Deborah Chenault Green


Deborah Chenault Green


Deborah Chenault Green recalls her vivid memories living in the Twelfth Street neighborhood during the unrest in 1967. She also shares some of her poetry inspired by these events.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






12th Street, Westside of Detroit


At the time of the 1967 Riot, I lived on 12th Street, along with my family. During the summers I would visit my aunt and uncle's house, who lived on Hazelwood and 14th, just two blocks from the epicenter of the riot. The night of [July] the 23rd I was there, helping my aunt prepare for my mom's birthday party, which was being held there on the 24th. That night it was so hot that me and one of my cousins were asleep on the porch. Early that morning we were awakened by sirens. When we looked up in the sky, we saw red. Frightened, we ran into the house where my aunt and uncle were. They were asleep so we woke them up. Everyone was accounted for except my older female cousin, Tessie. who had fallen in with the wrong crowd and had started to be a problem to them. My uncle took off in the car to find her and eventually did. The next day my mom came and got me and took me home, to 12th Street. It was an extremely scary time for us. Because we lived on the second floor of a storefront, we were able to look down on the tanks that invaded our neighborhood. The sound was deafening. The report of snipers and National Guardsmen entering people's houses kept everyone on edge. This was when we learned to hit the floor when we heard gunfire; something that is now a common practice when you live in the inner city. Below you will find three poems from a book I published In 2008, which included vivid accounts of 12th Street, before during and after the 1967 riots.


Hopscotch, tag, hide and go-get-it
Baseball in the alley, nowhere to hit it
Boys wearin' holsters and guns
Learning to shoot
Riding the Popsicle bikes
Pockets full of loot
Hot days, steamy nights
Mattress on the porch, because it feels right
Did you hear James was stabbed?
Almost pierced his heart
Down by Eli Wilson's cleaners
They say by crazy Mark
Over some girl, later seen with Flip
Hot dogs, Kool-aid, Potato Chips
Block parties, swingin', dancin' in the streets
To "My Girl," "Heatwave"
Just boppin' to the beat
"We interrupt your regular programming
To bring you this important announcement,
Penny candy, Dot & Etta's
Ms. Harrison's Beauty Shop
Henry's Pig Feet in a jar
Playin' tag, Hot Tamale Man
Catch me if you can
Music heard all night long from the Calument Bar
The innocence and beauty of 12th Street
Before the Riot (Pre '67)
Before the community died


We were just kids in the summer of '67
Sounded like 67 tanks, equipped with 67 guns
Killing 67 niggas just for fun
Every 67 minutes waking to the sound of gunfire
From snipers and return fire from tanks
Intruding our streets, our homes, our space
"Nigga, why you on the street?
You know curfew's at six o'clock"
We here the next day on the block
Johnny, Billy and Ray Ray got arrested at 6:01
Oh yeah, curfew had just begun
As night descends, the fires ascend
No room for slumber, tanks sound like thunder
Eyes search for grey sky, red is all I find
Sort of looks like hell burning in the Heavens
I can hardly tell, I'm barely twelve
Did you hear about Tonia? Four years old
Sitting in her room, where a bullet sealed her doom
Just tryin' to dodge the insane
Now she's dead, but who's to blame?
July 23rd was the day
1967 the year
12th Street the place
Where the community died


Existing on 12th Street, '67 riot still fresh memory
Up all night throwing shoes at the mice
Coming up from the downstairs storefront
Church on one side, old papers stored on the other
Up "bright eyed and bushy tailed"
Eat a bowl of oatmeal, out the door
Down the war torn streets, constant reminder of '67 riot Some buildings still part charred from fires
Some boarded up from looting and vandalism
Of to school in the frigid cold
Kind of cold leave your eyeballs froze
Cold, bone chillin' cold
Get to school, put coat in locker, go to class
Try to stay alert and aware
But could only muster a stare

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Search Terms

Michigan National Guard, 12th Street, 14th Street, Hazelwood


Deborah Green 1970s.jpg
Deborah Green.jpg


“Deborah Chenault Green,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 13, 2021,

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