Whether a native Detroiter or transplant, if you live in the region, you’ve likely heard about the pivotal events in the city in July 1967 — events that are still shaping race relations in the region today.
No one disputes the events took place. But beginning with the words people use to refer to the civil unrest — riots, uprising, rebellion — interpretations and truths vary with perspective.
More than 60 local arts and cultural organizations are striving to foster greater understanding and common ground through exhibitions of pictures, home movies, oral histories and art created by people living in the city at that time or influenced by the events, as well as discussions, panels, performances and other events.
The first of the events kicks off Thursday night with “12th Street, Detroit, 1967: Employment, Housing, Policing and Race Relations in Evidence,” at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University.
The exhibition will provide the public with access to details that may have only been known by historians and academics up until now, with materials from the library’s 40-plus archival collections on the uprising. It will help visitors learn how to analyze archival material and see it as a community asset and will be accompanied by a web exhibit and document sets for use in K-12 classrooms. It runs until January.
Enabling visitors to learn first-hand about the circumstances in Detroit at that time is a way to help them create their own insights based on evidence, the library’s outreach archivist Meghan Courtney said in a recent post on the Reuther website.
Also on display now through winter at the library is an exhibition of previously unpublished photographs of Detroit’s 1967 civil unrest by photojournalist Tony Spina.
Spina, chief photographer for the Detroit Free Press at the time, was reportedly awoken on the morning of July 23, 1967, by a call from City Editor Neil Shine, telling him “the city was on fire” and asking him to hurry to the newspaper. Over the next five days, Spina shot pictures from the ground, air, military vehicles and the middle of firefights, documenting one of the worst examples of civil unrest in American history.
On Friday, the Detroit Artists Market’s exhibition, “Now and Then: Artists Contemplate the Summer of 1967,” opens.
The exhibit will bring together a wide range of voices and perspectives represented in artwork to help understand the impact of that time. The exhibit runs through May 27.
Those exhibits and others planned by five other major cultural groups in the city are laid out in a “passport” brochure developed by the Detroit Historical Museum as a memento of the 50th anniversary. Visitors can pick the brochure up at the library, DAM, Detroit Historical Museum, Michigan Science Center, Detroit Institute of Art, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
The Detroit Historical Museum’s “Detroit 67: Perspectives” opens in June. As part of visual components and oral histories collected over the past two years, the exhibition will include a look at the perspectives indicated even by the words used to describe the uprising.
In every discussion the Detroit Historical Museum has had over the past two years as it developed the exhibition, the issue of what we call it comes up, said Rebecca Salminen Witt, chief development and communications officer
The DIA and Wright Museum coordinated their exhibitions to run concurrently starting July 22 and complement each other.
The DIA exhibitions focus on the art created by mostly African-American artists working collectively and independently at the time of the uprising and beyond, and artists working in later decades who were inspired by art from the civil rights movement. The Wright exhibition compares the uprisings of the past to the upheavals during the 21st century and features 40 national artists, whose works illustrate tragedy and transformation when people rebel.
The DIA and Wright teamed on content creation, focus groups, interpretation and marketing for the exhibits, marking what DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said he hopes is the first of many collaborations to come between the two.
“Artists are often at the forefront of examining issues that require change,” Juanita Moore, president and CEO of the Wright Museum, said in an email.
“Both the DIA and the Wright are using this art to tell a story of a period of great disparities, injustice and tremendous change. By coming together we are able to tell the story much more in depth and with much more clarity.”
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