In the early morning hours of July 23
, 1967, white Detroit Police officers raided a
“blind pig” after
-hours club in an impoverished, African-American part of town
expecting tofind a handful of people drinking illegally. They stumbled into a large party, celebrating thereturn of some friends from military service in Vietnam. The violence that unfolded over the
next few days is frequently cited by observers as the beginning of Detroit’
s long decline frombeing the 4
largest city in the U.S.
reputation as the “Paris of the
“Arsenal of Democracy” –
to a deserted and economically devastated city, struggling to remainin the top dozen American cities by population.What a closer investigation into the period following World War II reveals is that Detroitwas already a city on the decline before the midsummer violence of 1967. The industrial boomof the early 20
century and the promise of good-paying jobs for unskilled laborers had boosted
Detroit’s population from less than half a million in 1910 to over 1.5
million people in 1930.
Historians believe that the city’s population peaked close to 2 million people in the early 1950s,
only to drop rapidly from that point on, back down to pre-war levels by the end of the nextdecade.The decline of Detroit should rightly be attributed to a mixture of social, political,technological and economic forces that combined in ways unequaled elsewhere in America.
Because of the city’s unique reliance on a single industry, these forces hit Detroit harder than
they did other cities of the time. Federal housing and transportation policies would change in the1940s and 50s, spawning and subsidizing the growth of suburbs. Technology was changing themanufacturing industry, reducing the number of unskilled jobs available, and contributing to the