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The Detroit Riots, from a Child's Perspective

June 1, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

In one of the worst riots in US history, some 43 people lost their lives and thousands more were injured or arrested.

In the summer of 1967, simmering tensions between the police and the black community in Detroit, Michigan exploded into five chaotic days of looting, arson and violence. In one of the worst riots in American history, some 43 people lost their lives and thousands more were injured or arrested.

Similar violence broke out in dozens of other cities across America that summer, most notably Newark, New Jersey. But the events of July 1967 would leave their particular mark on Detroit, a once-thriving city that would fall on hard times in the decades to come.

READ MORE: 1967 Detroit Riots

The day before the riots began, Detroit native Sheila Coffee spent hours dancing at her cousin Gwen’s wedding reception. She was 10 years old, and she and another young cousin had been the flower girls. That night, Sheila slept over at her grandmother’s house on Monterey Street, just around the corner from where the reception had taken place.

When she woke up the next morning—July 23—Sheila went outside to sit on the porch. Right away, she could tell something was not right. “I saw people just coming down the street with arms full of merchandise, all kinds of things, and smoke all in the air,” she recalled recently in an interview.

Sheila and her grandmother turned on the TV to find news of the riots on every station. Early that morning, police officers had raided an illegal bar and gambling joint—known as a blind pig—on 12th Street, close to the house where Sheila lived with her parents and three brothers. After a crowd gathered at the corner of 12th and Clairmount, one of the onlookers threw a bottle at a police officer. As the police fled, thousands of people flooded the streets, looting stores and setting fire to many buildings.

Much of what was happening confused Sheila. She would learn a lot of new words in a short time: Martial law. National Guard. Curfew. Her parents always made her come in at night as soon as the streetlights came on, and her grandma explained that the citywide curfew was a little bit like that. Except everyone—not just the kids—had to be off the streets between 7 pm and 7 am.

READ MORE: How Columbia’s Student Uprising Was Sparked …read more


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How AIDS Remained an Unspoken—But Deadly—Epidemic for Years

June 1, 2020 in History

By Joseph Bennington-Castro

Health officials first became aware of AIDS in the summer of 1981, but U.S. leaders remained largely silent for four years.

By the end of 1984, AIDS had already ravished the United States for a few years, affecting at least 7,700 people and killing more than 3,500. Scientists had identified the cause of AIDS—HIV—and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified all of its major transmission routes.

Yet, U.S. leaders had remained largely silent and unresponsive to the health emergency. And it wasn’t until September 1985, four years after the crisis began, that President Ronald Reagan first publicly mentioned AIDS.

But by then, AIDS was already a full-blown epidemic.

An Emerging Epidemic

CDC laboratorian, Carol Reed, conducting AIDS research in 1973.

HIV originated in 1920 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. It spread to Haiti and the Caribbean before jumping to New York City around 1970 and California within the decade.

Health officials first became aware of AIDS in the summer of 1981. Young and otherwise healthy gay men in Los Angeles and New York began getting sick and dying of unusual illnesses normally associated with people with weakened immune systems.

It didn’t take long for fear of the “gay plague” to spread quickly among the gay community. Beyond the mortal danger from the disease, they also dealt with potentially being “outed” as homosexual if they had AIDS or an illness resembling it.

News outlets also struggled with the disease, or at least how to cover it—some even shied away from giving it too much attention. Though the New York Times initially reported on the mysterious illnesses, it would take almost two years before the prestigious paper gave AIDS front-page space. By that time, almost 600 people had died from it.

David W. Dunlap, a reporter in the Metro section at the time, told the New York Times Style Magazine: “There were strong messages that you got that were not written on any whiteboard. You knew to avoid it. It was a self-reinforcing edict: Don’t write about queers.”

This squeamishness was damaging the public’s understanding of the epidemic, according to Max Frankel, a former editorial page editor at the paper.

Silence Towards AIDS

AIDS patient Deotis McMather, shown asleep in bed at San Francisco Generals AIDS ward, circa 1983. After being diagnosed with AIDS, he returned to his …read more


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Tulsa Race Massacre begins

June 1, 2020 in History

By Editors

Beginning on the night of May 31, 1921, thousands of white citizens in Tulsa, Oklahoma descended on the city’s predominantly black Greenwood District, burning homes and businesses to the ground and killing hundreds of people. Long mischaracterized as a race riot, rather than mass murder, the Tulsa Race Massacre stands as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the nation’s history.

In the years following World War I, segregation was the law of the land, and the Ku Klux Klan was gaining ground—not only in the Jim Crow South, but across the United States. Amid that charged environment, Tulsa’s African American community was nationally recognized for its affluence. The Greenwood District, known as “Black Wall Street,” boasted more than 300 black-owned businesses, including two movie theaters, doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

READ MORE: Tulsa’s ‘Black Wall Street’ Flourished as a Self-Contained Hub in Early 1900s

Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma was founded and developed by African-Americans starting in 1906 on what had formerly been Indian Territory. It flourished with the opening of clothing shops, theaters and businesses and became known as Black Wall Street. In 1921, Greenwood was the target of attacks by an armed mob in the Tulsa Race Massacre.

View the 8 images of this gallery on the original article

On May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland entered an elevator in an office building in downtown Tulsa. At some point, Rowland was alone in the elevator with its white operator, Sarah Page. It’s unclear what happened next (one common version is that Rowland stepped on Page’s foot) but Page screamed, and Rowland fled the scene. The next day, the police arrested him.

Rumors about the incident spread quickly through Tulsa’s white community, some members of which undoubtedly resented the prosperity of the Greenwood District. After a story published in the Tulsa Tribune on the afternoon of May 31 claimed that Rowland had attempted to rape Page, an angry white mob gathered in front of the courthouse, demanding that Rowland be handed over.

Seeking to prevent a lynching, a group of some 75 black men arrived on the scene that night, some of them World War I veterans who were carrying weapons. After a white man tried to disarm a black veteran and the gun went off, chaos broke out.

Over the next 24 hours, thousands of white rioters poured into …read more