“12th and Clairmount” upcoming documentary on the 1967 Detroit riots.

Back in 2007 I wrote a blog entry about the 40th anniversary of the Detroit riots. Now we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary and there’s a new documentary being produced in remembrance of those events:

Trailer for new Detroit ’67 riot film ’12th and Clairmount’

Drawing from more than 400 reels of donated home movies from the era, the documentary is being produced by the Free Press in collaboration with Bridge Magazine and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and a group of metro Detroit cultural institutions, led by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The film combines archival and new interviews with witnesses to the events with footage from the home movies. Those five days in July were among the most pivotal — and divisive — in the city’s history, with the turmoil leaving 43 dead. While the 50th anniversary of the summer of ’67 was the impetus for the film, the home movie footage in “12th and Clairmount” captures a wide spectrum of Detroit life, from proud streetscapes to dance parties to neighborhood sporting events.

As I wrote back in 2007, this topic is a fascinating one for me because I was born in late August at Brent General Hospital just blocks from where the riot started while Detroit was still dealing with the aftermath. Right now it appears viewings are limited to the upcoming  Freep Film Festival in March and then at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in July. The DIA is continuing to collect home movies of the riot for those interested in contributing:

The film is part of a larger project led by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA, with funding from the Knight Foundation, is collecting amateur films from the era since the fall as part of an ambitious effort by several organizations — including the Free Press, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Historical Society, the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University, Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative — to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that pivotal year.

The DIA is continuing to collect footage and is regularly screening them in their raw form. Its effort will culminate with a marathon screening on July 29. “12th and Clairmount” and the DIA screenings will be among a broad swath of cultural events happening in Detroit throughout the year that will reflect on the 50th anniversary of the riot, its cause and lasting impact.

Unfortunately, the trailer isn’t embeddable (or at least the link to do so isn’t working) so if you’re interested click through to the news article to check it out and for information on how to contribute footage.

Dumbass counterfeiter wants to be on “Hardcore Pawn” so badly he gets himself busted.

Pic of Charlie Brown.

I'm right there with you on that one, Chuck.

Some folks will do anything for their brief moment in the spotlight. Take for example Detroit area counterfeiter Kenny “Boom” Smith who is a big fan of the reality show Hardcore Pawn which is filmed in Detroit at American Jewelry and Loan. He wanted to be on the show soooo badly that he offered to sell Les Gold, the owner and star, his counterfeit making machine and a bunch of counterfeit money:

So Gold didn’t bat an eyelash when Smith showed up and wanted to sell him his counterfeit money and machine. He wanted to be on the show. Smith told Gold he would bring his counterfeiting equipment to the store. A short time later the Secret Service showed up at American Jewelry and Loan. They had been tracing Smith’s activities since he had been passing his fake bills.

Gold filled them in on what Smith had told him and the agents found out Smith’s counterfeiting claims had been captured on camera for the show.

So now, Smith has been busted by the Secret Service and charged in federal court. This isn’t his first counterfeiting case either. He has done a stint in prison for the same thing and if convicted he is going back again.

As Gold says, “All because he wanted his five minutes of fame on TV.”

via Counterfeiter caught selling to famous Detroit pawn shop of ‘Hardcore Pawn’ | News – Home.

Obviously Mr. Smith isn’t the brightest bulb, but his quest for TV infamy still prompts a couple of questions. What, exactly, did he expect the pawn shop to do with the phony money? Sell it as a novelty? REAL FAKE MONEY! FOOL YOUR FRIENDS! GET YOUR ENEMIES ARRESTED!  Did he not understand that he was being filmed admitting to a crime? He signed the waiver allowing them to use the footage on the show and it’s not like they use hidden cameras. Did he just think it wouldn’t be admissible in court?

If nothing else I suppose he deserves credit for putting his own stupid add back into a jail cell. That’s one less source of fake money doing business in Detroit.

Atheist bus ads in Detroit vandalized by tolerant, upstanding religious folks.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an entry about the atheist bus ads making their way to Detroit. I mentioned in the title that the Christians in the area were “freaking the fuck out.” A description that at least one commenter in that thread took issue with:

John writes:

So what? I’m an atheist. I’m also not one who attempts to make excuses for my beliefs – just as Christians should not for theirs. They aren’t “freaking the fuck out” from what I can tell from the protests. It seems most want to abstain from riding the train that displays a message on it that they disagree with ; which is fine. It’s what I do by avoiding walking in to places of worship because I don’t wish to hear whatever messages I disagree with.

You’re right, John. It was wrong of me to characterize the folks leaving angry comments on the news article as “freaking the fuck out.”

Though perhaps this qualifies:

(Detroit, March 15, 2010) Vandals defaced or tore off part of the wording on at least three of the Detroit area bus ads that read “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” In each of the three currently known instances, it was the word “Don’t” that was targeted.

The vandalized signs are among the baker’s dozen of King and Queen sized ads first placed on the outsides of Detroit SMART buses on March 4 by the Detroit Area Coalition of Reason (Detroit CoR). The ads were paid for by the United Coalition of Reason (United CoR), headquartered in Washington DC.

“Acts like this give a striking reminder that our message is necessary,” said Ruthe Milan, coordinator of Detroit CoR. “Without a doubt, prejudice against atheists and agnostics is still very real in American life.”

Yes, there’s nothing like vandalizing messages you don’t agree with to demonstrate Jesus’ love and teachings of tolerance. A rather innocuous message reaching out to other atheists is just the sort of thing that would’ve prompted Jesus into trying to rip them off the sides of the buses. Heaven forbid us atheists associate freely and openly! Next thing you know we’ll be meeting with the President and expressing our opinions on things!

Oh, wait…

I’ve been contacted by German news show “MorgenMagazin.”

Seems they’re coming to Michigan to do a news story on the transformation that the city of Detroit is going through. The show’s producer came across one of my entries about having a hard time finding work and how we were considering leaving Michigan, a discussion we just had again the other night, and dropped me an email. She’s looking for people who used to work for GM and are now thinking of moving away. I technically qualify on both counts, but I wasn’t a part of the massive layoffs that are about to happen having left GM voluntarily over a year ago. The fact that I was also a contractor probably means I’m not the person she’s hoping to interview, but perhaps I can point her to someone who is.

So if you’re in the Detroit area and are a former or soon-to-be former employee of GM and are thinking about moving out of Michigan let me know. The story’s deadline is Thursday. They plan to be here today and/or tomorrow. I don’t think you absolutely have to be living IN Detroit to participate, the fate of GM is going to affect pretty much all of South Eastern Michigan and the State as a whole, but there’s probably bonus points if you are.

Forget White Flight. Detroit now suffering from Dead Flight.

I love Michigan. Despite the problems its having economically I think it’s a great state and despite the fact that Detroit is suffering from too many problems to count I have a bit of a soft spot for it after my years working as a Michigan Bell lineman in the city in my early twenties. Growing up here one of the topics I can remember hearing people talk about from time to time was the phenomena of White Flight. Basically it’s where the whites that once made up the majority in Detroit fled to the suburbs increasing segregation and the number of people below the poverty line in the city. The phenomena is not unique to Detroit, but unlike some other major cities where whites are returning to the city they once fled, Detroit doesn’t seem to be following that trend.

What’s even more telling about Detroit’s problem, though, is that it appears the dead are fleeing as well:

By now the statistics are as well known in London as they are in Livonia. Detroit has lost half its population since its heyday of the 1950s, and every year the city hemorrhages an estimated 5,000 people more. First it was white flight to the suburbs; then with the city’s continued spiral into poverty and violence, blacks began to flee to those same suburbs. And while census figures show that whites are returning to some of the nation’s largest cities, Detroit is experiencing a flight of a different kind. As the Imbrunones’ second funeral demonstrates, Detroit is experiencing the flight of the dead.

The movement of the dead from the nation’s largest black city to its overwhelmingly white suburbs is a small, though socially symbolic phenomenon, revealing the grinding problems of race, crime and economics that plague both sides of Eight Mile.

From 2002 through 2007, the remains of about 1,000 people have been disinterred and moved out of the city, according to permits stored in metal filing cabinets in the city’s department of health. Looked at in another way, for about every 30 living human beings who leave Detroit, one dead human being follows. Moreover, anecdotal evidence compiled by a Detroit professor suggests the figure may be twice as high, meaning city records may be incomplete and that thousands upon thousands of deceased people have been relocated from the city over the past 20 years.

I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of room for the dead in my life. As far as I know I’ve never been to my biological father’s grave site. It doesn’t help that it’s someplace in North Carolina and I don’t have a clue as to where, but even if I did I can’t say that I’d ever stop by to see it. My maternal grandparents are buried in West Branch, Michigan and I’ve not been back to their graves since their funerals. The same goes for my Uncle Bob (Grayling, Michigan) and Uncle Gene (Dryden, Michigan I think). Even my best friend Bill Owen has yet to have me visit his grave in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Again, none of those are particularly close to where I’m currently living, but I could make the trip if I wanted to. When my mother passes away or my stepfather I can’t say with any certainty that I’ll ever visit their graves either.

I’ve always felt a little odd about that because I know a few people who make pilgrimages to the graves of loved ones on a regular basis. I think part of it is probably because I don’t believe in an afterlife and even if I did I’m not sure going to a grave would be necessary to talk to whichever deceased person I wanted to talk to. Not being a believer I’m not real clear on how all that stuff is supposed to work, but you see scenes in movies all the time where someone visits a dead person’s grave and talks to them about something or other as if the grave was some sort of metaphysical phone or something. I often wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I don’t feel the need to go see where someone I love is buried. And now that I think about it I realize I’m not sure if my maternal grandparents were buried or cremated. How sad is that?

The point being that I can’t begin to understand why someone would feel the need to dig up dead grandparents who have been in the same plot of ground for over 50 years (as is the case in the news item I linked to) just to relocate them to the suburbs. The article offers two possible explanations:

The practice appears to be most common among families like the Imbrunones: former east side Catholic Detroiters who moved to Macomb County years ago, miles away from their dearly departed. The cemetery that appears to lose the most is Mount Olivet, located in the heart of the wild east side, with about 100 disinterments a year. The destination of choice seems to be Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township, which is now home to 11 members of the Imbrunone family.

Although there is little information or statistical evidence regarding the phenomenon across the country, it is quite likely that Detroit and its surrounding communities lead the way, as it does in population loss among the living.

The reasons are two-fold, surmises Patrick Lynch, a Clawson funeral home director and executive board member of the National Funeral Directors Association. “People have to drive to a place that may take them through neighborhoods they otherwise may never go,” he said. “Their safety might be compromised. Whether that is real or perceived, it’s real to them.

“Second, families have left the city and they want to bring their family members closer to them,” Lynch said. “People have grown older and they simply don’t or can’t drive to the city anymore. They want to be near to those they love.”

[…] The granddaughters, being the next of kin, elected to pay the approximately $5,000 to move their grandparents to Macomb County because they wanted to be closer to them. “In our family you don’t forget about your people,” Palazzolo said. “I hope that’s human. It’s at least Italian.”

Love. That was one part of the decision. There is another.

“To tell you the truth, yes, it’s fear,” Palazzolo said. “Have you been to Detroit? I pray the car doesn’t break down. I cringe when I drive down Gratiot. I’m worried for my life. There’s a lot of bad people in Detroit. But to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of bad people out here. But at least we’re closer this way.”

Earlier this summer Peter Cracchiolo, 89, of Grosse Pointe Shores, removed his mother and sister from Mount Olivet and relocated them to Resurrection. Cracchiolo, too, grew up on the city’s east side and his family was part of the great white exodus. His explanation for moving his dearly departed was convenience, though the Detroit cemetery is closer to his home.

“I’ve already got relatives up there,” he said of the suburban cemetery. “I’ve got friends up there. It’s one-stop visiting this way. Me, I don’t forget my people. No sir.”

I still don’t understand. I haven’t forgotten my grandparents, uncles, or my best friend despite them being dead for quite some time now, but I’ve never felt the need to drive to their graves for a visit. Nor, for that matter, would I feel any better if they were closer to where I lived. What I do understand is the Professor’s explanation:

“What it says to me is that there is a deeply ingrained fear on the part of suburbanites in terms of their attitude toward the city and its hold is very powerful and very deep,” Vogel said. “When they’re afraid to cross Eight Mile to visit a cemetery, it tells you what we’re up against and any solutions are not going to be easy.”

When I was a kid stories of how dangerous Detroit was were discussed at a whisper usually reserved for tales of the Bogeyman and, in many ways, that’s exactly what Detroit was to us middle class white kids. Even where I grew up in Pontiac, which in many ways wasn’t all that different from Detroit, the tales of murder and depravity in the city were near legendary. I can clearly recall, after hearing one particularly horrible story at the tender age of 8 of how the blacks would murder any white person they caught in Detroit after midnight, that I swore to myself I’d never set foot in the city out of fear for my life (which is ironic because I was literally born in Detroit). It was a matter of bragging rights to be a white kid who claimed to have spent any amount of time in Detroit. Racism clearly played a role in the stories and it still does today.

Given that Bogeyman-like hold Detroit has over so many people in the suburbs I can understand how they’d feel uncomfortable having to drive into the city to visit a grave site. But I don’t understand the need to visit grave sites in the first place. I can also see the troubling sign that the Dead Flight represents and how it shows Detroit still has a long way to go before it’ll come close to its former glory.

So that’s what the Uniroyal Giant Tire once looked like.

Photo by Ken Lund. Used under the CC ShareALike 2.0 license

If you’ve spent any time traveling here and there on I-94 in Detroit then you’ve probably seen the Uniroyal Giant Tire at least once or twice. If not then you can click the image to the left for a larger version.

Anyway, the Giant Tire was something that always fascinated me on the infrequent occasions I saw it as a child and it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I recall asking someone, possibly my parents, where it came from and being told that it was once a ferris wheel or that it once had a ferris wheel inside of it. I tried to imagine there being a little door people could walk in to ride the ferris wheel inside the tire and thought it was a shame you couldn’t do that any longer. Then I thought it was weird that you’d want to ride a ferris wheel inside a tire as the view would totally suck.

It never occurred to me to use the Internet to look up just what the hell it looked like when it was a ferris wheel until I saw this item on the 1964 NYC Worlds Fair at Boing Boing. The picture included with the article is of the Giant Tire as ferris wheel which you can see in the image on the right (and can again click to embiggen).

And I had that feeling of a paradigm shift in how I see the Giant Tire. The first shift dealt with the fact that the tire is a mere three years older than I am being as I was born in 1967 so, yes, that’s exactly why it would seem to me like it’s always been there because for me it always has.

The other shift was a realization of how silly I’d been for imagining that people went inside the tire to ride a ferris wheel with no view to speak of. It never once crossed my mind that they’d have built it in the manner shown to the right. It was also cool to find the Uniroyal webpage devoted to the history of the tire:

The Uniroyal® Giant Tire was originally created as a Ferris wheel attraction at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. The wheel held 96 fairgoers and was powered by a 100-horsepower motor. More than two million people rode the Giant Tire Ferris wheel during the fair, including Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, John Jr. and Caroline.

After the 1965 World’s Fair festivities ended, the Giant Tire was relocated to a Uniroyal sales office in Allen Park, Michigan, and has towered alongside I-94 near the Metro Airport ever since. Over the decades it has become an important symbol of Uniroyal’s 111-year heritage and a cultural icon for the city of Detroit known the world over.

In 1994, the Giant Tire received a facelift to give it a sleeker, more modern look. Neon lighting and a new hubcap were added.

In August of 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again—this time to resemble a NailGard® tire. A giant nail was placed in the tread to demonstrate the product’s ability to seal 90% of tread punctures up to 3/16” in diameter.

In 2003, Uniroyal invested close to $1 million to renovate the Giant Tire as its contribution to Detroit’s I-94 corridor revitalization effort. The renovation, which included structural repairs and an update to the exterior, will ensure that the Giant Tire is enjoyed for many years to come.

I can remember the upgrades it received over the years. I can also remember seeing that a lot of idiots liked to take potshots at the tire with bows and arrows as there were a number of arrows sticking out of the tire at various points over the years. I recall reading somewhere that some folks opted to shoot at it with guns instead of arrows which would make riding a ferris wheel inside of it a rather more risky undertaking. To this day I’d love to have a chance to see the inside of it even though the ferris wheel that once sat inside is long gone. I found that out from this Detroit News article on the tire and Michigan’s Giant Wood Stove:

The interior’s Ferris wheel assembly went to an amusement park and a new framework of structural steel was built to support the giant attraction. The tire weighs more than 100 tons and took 130 days to rebuild. The tire, described as “the largest ever built,” is designed to withstand hurricane force winds, and certainly blowouts.

In 1990, Michelin Tire bought Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Co, and in 1994, announced plans to renovate the structure. The tire’s fiberglass cover, washed, painted and updated, emerged with a sporty new look. A company official, Lowell Eckart, Uniroyal brand marketing manager, said: “Updating the giant tire is symbolic of the revitalization that the Uniroyal brand itself is experiencing,” he said. “Given the brand’s prominent position as an original-equipment supplier, it is fitting that the symbol of the brand’s close connection to Detroit be refurbished.”

The Uniroyal plant attracted generations of men and women seeking a better life and a better future. Now only the giant tire remains to bear witness to the working lives of those who sweated and toiled in the riverfront factory that helped build the city of Detroit.

I always get a little thrill from learning the history of things like the Giant Tire. It’s been there my entire life and I never fail to think about it whenever I drive past it, but only after 40 years have I ever been in a spot to learn about it. I’d thought about looking it up any number of times when driving past it, as I did every day for the entire four years that I worked at Ford Motor Company, but by the time I’d get to a computer my ADD would have long since kicked in and made me forget all about it. At least until the next time I saw it. It’s like finding a long missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that you’ve been meaning to finish finally show up and fall into place.

The 1967 Detroit 12th Street riots remembered.

On this date 40 years ago Detroit descended into chaos as a riot broke out on 12th Street. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about the riot:

The 12th Street Riot in Detroit began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. Vice squad officers executed a raid at a blind pig on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount on the city’s near westside. The confrontation with the patrons there evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in modern U.S. history, lasting five days and far surpassing the 1943 riot the city endured. Before the end, the state and federal governments, under order of then President Lyndon B. Johnson, sent in National Guard and U.S. Army troops and the result was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests and more than 2,000 buildings burned down. The scope of the riot was eclipsed in scale only by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Detroit has never fully recovered from the after-effects of the riot and the negative domestic and international media coverage. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and an extensive cover stories in Time magazine and Life on August 4, 1967. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.

I was born just over a month later on August 25th, 1967 and obviously wasn’t around to experience the event itself yet I was still impacted by the event in subtle ways as I grew up. Over the years I gradually became aware of a general animosity between Detroit and its suburban neighbors that I didn’t fully understand. I grew up in Pontiac and even though it was hardly what most folks think of when they hear the word “suburb” — Pontiac is practically a clone of Detroit on a smaller scale in most respects — that didn’t stop folks in Pontiac from talking about what a hell-hole Detroit was ever since the riots and that opinion was echoed by a lot of folks in just about every other suburb of Detroit. I can recall hearing time and again how the riot was the event that resulted in the ‘white flight’ to the suburbs that left Detroit predominately populated by blacks. That was only kind of true as it turns out that whites had been leaving the city for the suburbs ever since World War II, but the 1967 riot certainly caused the rate of that migration to exponentially increase. Former Detroit mayor Coleman Young wrote on the effect of the riot as follows:

The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the rebellion, totally twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.

Coleman Young was Detroit’s first black mayor ever and he was quite the polarizing figure himself. He took office in 1974 and stayed there for the next 20 years with a chip on his shoulder and a fondness for swearing that would’ve made him fit right in here at SEB. By the time he left office he was considered by a lot of suburbanites as being part of the reason Detroit never seemed to recover from the riot.

Needless to say with today being the 40th anniversary of the start of the riot there’s been plenty of remembrances on radio and in the newspapers about it by people that lived through it. I’ve probably learned more in the past few days about an event that has subtly influenced my life from the start than I’ve learned in my near-40 years of living in south eastern Michigan. In particular I was struck by an Michigan Radio (NPR) news story by Sarah Hulett in which she talks with her grandfather, who was a cop in Detroit in 1967, about the riot and the fact that she chooses to live in the city today. The sentiments he expresses are quite similar to many of the ones I heard growing up. Click here to listen to her story. That item is part of a larger collection of stories on the 1967 riot called Ashes to Hope that’s worth a listen if you want to learn a little more. Another good collection of stories comes from this Detroit Free Press special and are worth taking a gander at.

As for me, I benefited both from growing up in Pontiac (which as I said was a lot like Detroit in some respects) and from a job with Michigan Bell (now AT&T) that had me working all over Detroit back when I was 19 years old. I got to see the worst and the best of the city while working as a telephone lineman and it sharply changed the perspective I had of the city for the better as growing up surrounded by so much negativity about the city had obviously colored my views. An image of Detroit that too many people still hold not only locally, but across the nation. I admit I have a soft spot for the town in part because I tend to sympathize with the underdog, but also because the stories I’ve heard about how the city used to be made it sound like a great place and makes me hope it might regain some of that former glory the way cities like Chicago have managed to do. Forty years later Detroit is still suffering from the 1967 riot and while it’s recovery has been a long time in coming it appears to be picking up momentum. Though there’s still a long way yet to go.