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Remembering the 1967 Riot in Grand Rapids: What is past is present – Part II

July 19, 2022

This week we will be posting a series of articles on the 55th anniversary of the riot/uprising in Grand Rapids, which took place from July 25th through the 27th in 1967. Most of the content for these articles is from pervious postings on the Grand Rapids People’s History Project site, in the Civil Rights/Black Freedom Struggle section. I am interested in this history for several reasons, but mostly because of what we can learn from the past and how it can impact the present and the future.

In Part I, we looked at the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids. Today in Part II, we want to look at the coverage from WOOD TV8.

Today, we are posting footage from channel 8 that includes at the beginning a story done by reporters in Detroit during the 1967 riot in the Motor City, followed by footage with no commentary, an interview with the Grand Rapids Chief of Police and an interview with a Grand Rapids Business owner, whose store was attacked during the riot. The footage seems to go back to Detroit briefly, with the channel 8 reporter commenting, then followed again by footage in Grand Rapids without any commentary.

There is some footage of people who had been arrested, but no one who was arrested and no one from the Black community was interviewed about what started the three day riot nor what conditions the Black community were living under prior to the riot in late July of 1967. The video footage lasts a total of 11 minutes and 8 seconds and is a good indication of how the riot was reported on by commercial media at the time. The transcript for the channel 8 coverage is after the video.

The first clip with sound is with the Grand Rapids Police Chief in 1967. He reads the following statement:

Chief of Police – Speaking on behalf of Mayor Sonnevelt and City Manager Nabers, we are proposing to establish a prohibited area near the southeast end, in the districted bounded on the east by Madison, on the south by Cottage Grove, on the west by the expressway and on the north by Wealthy.

We ask all people and we particularly place emphasis on all people, to please refrain from going into the area with the limits I have just described. In addition, we are also closing the exit ramps, I repeat, only the exit ramps on the 131 expressway, Burton St on the south and Pearl St on the north. So, for the benefit of those motorists bound  north or south on 131, do not plan on getting off on any exits from Pearl on the north to Burton on the south.

Reporter – Chief have you heard any word about any National Guards troops coming into town?

Chief of Police – I have just been advised by operations in East Lansing that there is one battalion of National Guardsmen that has been released and will be available in Lansing. However, I was also reminded that in addition to our request, they have similar requests in Pontiac, Flint and from Lansing, so we are going to cut this pie four ways.

Reporter – How long will you keep the particular area sealed off?

Chief of Police – Until such time that we feel that conditions are such that can be opened for general usage.

Reporter – How many officers will you have out there tonight?

Chief of Police – We will have an excessive, we would like to think, an excessive amount of police out there tonight.

Next story, also an interview with the Grand Rapids Chief of Police.

Reporter – But you have requested National Guard Troops?

Chief of Police – Yes, very definitely. The City Manager and I have both talked to the Governor’s office and they are attempted to send to us National Guardsmen to take care of the some of the needs.

This brief interview with Grand Rapids Chief of Police is followed by some brief footage of property destruction in Grand Rapids (image above) and then cuts to an interview with a business owned identified as Mr. Chester.

Reporter – Mr. Chester, what happened here last night?

Business owner – We had all of our windows of our front office broken in, rocks thrown threw them, everyone of them destroyed. And then in the back of our plant they had a fire started, but fortunately there was no damage to speak of.

Reporter – Do you have any estimate as to the damage that was caused?

Business owner – Not yet, but is can be anywhere…..there were 9 panes and each of these panes can cost over a $100.

Reporter – What is your reaction to this whole disturbance last night?

Business owner – Sickening, needless to say and very disappointing.

Reporter – What are your plans now? Will you remain open?

Business owner – We plan on remaining open and doing business as usual.

Reporter – What happens if they come back tonight and do some looting tonight?

Business owner – We’ll do our best to be back in operation tomorrow morning.

There is about another minute of footage with no sound, footage of property destruction and police presence, like this image of cops in front of the Firestone garage on Wealthy St and LaGrave.

One thing that we can learn from this news coverage from WOOD TV8, is that they decided to center the voices of white politicians and white businesses owners, with no commentary from the affected Black community. This is a dynamic that permeates Grand Rapids-based news outlets even through today.

In Part III, we will look at images from the 1967 riot, what we are calling Cops, property and the White Gaze.

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