Barbara Donley


Barbara Donley


Barbara Donley recalls seeing the tanks and National Guard enter the city from I-96 and opines on the lasting effects of July 1967 on Detroit.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Written Story


Henry Ford Hospital, Kensington Metropark, South Lyon-Michigan


I had just completed my junior year in high school in South Lyon, Michigan. When not working, I liked to drive or ride my bike to Maple Beach in Kensington Park, the managing of which was my dad's summer job. I have a clear memory of reaching the spot where Kent Lake Road and I-96 intersect and seeing what appeared to be miles of tanks, jeeps and other military vehicles covering I-96. The Michigan National Guard was on its way to Detroit. The sight filled me with fear. I worried for friends and family living in the city. The danger in the situation was brought home even more when my sister's friend, a student nurse at Henry Ford who had been home visiting, was ordered (along with all medical personnel if I remember correctly) to report directly to the hospital to care for the injured. Her parents drove her in, but could go no further than the city limits. To get to the hospital, she was driven by members of the National Guard. Her parents were afraid to leave her, and she was completely freaked out because the city was pitch dark, even her hospital housing unit unlit.

The riot changed Detroit. Primarily, I think, it frightened white people, who couldn't understand individuals burning down their own city, and acted as an impetus for white flight. Additionally, it was an impetus for black flight: people who feared for life and property, and had the means to do so, left. Consequently, businesses left, and Detroit became poorer and poorer. Its citizens' became less and less educated, and the city seemed to lose its ability to take care of itself. Corruption and the slumming of the city continued the loss of Detroit as it had been. I do not know where responsibility for all of this destruction lies, but the riots were the catalyst. For me, the situation was a learning experience. I got to see and feel rage borne of poverty and racism. I got to see Detroit become a place too scary to visit, despite its wonderful art museum, library and other lovely cultural offerings. I got to see how constant blaming of white people for the city's ills took away people's feelings of responsibility for themselves or their city. Without downtown Hudson's, there wasn't even shopping to bring people to the city. The whole situation continues to leave me with feelings of profound sorrow. Even so, I remain hopeful for the city as it remakes itself. The riot opened opportunities for African-Americans, so the city police and fire departments are integrated. More and more businesses and institutions are integrated, and individuals who lacked experience running government have had experience and are running things now. Businesses are coming back, New stores are opening, and hope exists. Moreover, if the last election is an indication, integration is now working both ways, and that is what we have all wanted. At least, that is what I believe.

Original Format

email message




“Barbara Donley,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed September 22, 2023,

Output Formats