The key moment in the self-destruction of the once great American city of Detroit over the past half century can be dated precisely to July 23, 1967, when blacks began the Detroit Riot. Before 4,700 paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions finally halted the orgy of criminality, African Americans had looted 2,500 stores and burned down 400 buildings in their own neighborhoods.
The next year, 80,000 whites moved out of Detroit. (In 2017, the total population of Detroit is almost a million lower than fifty years ago.)
Of course, today we are instructed to think of these white refugees from black violence not as victims but as perps. Almost nobody is interested in the stories of the millions of Americans whose lives were literally dislocated by the huge surge in black urban crime during the peak years of American liberalism, 1964–75.
For example, the opening text for the new movie Detroit, which opens nationally on Friday, pins the blame for the black riot of 1967 on the economic devastation caused by the 22,000 whites who had presciently left Detroit the year before, apparently taking all the magic dirt with them, leaving only the tragic dirt.
In reality, the Detroit Riot had little to do with economic decline. Instead, it was a classic example of how rising expectations fuel resentment. Detroit in 1967 represented the apogee of working-class prosperity, which Detroit blacks shared in due to United Auto Workers’ leader Walter Reuther’s profound opposition to racial discrimination. Perhaps no black community in the history of the world had yet been as broadly prosperous as Detroit’s in 1967. To blacks across America, Berry Gordy’s Motown record label, named after the glamorous Motor City, represented black affluence. Economist Thomas Sowell observed:
Before the ghetto riot of 1967, Detroit’s black population had the highest rate of home-ownership of any black urban population in the country, and their unemployment rate was just 3.4 percent. It was not despair that fueled the riot. It was the riot which marked the beginning of the decline of Detroit to its current state of despair.
Moreover, intensely pro-black white liberals, such as President Lyndon Johnson, Governor George Romney (Mitt’s dad), and Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, were pouring taxpayer money into Detroit’s black neighborhoods.