Jim Aho


Jim Aho


Jim Aho's grandmother kept a diary and recorded her thoughts on the 1943 race riots and the events of the week of July 23, 1967.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Written Story


This is not my personal story, but the story as told by my grandmother, Berta Delores (Chatfield) Atkinson (1891-1991), born in Rankin, Michigan, but who lived in and raised her four children in the city of Detroit. It is the story of a white couple living in Detroit during both the 1943 Detroit race riots, and the 1967 insurrection. It was unpleasant for me to read and share, but I felt it was an important footnote in Detroit history that should be shared. The quotations below are from my grandmother's personal journal which she kept from 1929 to 1971. In the first quoted paragraph below, she refers to life in Detroit in June of 1943 in the middle of World War II and the 1943 riots.

“This war is still awful and I hope God is on our side. I have never heard of so many strikes. Also, we are having a terrible riot, people actually killing each other, whites killing Negroes and visa versa. This doesn’t seem like our world at all. Wars, race riots, strikes and food rationing. Headlines read like this 'The Army patrolling a debris-littered riot zone with rifles and fixed bayonets ready for any emergency.' Some 2,300 Army troops were called into Detroit to establish military control. Some of the riots took place on Hastings and Farnsworth. This rioting has brought death to more than a score, and sent over two thousand persons to jail and hospitals. Street cars and automobiles over-turned. Its perfectly terrible.”

In the quoted paragraph below, my grandmother talks about the need to leave the city of Detroit in the aftermath of the riots.

“While we were up north, Detroit had a terrible racial riot. It was beyond belief. There were fires, people being shot, and looting was wholesale. When we came home, we knew we had to leave Detroit, for it was not safe to live there anymore. As we, of course, by this time were living in a Negro neighborhood, this certainly added to the misery. We decided to sell with quite a bit of apprehension, for Ivan was not at all well, but we did go ahead with it.”

My grandfather, Ivan, died very soon after the move out of the city. My grandmother lived on to the age of 100 and died in 1991.

I think it is important that these kinds of remembrances and stories be shared. They support the feelings of many observers and historians about white fears and white flight at the time, together with the role of real estate companies and the stoking of fear and intolerance that led to the sweeping movement of people out of the city.

Original Format


Submitter's Name

Jim Aho

Submission Date





“Jim Aho,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed February 21, 2024, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/417.

Output Formats