Inner City Voices: 'I Just Wanna Testify'
The global struggle’s link to Detroit’s 1967 rebellion, part 4
Published Aug 27, 2007 9:28 PM
On July 23, 1967, a confrontation between Detroit vice squad officers
and a section of the Black community exploded into a major rebellion, the
biggest in U.S. history up to that time. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in
National Guard and U.S. Army paratroopers to repress the population. The result
was 43 dead, 467 injured and more than 7,200 arrests. More than 2,000 buildings
burned down. The following is Part 4 of excerpts based on a July 21 talk given
by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, to a Workers World
forum in Detroit.
When the rebellion erupted in Detroit on July 23, 1967, it was part and parcel
of a consistent pattern that had been evolving over the several summers since
1963. The mass demonstrations of the spring and summer of 1963 in Birmingham,
Ala., and other areas of the South and North heightened the sense of community
and shared commitment for advancing the status of African-Americans.
In Birmingham that spring—1963—a violent response from the African community erupted during the period when
police used repressive tactics aimed at halting the demonstrations to
desegregate public accommodations and businesses in that Southern city. In 1964
rebellions erupted in New York City, Rochester, N.Y., and other cities on the
East Coast. Of course the Watts rebellion of August 1965 raised the stakes to
even higher levels with the dispatching of National Guard units into Los
Angeles to put down the upheaval.
In June of 1966 the “Black Power” slogan, which arose out of the
cotton fields of the Delta Mississippi region during the “March Against
Fear,” became the rallying cry of the masses of youth and working people
in the South, the West Coast and the North. That year even more urban
rebellions erupted across the United States with outbreaks in the Hough Section
of Cleveland in May and on the west side of Chicago in July.
The rebellions in Chicago were closely intertwined with the citywide Freedom
Movement that sought to desegregate neighborhoods and to improve housing
conditions in African-American communities. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
moved to a housing project in Chicago and declared that the Northern cities
would now be a key focus of the next phase of the civil rights struggle in the
aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights
Act of 1965, the so-called “white backlash” unfolded.
When [Chicago] Mayor Richard Daley Sr. dismissed the moderate demands of the
Chicago Freedom Movement, the masses erupted and rebelled for four days on the
west side of the city. The city administration blamed King and the civil rights
movement for raising the expectation of the African masses to unrealistic
heights and consequently frustration would set in after immediate progress
would not be forthcoming.
There is a certain logic to this allegation based upon the rapid development of
historical and social processes during the middle and late years of the 1960s.
In a matter of a few years the African masses went from seeing no potential
relief from institutionalized racism, segregation and national oppression to
the mass movement of hundreds of thousands of people in support of full
equality and political power. This was coupled with the overall international
situation. As Malcolm X as well as others observed, the African nations were
making rapid advances in their national liberation struggles and served as a
source of inspiration to Africans in the United States.
According to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, during 1967
more than 160 urban rebellions took place throughout the United States. Prior
to the rebellion in Detroit, violence erupted in Newark, N.J., on July 12. New
Jersey had been a center of urban rebellion since the summer of 1964. A
widespread rebellion beginning on July 12 prompted the dispatching of the
National Guard once again in an American city.
Other cities throughout the state also went up in flames with mass looting and
sniping. In the aftermath of the Newark rebellion, a National Black Power
Conference was held which drew people from throughout the United States. Broad
sections of the African-American movement gathered and grappled with the
question of what strategies would take the struggle forward amid mass rebellion
and increasing repression on the part of the Johnson administration, which was
caught in a military quagmire in Vietnam facing growing casualties and tactical
defeats on the ground.
Sherman Adams wrote in the Oct. 20, 1967, issue of the “Inner-City
Voice” that the National Black Power Conference in Newark was a watershed
in the ideological developments of the time period. Adams says in his article,
which was published in the aftermath of the rebellion:
“The conference was clearly not just a small, secret meeting of burning
eyed radicals, but a gathering of over 1,000 registered delegates from 38
states, representing a broad cross-section of Black America. There were old
women from Rochester on welfare, Mississippi cotton pickers, municipal judges,
Black Muslims, Black Catholics, broken down ex-boxers, Black Republicans, and a
police captain from Harlem.
“Every major black organization in the U.S. was represented: H. Rap Brown
of SNCC, Floyd McKissick of CORE, Watts’ nationalist leader Ron Karenga,
Dr. Martin Luther King’s top troubleshooter Rev. Jesse Jackson and
representatives from the Urban League were all official delegates. The
delegates emphasized the role of Black Americans in the international struggle
for human rights, a theme which earlier was developed by the late Malcolm
“A black manifesto was issued condemning the aggressive U.S. policy in
Vietnam, Cuba and other foreign countries. Part of the manifesto read:
“‘Black people in America allowed themselves to become the tool of
policies of white supremacy. It is evident that it is in our own interest to
develop and propagate a philosophy of blackness as a social psychological,
political, cultural and economic directive. ...
“‘Blacks in America, Asia, Africa, and Latin America stand at the
crossroads to either expanding revolution, or ruthless
“At about 4:30 p.m. on the first day of the Conference Ralph
Featherstone, program director of SNCC, whispered in my ear, ‘We are
going for the revolution.’ Within 10 minutes a nervous anxiety had spread
through the crowd. Ralph stood up and asked to be heard; Dr. Wright granted him
the floor. The young SNCC field worker said: ‘In order that our Black
brothers in Newark have not died in vain, I have a resolution I want to
“‘Whereas freedom and all of the rights conferred upon men has been
the unshakable foundation of all societies ever since civilization were known
and whereas man in his uncompromising struggle to be free has fought and died
for centuries in rebellions, riots, insurrections, uprisings, revolts,
crusades, revolutions and wars;
“‘Whereas the tree of freedom has been succored by the blood of
such warriors as the Americans who died in the Revolutionary War, the French
who stormed the Bastille, and the Asians and African battles against
colonialism through insurrection;
“‘Whereas the nation of Black people which lives in the United
States is determined it too will join the endless legion of Freedom Fighters by
the fighting and dying for their freedom.
“‘Be it resolved that this National Conference on Black Power on
July 20, 1967 hereby goes on record as strongly endorsing the black revolution.
Further, that it proclaim its approval of the rebellions in cities from Watts
to Newark as necessary to achieve nationhood.’
“Mr. Featherstone, in addition, stated that Black people should pledge
their loyalty and resources to their brothers in Black ghettoes who carry the
fury of the Black revolution on their shoulders. The resolution was adopted on
the spot amidst shouting and cheering. It seemed as though everyone at the
conference, regardless of his political stripe, was concerned about the Black
rebellion and the reaction of the white power structure.” (ICV, October
20, 1967, p. 4).
These efforts to transform the urban rebellions into revolutionary insurrection
were paramount in the minds of the most advanced elements in the Black Power
movement in the United States. The Johnson administration and others within the
Congress and the intelligence community sought to stifle these efforts through
the intensification of the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that
specifically targeted the most active organizations and leaders with both the
civil rights and Black Power tendencies in the African-American political
One question that arose in government circles was whether the rebellions were
planned or derived from a national conspiracy. In June of 1967 several members
of the Revolutionary Action Movement were arrested and charged with a
conspiracy to assassinate civil rights leaders such as Roy Wilkins of the NAACP
and Whitney Young of the National Urban League. RAM leaders issued a statement
dismissing such allegations and stating that the arrests were part of a
government plot to contain and isolate the militant wing of the movement from
the African-American community as a whole.
Next, Part 5: July 23, 1967 and its aftermath: ‘You set the
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