The Other U.S. Race Massacres History Didn’t Tell You About: Part IV Detroit

This is the finale that concludes a four-part series.

Far from paradise

Detroit played a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad as it was a transitional stop for former slaves to escape to Canada. Many Black Americans settled into the northern part of the city. Some even called it the new Caanan.

But Detroit would turn out to have just as much inequality, racial tension, discrimination and injustices as other cities. As Black Americans and European immigrants migrated to Detroit in droves before and during World War II, White neighborhoods segregated and fervently defended their borders. Factories could only supply workers with employment. Housing was virtually non-existent for Blacks which led to 200,000 Black Americans being annexed into small, subdivided apartments which usually housed multiple families. This was crammed into sixty square blocks within the city’s east side. The area was ironically named Paradise Valley.

President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802: Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry

In July 1941, Roosevelt’s cabinet and Eleanor Roosevelt met with A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and other black leaders. They were fed up with Black Americans being met with violence while searching for work in defense industries.

They presented an ultimatum: President Roosevelt would have to introduce an executive order to protect Black Americans from violence and discrimination, or the Black leaders vowed to bring “ten, twenty, fifty thousand Negroes on the White House lawn.” After Roosevelt consulted with advisors — he enacted Executive Order 8802 which declared, “There shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries and in Government, because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Racial tensions

After their was no more room to expand Black neighborhoods — the city attempted to construct a black housing project in a white neighborhood. Thousands of Whites burned a cross and angrily picketed the arrival of Black neighbors.

By the beginning of summer in 1943, White workers begun to protest the promotion of Black Americans. Production was either slowed or brought to a halt.

The resentment between Blacks and whites only grew from the point.

Race riots

On June 20 1943, Belle Isle became the center stage for racially-motivated fighting.

Police were dispatched to quell the violence but racial tensions were still high and by midnight; two rumors caused an outbreak of fighting, looting, and killings.

One of the rumors enraged the Black community. Someone told Black Americans at the Forest Social Club in Paradise Valley that a Black woman and her baby thrown off the Belle Isle Bridge. A mob was formed and they stormed Woodward — tearing businesses apart, destroying property and attacking White people.

Meanwhile, a rumor involving the Belle Isle Bridge was told to Whites. A White woman was allegedly raped by Black men. They formed a mob as well and waited for a movie to let out at Roxy Theatre in Woodward. The mob of men attacked any Black men coming out.

Attacks continued throughout the night. A White doctor was killed after making a house call to a Black neighborhood. Despite Black leaders pleading with Mayor Edward J. Jeffries to call for aid from national troops, Jeffries hesitated and only did so after Whites gangs invaded Paradise Valley. Jeffries eventually sought assistance after contacting President Franklin Roosevelt.

By the early morning of June 22 1943, 6,000 army troops in tanks armed with automatic weapons arrived. The streets were completely vacant by midnight.


9 Whites were killed and 25 Black people were killed. 17 Black deaths were at the hands of police who even just watched as Black people were beaten by Whites. 700 people were injured and some two million dollars of damage was reported. No White people were arrested.

Ultimately, Black people were heavily blamed for the riots. The people, commissions, and professors who were called on to identify and study the causes of the riots were heavily biased. People such as Elmer R. Akers and Vernon Fox, sociologist and psychologist, respectively, at the State Prison of Southern Michigan, believed Black men were predisposed to violence because of their Southern heritage. Black leaders and the NAACP called them out for ignoring the terrible conditions and discrimination Black people faced.



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