers were going down 12th Street. There were tanks and all you could hear was shooting.”

Rajabzadeh, who is African American, recalled how black residents were often scared of white police officers, whom they perceived as being abusive. She spoke of the past 50 years of change. It was a police raid on 12th Street that sparked the riot.

“It was an all-white police department,” she said of 1967. “I never saw any black police officers. Then later, you saw some change with the new mayor (Coleman Young) and the force became more integrated. And now, we have another mayor, who’s white, and I noticed: There is like a circle of change going on. The younger police officers I see patrolling now are white again. So for me, I’m hoping that we can keep an integrated police force.”

Ronald Eady, 65, minister of services, said that the “1967 uprising didn’t solve race relations … we have a long way to go.”

Bob Brutell, a church member and chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, agreed, saying later, “We really haven’t healed as a city.”

There are still problems with racial division in metro Detroit, with most housing and houses of worship segregated, he said.

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SOURCE: Detroit Free Press – Niraj Warikoo