Let’s talk about 1967.
I remember when one very well-known Detroit journalist said a few years ago, on the anniversary of the 1967 Rebellion, “Let’s not talk about that any more. We don’t need to revisit that old story.”
We’ve revisited that story many times, but only in the way that those who have the power of the pen and the camera lens want to present it. And we rarely, in Detroit, had a real discussion about race that would allow us to get beyond it and begin the building that needs to be done in our city.
Every time I’ve presented something about race in this forum, I have been challenged the accuracy or the honesty of the discourse. I don’t back away from what I have written, but rather I am taking this opportunity to put the issue of race right in front of those who would say they don’t want to talk about it while they throw it in our face every day. How hypocritical.
Detroit newspapers, radio and television stations, about a month ago, widely reported about a survey taken asking whether Detroiters would elect a “White mayor.” Why did they not instead ask what program would Detroiters vote for that would bring in the Right mayor? Who continues this White and Black scenario, and for what purpose? The validity of the survey was compromised when it was acknowledged that many of the respondents did not live in Detroit and could therefore not vote for anybody who would run. Understanding the illogic of that methodology is Statistical Analysis 101.
The survey itself creates an incendiary question that has been smoldering since 1967: can African Americans and the hopes and dreams born after that Rebellion run Detroit? Or a bigger question, asked by media: Can African American Congressional representatives whose districts are protected by the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act run their districts effectively?
Why is there is no survey being done to determine whether an African American could become mayor of Livonia or Birmingham? To raise these reactionary questions means that some of us have not learned very much since those hot days in July of 1967…and some of us never really understood the human toll that it cost our community.
Tragically, some suburbanites brag “I’ve never been ‘down there,’” referring to Detroit, “in years.” I am tired of all these terms of symbolic racism when the world has an economic crisis, a water crisis, an air crisis and a violence crisis.
In 1964, when Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh took office, he called African American leaders to his office and said, “We want to share power.” Now, those who have unlearned this wisdom, who sit in the seats of power, are saying “We want to take the power back.”
But it’s not just about power; it’s about humanity. The people’s challenge of the Consent Agreement and the dismantling of Detroit remind us that arrogance and separation didn’t work then, and certainly will not work today. The people, Black and White and Brown, will fight for democracy.
Challenge me about race, and I will tell you to challenge the media not to use race as a means for creating separation and conflict. It’s time to douse the flames, remember those who died, understand why 1967 happened, and build a future that does not fan the acrimony into another explosion.
I challenge you all in the spirit of Father William Cunningham and Focus:HOPE, an organization born out of 1967, to speak less about the Black vs. White race, and more about the prospects of the human race.