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

July 20, 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. In Part II, we looked at the coverage from WOOD TV8. Today, we want to look at the imagery of the 1967 riot in what we are calling Cops, Property and the White Gaze.

In today’s post, we wanted to share a selection of photos from the Grand Rapids Press that were taken in late July of 1967 during the three days of the Black uprising in Grand Rapids. The photos are instructive, since most of them deal with White owned property, police protection of White owned property or Grand Rapids cops policing the Black community.

These photos could collectively be identified as utilizing what some social theorists refer to as the White Gaze. The White Gaze, “is described as looking at the world through the eyes of a white person who has undertones of, or is blatant in, their racism,” as is defined by George Yancy, Professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University.

The photos definitely reflect the White Gaze, not just because they were taken by a white photographer, but because they reflect visually constructed reality as presented through a white lens.

The first photo (seen above) is from S. Division in Grand Rapids, where we see white business owners/workers outside of D”Amico’s Super Market cleaning up after windows had been broken. This image also includes the presence of a white cop with a rifle held in such a way as to make it clear who he is there to protect.

The next photo (seen below) is an image of Grand Rapids cops using tear gas in a predominantly Black neighborhood near the corner of Jefferson and Pleasant SE. The tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of people who had gathered.

The third photo in this selection (seen below) shows a house on Jefferson near Buckley SE that was on fire. Neighbors who lived in that area during the 1967 uprising told this writer that houses were often targeted, because they belonged to white absentee landlords. The house that is on fire was torn down and that lot on Jefferson is still vacant to this day.

The next photo (to the right) shows Grand Rapids cops cornering Black people near the corner of Wealthy and Division. Despite the fact that this was predominantly a Black neighborhood, Black people were not permitted to freely move about, especially during the three days of rioting in 1967.

This fifth photo (see below) from the selection shows Grand Rapids cops going through the trunk of someone’s car. People coming in and out of the neighborhood that they lived in during those three days of rebellion in 1967, were subjected to constant surveillance and harassment by the cops.


The last photo seen here below is of a Grand Rapids Police Officer, who “poses” with people along Division Avenue during the uprising of 1967. This image is particularly telling as it represents the arrogance of White Supremacy, with a White cop posing amidst Black people who were confronted by the brutality of this system.

Again, these images from the Grand Rapids Press, were primarily consumed by a white readership, which is why it is important to reflect on the power of the white gaze.

In Part IV, we will look at the City of Grand Rapids report that came out after the 1967 riot, entitled, Anatomy of a Riot. 

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