Annette Rochelle Aben joins us this morning with her recollections of five days in summer that would rock the people of Detroit.
The summer of 1967 was a turning point in history for the country of the United States of America. The heat was being turned up in the hearts of the young people from coast to coast. There was a war to oppose, fashion to define the “hippies”, and plenty of drugs to take you on “trips” without even leaving your home. For those who lived in the City of Detroit, Michigan, the summer of love was more like the summer of fear, due to one of the most intense riots in history. It lasted only 5 days but forever in the memories of those who were there.
Our family home, a story and a half bungalow, was not, I repeat NOT so close to the riot torn area, so we were not in fear for our lives, however we were close enough to require the presence of The Michigan National Guard patrolling our neighborhood in full riot gear. We lived under strictly enforced curfews, which included everyone be inside their homes by 9pm, NO EXCEPTIONS! We lived in the North West section of the city in a middle class, Polish, Catholic neighborhood of families with many children who spent most of their time outdoors whenever they could. A police raid of a blind pig in the Near West side of Detroit in the wee hours of July 23, 1967 changed all that for the next five days.
Even though I was three months away from my eleventh birthday, my parents thought is best to have an older girl keep an eye on us while they both worked. Denise, a high school gal from down the street, stayed with us during daylight hours to make sure we didn’t kill each other in the pool and did our chores. As the summer had been more than normal, we were not prepared for the fear that replaced our carefree energy.
We rarely had strangers in the neighborhood, everyone even knew who the Fuller Brush man was, so we were used to unlocked doors (kids couldn’t be counted on to remember to carry house keys, let alone not lose them). We were also used to enjoying everyone else’s yards like our yards, shooting driveway basketball hoop and helping ourselves to the apples and pears in the neighbor’s trees. Overnight, we were locking doors, playing close to side doors of our OWN homes and no one was climbing trees because now they were homes to sharp shooters, for our protection.
While we saw no looting in our neighborhood, my dad worked in the heart of the inner city, mere blocks away from out of control fires and the sounds of helicopters filling the air. We prayed for his safety each day when he left for work and clung to him when he returned. Our mother worked part time in a small office only a few blocks away and generally walked to and from work as we only had the one car. Not this summer. Her sister, who also worked in that office, picked her up each day and made sure they both got there and back without incident.
I have a few vivid memories of that time. The first had to do with Denise, our babysitter. There was someone hold up in her family garage and the police made her mother (who didn’t work outside the home) leave the house while they got him out. She came to our house with her daughter that day and due to her thick French accent, we could barely understand her conversation. However, tears transcend any language. That man was captured without bloodshed.
The next incident was not so clean…
My brother and I were in the backyard, swimming when we heard gunfire coming from down the alley. It was a weird sound, almost like a car backfiring, so we really didn’t think too much about the noise. Then we heard Denise screaming for us to get out of the pool and hide under the picnic table. As we were climbing out of the pool, we saw the police dragging the bloody body of a man down the alley towards the street. I remember standing there, transfixed by the visual and the sound of his face down body bumping along the ground.
Our family was scheduled to attend the high school graduation party of the son of some of my parent’s friends. Well, the security of that week was so tight that the party was held under police protection. Everyone had to be “checked in” at the door and had to be “checked out” as we left. Any gathering over ten people had to be approved. This was something they had obviously planned well in advance so they were allowed to proceed. Other’s had to postpone many of their events.
Here is the video of the David Bowie track Panic in Detroit 1967 with some graphic images of the riots. Uploaded by SpiritCinemaLtd
The one event that had the greatest impact on me was my own doing and could have gotten my parents in a boat load of trouble…
I was a rotten roller-skater and as such, my friends often left me in the dust as I simply could not keep up with them. That July evening was no exception. My friends headed home because of the curfew requirements. I, too, had to get inside but needed to walk on the grass with my skates in order to make any head way. My mother yelled out the window for me to get moving so she and my dad didn’t get a ticket. I was hauling. When I reached the driveway, I ran out of grass. Of course I should have sat down, took off the skates and simply waked up the drive. Nope. I thought I could make it to the side door in time to be out of the view of the soldier marching only a few yards away. Then I went down, BOOM! Flat on my face. At that very moment, my mother pops her head out of the side door, hissing at me under her breath. She disappears, returns with my dad, who scooped me up and carried me down the stairs to the concrete floor side of our basement. He laid me down there, then ran upstairs and outside to flag down the soldier. It was a police escort to the hospital for me and we were literally only one block up and two blocks over from their emergency room door.
Fractured left arm, black and blue face and had it not been for the compassion of the authorities for the poor kids who had to play indoors, I am certain that I would not have been able to sit for several weeks. I had to spend the rest of the summer out of the pool, off my bike, and no more shaking down the neighbor’s trees for fresh fruit.
Detroit recovered in many ways and not so in others and the same can be said for her people. For the rest of that summer there were still curfews and every now and then we’d see a tank roll down the street, just to remind us that we had all be on our best behavior. We stayed in that house for another five years before moving to the home in which I now live. I cannot tell you where the majority of my former neighbors are these days but I can tell you that they all remember July 23rd, 24th, 25h, 26th and 27th of 1967 in Detroit, Michigan.
*note* According to Wikipedia, “The 12th Street Riot” in Detroit, Michigan in July of 1967, was the worst American city riot since the New York City draft riots of 1863.And not to be eclipsed until the Los Angeles, California riot in 1992. 43 people died (only 23 of which were civilians). 1,189 injured. 7,200 arrested and over 2,000 buildings destroyed. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its press coverage of the event.
About Annette Rochelle Aben.
I was born writing! At least this is how it seems. I had the good fortune to be published while a sophomore in high school so continuing the journey by publishing books has been a natural course of events.
Angel Messages – a wing and a prayer is the newest book to join my family here. Filled with photos, prayers, poems and prose of and about Angels, this book will delight any Angel lover in your life. Check out the reviews, people are drawn to the inherent inspirational nature of this book and as result is fast becoming their favorite. You can have it right away using the Kindle option or order a paperback copy (or two) and carry it with you wherever you go.
It is thrilling to offer books here that feature my love of writing poetry, combined with my love of taking pictures. Books that feature poetry and photos include Perspective, it’s all about replacing one thought with another and PhoKu.
Perspective has a wide variety of pages that can feature prose, poetry and nature photographs, while PhoKu is filled with the photographs I have taken in nature with Haiku poetry added to them, hence the title: PhoKu. Both of these books are available in print and Kindle formats.
A Haiku Perspective 2016, is a haiku poetry book with a couple pictures added however it is primarily haiku. When I first experimented with the haiku writing format, I have no idea I would enjoy it as much as I do. These days, I am writing haiku daily and finding myself thinking in 17 syllables. You can find this book in both print and Kindle formats.
Presented in living color, BooKu is the spirit of trick or treat, told in the format of Haiku poetry. Designed to hauntingly remind the grown up, little beggars of yesteryear, of the fun behind Halloween. Come on, enjoy a few snickers and get enough to share…
Read all the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Annette-Rochelle-Aben/e/B00MSQTGUY
Connect to Annette via her blog and social media.
Thank you for joining us today and to Annette for this very vivid memory of her childhood of an event that impacted thousands of lives. Please feel free to comment and to share.
If you have a story to tell about a major event that took place in your lifetime or a story about your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents then take a look at how you can share it with us all. Thanks Sally