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DEBBIE NORRELL

My family lives in Detroit. Actually, I don’t have any family members in Pittsburgh and no I’m not from Detroit. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh but my only sister moved to Detroit in 1969 and since that time I have visited the city often. It is always an enjoyable visit because of family.

My last trek to the “D” coincided with the recent death of Aretha Franklin. As soon as I arrived and parked my car my sister and I took a brief ride to New Bethel Baptist Church. This church was founded by Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father, and this is where she began her singing career. When we pulled up to the church I was a little underwhelmed. I expected so much more in the form of tributes. There were balloons that spelled out her name and also the word RESPECT in balloons. There were personal notes that were posted to the brick wall of the church and dozens of flower bouquets and photographs. Across the street there were venders selling T-shirts with Aretha Franklin’s picture on them. The news media had been camped out in this location right after Franklin’s death but on the day I arrived they were gone. I decided that the only souvenir that I needed was a photograph of the building.

The weekend also coincided with the 51st anniversary of the Detroit Riots. We happened to ride by a new park and play area and there was a lot going on. My brother-in law told me the activity was centered on the anniversary of the riots. I was curious as to what sparked the riots and which riot it was. It seems like it was the “Twelfth Street Riot” according to a Time magazine article. It was sparked by a police raid on a popular but unlicensed African American watering hole known locally as a “blind pig” on Detroit’s 12th Street on July 23, 1967.

“At week’s end, there were 41 known dead, 347 injured, 3,800 arrested. Some 5,000 people were homeless (the vast majority Black), there were 1,300 buildings reduced to mounds of ashes and bricks and 2,700 businesses sacked.”

I am still a little confused about this, the anniversary was in late August but it seems like the riot began in July. When I researched riots in Detroit there were many but I located the one my brother-in-law told me about and there is a political connection to it, as well. George Romney was the Governor at the time and Lyndon Johnson was the President, the Detroit riots became a political football. The street where the riots began has been renamed Rosa Parks Blvd.

If you like history and like to read I suggest you do a little research on what happened in Detroit 50 to 51 years ago. While there is still a lot of blight in Detroit there is also a lot of rebuilding and refurbishing of beautiful homes. A good read, “Black Detroit—A Peoples History of Self-Determination” by Herb Boyd. This is a great history of an iconic city.

(Email Debbie at debbienorrell@aol.com.)

 

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