From the Detroit Riot to the Malcolm Summit
Shabazz, Betty, Ebony
The history of America makes it impossible for African-American children, however "sheltered," to escape the psychic legacy of discrimination and racism, even when they escape the physical aspects of racism. This psychic legacy was ever-present and although it was not openly discussed, it was manifested historically in the geographical area of my Detroit childhood. The impact, however, was not as destructive or penetrating due to my support network (parents, church and a host of other built-in structures). Race relations were not discussed and it was hoped that by denying the existence of race problems, the problems would go away. Anyone who openly discussed race relations was quickly viewed as a "troublemaker."
According to history, the published record and information passed down in the community, in the `40s and `50s, African-American families worked to provide a stable family life, establishing the virtues of work, education and religion in the life of young people, although the times were difficult. My father always bragged about being a good family man and how he worked hard and saved his money and bought a house at the height of the Depression--a lesson in management he learned while a student at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). My father felt that if he could profit from an education, others could as well.
Two conflicts served as the reference points for my belief in the necessity of "lifting myself and maintaining my own humanity." The first was a conflict that escalated into a riot and is still talked about today. This occurred when the first Black families attempted to move into Detroit's Sojourner Truth Housing Projects in February 1942. My father believed that public housing should be a temporary solution with full access to those who needed it but that it should not be a goal or a final solution. He further believed that the ensuing conflict ungodly and inappropriate.
On February 28, a band of White pickets approached the Black families with clubs and bats. The police were called, and in a short time, a truckload of Blacks, also armed with clubs, arrived on the scene. The resulting battle turned into a free-for-all as police joined the Whites in battling the Blacks. It was some time before the disturbance could be quelled.
The second conflict began on June 24, 1943, originating with rumors of White and Black people killing or injuring each other. This escalated to a destructive riot in which 34 persons were killed, more than 461 injured and over a million man hours lost, according to the historical record. The rioting pricked a conscious level of concern and pride and focused on Blacks working together as a group. This "collective thinking" happened regardless of the thoughts of the working poor, the striving middle class or those African-Americans who thought they were beyond this dilemma. The riots brought home the collective circumstance of African-Americans across lines of class or socio-economic status. The riots crystallized this need for working together, and as a result, Detroit was a city with more businesses, hospitals, stores and shops for Black people than any other urban area. …