’67 Rebellion journal
By Kristin Cleage Williams
Following is an exceptionally vivid “composite” of entries on the Detroit Rebellion from the private journal of Kristin Cleage Williams, the eldest daughter of Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman (Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr.), who was a student at Wayne State University.
She kept it during the epochal events from Sunday, July 23, the day that the most destructive uprising in U. S. history up to that time erupted, to Sunday, July 30, 1967, when white gawkers drove through the affected areas, including past Central United Church of Christ, also known as the Shrine of the Black Madonna, pastored by her father.
As she noted in her journal, a few blocks west of the church, in front of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary at West Chicago Boulevard, race-conscious uprising participants rendered a similar statement on the African roots of Christianity by painting the face and hands of a life-sized statue of Jesus a rich dark brown — which is how they remain to this day.
The morning that the Rebellion began, Williams and members of her family were returning to Detroit from the historic black resort town of Idlewild, Mich.
They arrived as federalized Michigan National Guardsmen, Detroit police officers and Michigan State Police troopers were pouring into Detroit’s mostly-black near-Westside to quell the rebellion, which quickly descended into what U. S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr., later described as a “police riot.”
Most of the Cleages gathered at the home of Jaramogi Agyeman’s mother on Atkinson, two blocks west of the Rebellion’s epicenter at 12th Street and Clairmount.
“My cousins Dale, Ernie, Blair and Jan, my father, my grandmother, my aunts Gladys and Barbara, Uncles Hugh and Louis were all there,” Williams recently explained.
She later edited her entries for a creative writing class. “I wrote it in stream of consciousness style and cut it down and used it to apply for editor of the student literary magazine at Wayne…,” Williams continued. “I didn’t get the job, but the guy recommended I apply for art editor of the South End [student newspaper] and I did get that job and was there when John Watson took over [as editor]” — PL.
The fire siren that night in Idlewild went on and on and on. Gladys got a phone call that a riot had started. We left that morning. The sky was pink with smoke as we drove into the city.
During the riot, when it got dark, we turned off the lights, put on black clothes and waited. The shots that had been going all day got louder, closer, smashed together. We sat on the porch and watched the tanks go up and down the street full of white boys wearing glasses, aiming their guns at us.
One during the day went by in a yellow telephone repair truck. He rode in the elevated stand, pointing his rifle. We looked back at him.
Lights from helicopters whirred over us. Troops went down 12th, down 14th. The street shook. Afraid to sleep because somebody might shoot through the window, we stayed up until the sky got light. My cousins cleared out the furniture in front of the windows, so they could shoot.
Should they let them get in or shoot before they reach the porch? They lay there on quilts, looking out the window. Seeing soldiers and armored trucks in flowerpots and dump trucks. Dale asked how the gun worked. Ernie shows him by the hall light.
The guns sounded like they were in the alley. I sat on the landing. Thorough the window it was dark and unreal outside. Blair came up, scared, so we went in the basement and turned on a program about Vietnam, but then off to a horror movie nobody watched.
Daddy came down, with a drink, to use the phone and dictate demands to the papers. Ernie showed us how to bolt doors if someone tried to come in the window.
They tried to get Grandmother down to watch TV, but she wouldn’t. She stayed upstairs, watched TV and came out only at times to turn lights on and silhouette everybody hiding guns as the soldiers were pulled back.
On the police radio: Fifty policemen wounded in one hour. They were run out of the Clairmont Square again. A woman turns in her sniper husband.
Dale was left on the porch when they flashed light on the porch and summer-salted in. Bullets were so close I was afraid and went back inside.
Grandmother turning on lights with armed flower pots aiming at us.
Turning Vietnamese guns up loud to drown out theirs. Jan and I, sleeping on the hard scratchy rug. Ernie wanting just a ring to show he was there. Dale taping, taking pictures to show his children. Jesus painted Black.
All that Sunday cars full of white folks went down Linwood past the Church. Windows rolled up. Sightseeing. Long, slow lines, car after car, windows shut tight. Jeeps going by pointing guns.
Copyright © 2007 by Kristin Cleage Williams