1943 June 20

Detroit Race Riot Paralyzes City, Threatens War Effort


As wartime production in the defense industries boomed, tens of thousands of people moved to Detroit seeking employment. They included many African-Americans and whites from the South. Racial conflicts arose and finally erupted into one of the worst racial riots up to that time. The riot lasted for three days, and order was finally restored by federal troops. For two years prior to the riot, whites, often threatening violence, had opposed the racial integration of a public housing project in the city. Thirty-four people were killed, 25 of whom were African-Americans (17 were killed by the police). NAACP legal director Thurgood Marshall denounced the conduct of the Detroit police in an article entitled, “The Gestapo in Detroit” in the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. Many Americans, including leaders of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, were worried that Germany and Japan would attempt to exploit the issue of race discrimination to undermine American unity during the war. The Detroit riot was one of several racial or ethnic disturbances in 1943, including the famous “Zoot Suit Riot” that erupted in Los Angeles on June 3, 1943, which involved clashes between the Latino community and U.S. military personnel and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Read: Dominick J. Capeci, Jr. and Martha Wilkerson, Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943 (1991) Learn more: Ann Collins, All Hell Broke Loose: American Race Riots From the Progressive Era Through World War II (2012) Watch a video on the 1943 Detroit race riot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YP9cbo5CkU Learn more about the 1943 Detroit Race Riot: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/detroit-race-riot-1943

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