205. Detroit Riots

This won’t take long.

People thirty to forty years younger than I am may see the Civil Rights movement as history – possibly even ancient history. Unless you are black, or very liberal, chances are you really only know one civil right leader – Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King was an advocate of non-violence and his commitment to that position helped keep the civil rights movement from becoming bloodier than it was. Nevertheless, he was not loved in my home when I was growing up. My father didn’t hate him – as a Christian, he wasn’t allowed to hate anybody – but his eyes narrowed and his face grew grim whenever he read in the Tulsa World about whatever latest thing Martin Luther King had done.

Martin Luther King was the white man’s friend, but my father couldn’t see that.

When the Detroit Riots occurred 1967, I was a thousand mile away from Oklahoma, spending my college sophomore summer working as an archaeologist in Bay City, Michigan. We were about a hundred miles away from Detroit, and saw nothing of the riots except what was on television, but we were scared. I was pro-Black, pro-Civil Rights, pro-Martin Luther King, and I was scared.

Martin Luther King surely hated the violence that summer, but it was a wake-up call to complacent white America. I’m glad I wasn’t home to see my father’s reaction to the event. Both men hated the violence, but from polar opposite perspectives.

And yet . . .

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker or a passing car. I can’t  quote it, but here is what I remember:

Violence never solved anything – except for ending slavery, ending Fascism, saving the remaining Jews, and keeping America safe at home.


Now blacks are being killed with depressing frequency by police (Or were they always being killed, and we are just now becoming properly aware of it?), and police are being gunned down in turn. Do I approve? Of course not, not in either case. But I am not surprised.

Do I want to see black violence against whites? Good God, no. Violence brings reprisals, which hurts everybody. Besides, to be personal and selfish, I would be a big white target.

Still, I remember Detroit, and I remember my father’s willingness to turn his back on events and let them pass him by, as long as they didn’t disturb his little world.

I hate that this is true, but fear motivates.


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