Achieving Independence: History, Memory, Race.

AuthorShaw, Heather
PositionRecommended readings

Work Title: Achieving Independence: History, Memory, Race

Work Author(s): Heather Shaw


Byline: Heather Shaw

A Detroit vice squad busting in on a blind pig at Twelfth and Clairmont got more than they bargained for when they surprised a welcome home party for Vietnam vets. The decision to arrest all eighty-two clients brought out a crowd of protesters. Someone broke into a clothing store next door... And that was the beginning of the beginning for July 1967. Over the next few days, the National Guard was mobilized, as well as the 82nd Airborne. By the end, forty-three people were dead, 1,189 were injured, and more than 7,000 had been arrested.

President Lyndon Johnson immediately formed an eleven-member commission to investigate the causes of the riots in Detroit and elsewhere. Their conclusion, published in February of 1968, was that "our nation is moving toward two societies---one black, one white---separate and unequal." The Kerner Report went further, to claim that white racism was the primary cause of urban violence, and that jobs, housing, and the end of segregation were the only paths to avoid a "system of 'apartheid'" in major U.S. cities. Johnson rejected the findings. A month later, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, and riots broke out in more than 100 cities.

In 1910, in New York City, the National Urban League (originally The Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes) organized a community-based movement "to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights." In 1977, the Urban League began publishing annual reports on the status of Black Americans. Michigan State University's Urban Affairs Programs began publishing its own version in 1984. The State of Black Michigan, 1967-2007 (Joe T. Darden, Curtis Stokes, and Richard W. Thomas, editors; Michigan State, 978-0-87013-827-0) collects selected essays from the ten years of reports into one volume, adding new data and analysis.

Lou Anna K. Simon, president of Michigan State University, says in the foreword, "It would be a pleasure if I could say that Michigan has met the challenge of the color line and that today, relative to 1967, the condition of blacks relative to whites has improved. However, based on the evidence provided in this book, the social and economic gap based on most indicators has widened since the civil disorders of 1967."

The book analyzes conditions from 1967 to the present, covering economic status, black-owned businesses, housing, segregation, crime, health, and political conditions. The article by Richard W. Thomas, "Black Self-Help in Michigan," is not to be missed as he argues against "some contemporary black conservatives who have gotten much white press for their de-emphasis of racism and their emphasis on deficits within blacks as key factors in the current complex problems still facing the black community."

The following books selected for Black History Month provide the background for some of these "current complex problems"---from the two outstanding anthologies, to the new collections of documents, testimonials, and scholarly work about the groups and individuals who struggled to define themselves, their place in society, and a set of objectives after the achieving independence in name only.

Froward and Immorigerous

Those were the words that Cotton Mather used to describe the slave...

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