THE DETROIT RIOTS OF 1943

In the summer of 1943, amidst the heightening of the United States’ involvement in World War 2, a race riot raged through the city of Detroit. Over 350,000 Americans, mostly white, had come from the South in search of work in the growing arms factories. Detroit did not have the housing infrastructure to support this number. Furthermore, its existing migrant population buckled under an anti-black propaganda movement by the city’s strong white supremacy groups and began to fear for their jobs.

Through many factors led to the outbreak of rioting in Detroit in 1943, the biggest tinderbox moment occurred the year before. Migrating black families entered Detroit from the South in the hopes of finding work and a better life away from the racism of the South. What they instead found was poorly kept, segregated housing where they usually had to pay two or three times more rent than white families.

To answer the growing number of black families coming to the city the Sojourner Truth housing project was designated solely for them. Surrounding white neighbourhoods protested the decision but after months of appeals, the housing authorities decided to press ahead with the all-black housing project. This led to violent clashes with over a thousand, armed whites creating a picket line to keep black families out. The Detroit Police Department and state troopers were eventually ordered to guard black families as they moved in. This was in the spring of 1942.

On June 20th 1943, a fight broke out between a white and a black man at Belle Isle Amusement Park. The fight quickly escalated in to a brawl between groups of whites and blacks and spilled over in to the city. Whites began attacking random black citizens and burning out automobiles owned by blacks. Blacks began looting white owned shops in black neighbourhoods. Almost all of the rioting took place in poor, predominantly black neighbourhoods.

The Detroit police did little to stop the mounting violence. When they did get involved they mostly sided with the white rioters and began beating on blacks. In total thirty-four people were killed during the riot, twenty-five black and nine white, with seventeen of the black deaths at the hands of the police. None of the murdered whites had died at the hands of a police officer.

The riots ended only when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered six thousand federal troops in to the city. In total, an estimated two million worth of property was damaged by the Detroit riots and a precedent had been set that would culminate in Detroit in 1967 with the largest riots the US had seen since the Civil War.

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