Before the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., he used a version of it in Detroit at Cobo Hall in June of 1963. It was part of a “Walk to Freedom” march with more than 125,000 people in downtown Detroit was the largest until the famous event at the Lincoln Mall in Washington, D.C.
Why was the “Walk to Freedom” in Detroit on June 23, 1963? It was to remember the end of race riot that had happened from June 20-22 1943, where two different but horrible rumors spread in the black and white communities at the same time.
Feeding off tensions at the time around jobs, housing (if you were black you weren’t allowed to buy a house where you wanted, for instance), there was a false rumor that a mob of whites had thrown an African-American mother and her baby into the Detroit River, and another false rumor through white neighborhoods that blacks had raped and murdered a white woman on the Belle Isle Bridge. Beginning with gangs of whites getting off streetcars and beating blacks and continuing for three days with atrocious violence on all sides, 34 people were killed and 433 were wounded. 17 of those killings were by the police. 13 of those deaths in 1943 remain unsolved to this day.
Whether it was 1943, 1967, or various skirmishes in the 1800’s, Detroit has a long and tangled racial history, and it’s important we remember it and learn from our past so we can move forward, together, for a better future.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“…I hope you will allow me to say to you this afternoon that God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men. God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race. And I believe that with this philosophy and this determined struggle we will be able to go on in the days ahead and transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
May our streets never see mass violence of that kind again, and we hope one day, no violence whatsoever.