What were you doing during Detroit’s 1967 civil disorder?
If you had a “significant, first-hand experience” with the uprisings in the last week in July that year, the Detroit Historical Museum wants to hear your story for an oral history project it’s conducting in the run-up to the riot’s 50th anniversary next summer.
The Detroit museum will have interviewers on hand to record your recollections this Saturday, Aug. 20, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The stories will become part of the museum’s “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward,” which seeks to assemble a record of what Detroiters and suburbanites were doing during one of the most momentous weeks in Detroit’s 315-year history.
More than 200 people already have recorded their histories, which can be read here. The histories will become part of the museum’s permanent collection.
“We want to make them accessible to the public and to have it as a source for scholars who are writing about this period,” said Tobi Voigt, the museum’s chief curatorial officer.
Girard Townsend told an interviewer that he took part in the mayhem, and he isn’t proud of that today.
“We used that riot for an excuse to rob and steal and loot where we lived at, in our own neighborhoods, and that’s the gospel,” he said. “I was a participant in it. I was stealing too. I had clothes, refrigerators, stoves, putting ‘em in the back of my car and all that.”
Anthony Fierimonte was a member of the Detroit Police force who participated in the early Sunday-morning raid on a so-called blind pig (after hours drinking and gambling room) that touched off a week of chaos that left 43 dead, more than a thousand injured and millions in property damage.
Fierimonte recalled he returned with prisoners to the local precinct and told a superior he needed to respond to 12th Street and Clairmount, the intersection where looting had started.
“I says, ‘Boss, you better get out there. There is a big problem brewing.’”
Joseph Claxton was sitting on his porch on French Road on Detroit’s east side when national guard troops appeared on the block with tanks.
He said: “As I was getting up to go inside the house I clicked the door handle and when I made that click on the door handle the national guard...responded and pointed his rifle at me. And I immediately had to shout out, ‘I don’t have a gun; that was the door! I’m not armed!’”
The guardsman relaxed, but Claxton was rattled. “That was a very hairy experience,” he said.
Interviews will be conducted at the museum, at Woodward and Kirby in Detroit’s Cultural Center, and will last 30 to 45 minutes. They must be scheduled ahead of time by calling the museum at 313-833-7912; or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.