White supremacy and the looting of Detroit

Mike Kolhoff on right wing politics and its effects on the current situation in Detroit.

The court has ruled, so the legalized looting of Detroit will go ahead as Governor Snyder has planned. The Emergency Manager has ordered the DIA to provide him with a list of the values of the many artworks in the institute. The city water works are also probably going to be sold, as well as city parks and anything else they can get a nickel for. We’ve heard they have even discussed selling all of the animals in the zoo.

But the people set-up by this ruling for the most egregious screwing are the city workers and retirees. The offer on the table is to pay retirees about.30 cents on the dollar. From the Detroit Free Press:

“But for a retiree counting on a modest annual pension of, say $30,000, the proposed cut would leave him or her with $4,800. Of all the once-proud city’s creditors, including banks, vendors and bondholders, retired workers are the least able to take the hit.”


“Orr already created a tsunami of controversy when he acknowledged late last month that billions of dollars worth of art that the city owns and has housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts are vulnerable to creditors. But he potentially could sell or privatize numerous other city assets, too, from public parks to operations of the city’s Water and Sewerage Department to sundry treasures found in some of Detroit’s other cultural institutions.”

Baltimore, Providence, Chicago, all are in financial situations similar to that of Detroit, yet no one is even considering bankruptcy. What’s different about Detroit? Detroit is in a state ruled by rightwing racist Teapublicans. The destruction of Detroit is a political project of these men, and their end goal is to strip the city of anything of value, to the point where they drive off the remaining population, and are then able to replace them with people more to their liking. In fact, the city that Detroit most resembles today is New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when the same sort of shifty thieves and con artists did everything possible to drive off the population. The difference is between one catalyst being a storm, and the other being a storm of pure racism.

No one can appreciate the disaster unfolding in Detroit without addressing the fight against white supremacy and the struggle for social equality that provides its background. The assertion of white supremacy in Detroit is the underlying cause of the current economic and social destruction of the city.

The history of racial conflict in Detroit is traced by many politicians to the insurrection of 1967. In fact the events of 1967 were the crescendo of inter-racial warfare that had been burning hot and cold in Detroit since before World War One. The riot of 1863 was caused by racism and opposition to the military draft. But the 20th century began the real blood-letting. It was at this time that Detroit became a key destination for African-Americans leaving the Jim Crow south in the Great Migration.

In 1910 the black population of Detroit was 5741 people (1% of the total population).By 1920 that number had increased to 40,838. By 1930 that number had doubled, with African-American residents making up almost 8% of the city population. At the same time thousands of white southerners also migrated north to escape the endemic poverty of the rural south, as well as thousands of European immigrants fleeing the class system and oppression of the Old World.

In the 1920s the KKK made Detroit a stronghold (50% of the 40,000 members of the Michigan Klan lived in Detroit). In the 1930s, the white supremacist Black Legion made Detroit its headquarters. The increase in industrial production in the late 30s and early 1940s brought an additional influx of black Americans to Detroit, and likewise produced murderous race riots over housing and white workers objections to working with black workers on the assembly line. The 1943 riot lasted three days and resulted in 34 deaths, 25 of them African Americans, 17 of them killed by the police. 43 people died in the 1967 Detroit Insurrection, 33 of them African Americans, at least 26 killed by the police or the National Guard.

The struggle to maintain white supremacy in Detroit has been an ongoing project. White flight after the 1967 insurrection had a different character than similar events in other cities. Where whole neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities suffered from loss of economic investment, the entire city of Detroit was subjected to disinvestment. The primarily white suburbs were the obvious beneficiaries of white flight and the relocation of capital. Meanwhile the city of Detroit was left on its own to absorb the de-industrialization of the American economy. Disinvestment and capital fight inspired by racial hatred have made Detroit what it is today.

- See more at: http://ideasandaction.info/2014/01/white-supremacy-and-the-looting-of-de...

Posted By

ideas and action
Jan 30 2014 18:14


  • Baltimore, Providence, Chicago, all are in financial situations similar to that of Detroit, yet no one is even considering bankruptcy. What’s different about Detroit? Detroit is in a state ruled by rightwing racist Teapublicans.

    Mike Kolhoff

Attached files


Feb 2 2014 01:09

This feels too simplistic. In particular, you seem to reduce the experience of the '67 insurrection to a race riot in order to flesh out a really straightforward narrative of white supremacy. If I remember correctly though, Georgakas' Detroit I Do Mind Dying emphasizes, with a good deal of evidence, the multi-racial character of the insurrection. 33 of the dead might have been African-American, but the others casualties were obviously combatants of other races. Apparently many of those who sniped police were whites from Appalachia. Clearly, anti-blackness is at play in all the political maneuvering in Detroit, but loyalty to whiteness among whites has hardly been as consistent as you imply.

Feb 2 2014 03:34

(Not a political point here, just historical trivia:) On the 67 insurrection, don't forget a year later you had (in and around detroit) angry offshoots of the white hippy scene break with the peace and love stuff and attempt political organisation allied to the bpp as the white panther party, briefly linked to the band mc5. Their politics/activity inherited lots of the confused counterculture anti-capitalism, but they were a legit reaction of a section of white youth in/around detroit at the time.

Feb 2 2014 15:40

I've altered the author to the comments. Not sure if they are a Libcom poster.

Feb 2 2014 16:32


Having re-read the article I can't quite dig up the implication of white loyalty to whiteness here (although, um, pretty sure that was a somewhat popular thing back then)? I agree it could of used reference to Georgeka's work .

The author mostly paints a picture of elite racists successfully advancing a racist agenda though time. This agenda happens to be reflected in working-class whites racist actions as well as official policy. I think its important to keep in mind that there is hardly a wide-spread issue of the white contribution to the struggle against racism in the 60s and 70s as being lost in modern discussions. If anything, the amount its talked about is disproportionate to the amount working-class whites actively participated, NPR won't shut the fuck up about it. Focusing on it comes off as this lame apology for what was actually a huge majority of whites utterly apathetic to the struggle and the largish minority that actively supported its suppression.

Also, Melba is apparently a racist concern troll, and one utterly lacking in skill to boot. Ban-hammer please?

Feb 2 2014 20:34

bozeman: I wasn't trying to counterpose an optimistic fantasy of multiracial class unity in response to the original article. I'm sorry if my response seemed simplistic.

The point I was attempting was the article's categories seemed simplistic and ahistorical. Experiences of struggle which were multiracial (even in ambiguous ways) got frozen within a strictly racialized framework. And passive-tense constructions leave the whole thesis confusing: "The struggle to maintain white supremacy in Detroit has been an ongoing project." Perhaps you're right, and what's implied here is an elite project. I read that and the following bit about white flight, and I see a flattening of the white population into a "white class" with shared interests (which is particularly problematic in Detroit, with its share of Jewish, slavic, and Appalachian sectors, all of whom suffer partial limits to the "wages of whiteness").

As a sidenote, I think your reference to NPR's sense of white anti-racism is also excessively simplified. There is one historical strand of white radical and political anti-racism in the 60s/70s which can be incorporated into a 21st century democratic multiculturalism, and yes it was a very minoritarian experience. But other strands, of working class complicity across racial lines in neighborhoods and on the factory floor, are much more complex, wide-spread and ambivalent, and less prone to representation on NPR. Especially at their highpoints such as multiracial sniping of police.

Feb 3 2014 00:30

The struggle by capitalists to maintain capital's supremacy has unsurprisingly been an ongoing capitalist project.

Feb 3 2014 18:51

Of the 43 people who died in the 1967 rebellion 33 were African American and 10 were white. Of the 10 white people 1 was a cop, 1 was a National Guardsman and 2 were firefighters. One of the 6 remaining, Clifton Pryor, age 23, was shot by police while trying to put out the sparks from nearby fires on the roof of his building. Early police reports said that Pryor, originally from Tennessee, was carrying a shotgun and was a sniper. The Detroit Free Press repeated the police reports. His family quickly came forward and challenged this, and the police eventually admitted that they had shot him by mistake, though the official report still lists him as a “sniper”. The five remaining were killed in ways that left no impression they might have been aiding the rebellion. Based on actual evidence (arrest records, eyewitness accounts, confessions, etc) this is the only incident of “multi-racial snipers” in 1967, and it is obviously a mistake.

Feb 4 2014 15:11

You obviously have a stronger background on this than I do. Mine is just Georgakas' book and scattered communist/anarchist pamphlets about rank-and-file struggles from the period. But given that Georgakas treats the uprising as a multiracial phenomenon beyond the question of Appalachian snipers, are you of the mind that his overall work/scholarship should be challenged? It'd be a useful thing to know since that book is an important reference point for me.

Feb 4 2014 18:40

I'm certain that there were white and hispanic supporters of the insurrection in Detroit, but I'm also certain that the insurrection itself was African American, led by working class youth, many of whom considered themselves Marxist-Leninists and were activists in the various Revoultionary Union Movements of the time, some of whom went on to form the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, which is the primary subject of Georgakas' book. I question the presentation of the insurrection as multiracial, because, based on the evidence, the white and hispanic leftists in question were a small minority with the political minority of African American leftists, and seem to have played a very minor role in events. The first night of the insurrection was the night of most sniper activity, and even at that reports indicate there were less than one dozen snipers, and most probably much fewer than that.