Sue Schmittroth

Title

Sue Schmittroth

Description

Sue Schmittroth was a teenager who was staying in the cultural center of Detroit in July of 1967. She and her friends explored around the city during the unrest to quell their curiosity and got into more than one altercation with law enforcement.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

02/16/2017

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

Text

Language

en-US

Type

Written Story

Text

My view of the 1967 Riots

It was a really hot day. Temperatures were close to 90 and there was a near full moon that night. A young black teenager had been shot and killed and people were infuriated. I was a 16 year old runaway about to experience her first day as a child out in the world.

I stood on the corner of 6 mile and Livernois, near the famous Chessmate Lounge, and my favorite diner across the street, wondering what I was going to do. As I pondered my future, standing on that corner, I witnessed the strangest occurrence. Some kids were breaking into a jewelry store across the street. Not easily shaken, the only thing that seemed odd was that it was broad daylight. A few minutes later some other people broke into another jewelry store, and that really got my attention. What was to happen next was beyond my ability to fathom.

As I stood there, just trying to take in what was going on around me, a parade of every conceivable type of law enforcement vehicle started heading full steam down Livernois. There were city police, state police, army vehicles, even tanks speeding down Livernois, and the didn't even stop! The thieves kept right on with their business and the were totally ignored.

Finally a group of friends pulled up and said, "There's riots going on, let's go".
Now, anyone with any sense would have tried to find a safe place to escape the mayhem, but we were young and stupid so we started following the fires, listening to updates on the radio, and trying to arrive first to the next show. Oddly, although we were white, no one tried to accost us, and again due to our age and naivety, we did not feel in danger. We drove from one part of the city to another watching people smashing storefronts and removing anything portable. People say this was a race riot, but I believe it was a gathering of oppressed people who had few of the resources and opportunities we white people take for granted every day.
After watching the city burn we returned to our neighborhood and watched Livernois, "The Avenue of Fashion", go up in flames.The fancy clothing stores were emptied of their expensive contents, and TV's, stereos. and anything that could be carried was quickly whisked away. Our local hardware store, Merchandise Mart, went up for hours, due to all of the combustibles.

The police finally arrived on the scene and got control of the neighborhood, but the damage was done. I remember walking in the alley behind the stores and noticing an interesting tie lying on the ground. I bent over to pick it up when I heard a voice say "I wouldn't do that if I was you". I looked up to see a cop with a very large German Shepherd eyeing me from a short distance away. Needless to say, I left the tie alone.

I ended up down in the cultural center that night, which would be my home for the next several years. My boyfriend wouldn't let me stay with him because I was underage, so I ended up with some friends holed up in their apartment. Curfew was imposed for 5 days but we would sneak out at night. On one of those nights, one of my genius friends decided that it would be a good idea to try and break into our local drug store because we were running out of cigarettes. As we headed down the street we heard gunfire, which we ignored, as it had become quite commonplace. All of a sudden shots started whizzing around our heads and we realized that we were the targets. We ran back to our apartment, narrowly escaping.

In the days that followed we became bored and decided to taunt the National Guard who were patrolling our neighborhood. These kids were only a little older than us and looked so out of place in their official uniforms with their baby faces. We put together a bunch of water balloons and started an attack. All of a sudden I heard boots pounding up the stairs and knew we were in trouble. A couple of us escaped to an apartment down the hall, but the others weren't so lucky. The Guard beat up all of the people in the apartment and were particularly brutal with this poor guy innocently taking a bath. We quickly learned that angry young men don't like to play!

The riots finally ended after 5 days and the city of Detroit and my life were inexorably changed. Thus began my life as an adult.

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Submitter's Name

Sue Schmittroth

Submission Date

02/16/2017

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Citation

“Sue Schmittroth,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed August 20, 2017, http://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/489.