Alvin Woods


Alvin Woods


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Written Story


I remember Detroit as a flourishing city prior to July 23, 1967. It was a city with an equal number of Blacks and Whites. It was a place I’ll always remember though I was only 13 at the time.

I recall riding in the car with my mother that Sunday morning on a journey home from church when we noticed large clouds of smoke riding the horizon, as it traveled in all directions. The billows expanded into the air as their size grew, traveling outside of the city, dissipating.
Our avenue of travel was west on Clairmont St., west of the John C. Lodge. As we neared the commotion, the traffic began to slow. My mother and I had been trying to figure out what kind of fire was causing so much smoke. The only thing we were able to confirm for sure was that more than one building was burning out of control on the legendary one-way strip known by all in Detroit as the infamous “Twelfth Street,” later named Rosa Parks Blvd.
As we approached the intersection we, too, could see much of the upheaval. There were hundreds of people in the street. Some ran in our direction while others walked, draped with goods over their arms and shoulders. Some carried boxes. Some carried clothes. Some pushed shopping carts that were filled beyond capacity, with shoes, TV’s, and almost anything you could name.
Fire trucks, police, and smoke filled the street. It seemed as if the civil rights rivalries had broken out on a street that racist White men would have never stepped foot on.
Officers at the intersection urged us through, as we witnessed the embryonic stage of what would later go into the history books as a weeklong tumult of looting, rioting, and killing. We would learn later, according to news reports, White cops who mistreated a couple of brothers in an alleged after-hours joint is what started it all.

As the smoke of the first day melded with the obscurity of night, sirens of fire trucks could be heard in multitude everywhere. Sparks from burning cinders rose to the heavens, floating through the sky, sometimes landing on a house nearby and then setting others on fire. The darkness of night didn’t slow the pace of things much; it only gave looters the opportunity to do their deeds behind curtains of cover. And by the second morning, the smoke was appearing from stores and businesses in neighborhoods throughout the inner city. Even those who didn’t believe in stealing were lured into the idea of taking or receiving stolen goods and food; not knowing when or where they would be able to find a market or corner grocery that wouldn’t be looted when the mess was over. Anyone with sense knew if they didn’t help themselves they’d have to suffer the anguish of watching it burn and going hungry.
The liquor stores and pawn shops were the first to go, then the supermarkets, clothing stores, and eventually any building with something that had valued goods; which seemed like every store in a ten-mile radius from where the riot began.

After three days of disturbance, the National Guard began to move into place in the neighborhoods, setting up bases on school grounds throughout the community. Military tanks scarred the street surfaces with pathways through the rubble, leaving the impressions in them as well as in us that we were no longer living in the city of Detroit, but in a war torn country with the residents being the victims.
And after five days, when mostly all the fires had been extinguished, half the stores and businesses in the city had been looted, burned, or both, along with almost every landmark on Twelfth. Ashes, cinders, and the ambiance of smoke were the remains of a desolate town that resembled those in movies.
We got real stupid then. Burning the city didn’t solve anything. Animosity toward those cops for dogging some of us in that raid turned out to be nothing more than an excuse for some to steal. For those who felt anger, getting pissed with the cops may have been justified, but to destroy the whole city because of it was like cutting off our noses in spite of our faces. It was stupidity in the least.
In the end, the destruction of the easily accessible emporia eventually prompted the majority of Whites, and all the Jews, to move from the city, conveying their businesses and money with them.
We lost a great part of our history, our city, and our culture. And even to this day, we’re still suffering from it.

Original Format


Submitter's Name

Alvin Woods

Submission Date





“Alvin Woods,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed February 24, 2024,

Output Formats