Party at 12th and Clairmount: Food, games lift area still scarred by ’67 riot

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Editor’s note: This article was initially published at Freep.com.

Perry A. Farrell , Detroit Free Press

Dr. Herman Gray, the president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, was 17 on July 23, 1967, when a riot broke out in Detroit near 12th and Clairmount.

“My uncle, Walter Strickland, owned a store in the area … on 12th Street between Hazelwood and Taylor,’’ said Gray, a pediatrician who was out celebrating the Meet Up and Eat Up block party Tuesday afternoon at the Williams Recreation Center.

“My mom and sister and I were driving to church (next to Northern High School) that Sunday morning. We lived at the corner of Gladstone and LaSalle. …We got to 12th Street, and the police stopped us and said there was a disturbance going on and it should be over in a few hours, and it would be a good idea to go home.

“We knew that it wasn’t just a little thing. We knew it was something significant.

“By that evening, blocks around us were starting to burn over the next few days. The other vivid memory I have was standing with my mother, who was 4-foot-11, and my sister, who was 13, and we’re all in the front yard with a garden hose, hosing down the house so it wouldn’t catch on fire.’’

Today, the area is still recovering, but with the assist of United Way, the Detroit Historical Society and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, families who live near 12th and Clairmount got a chance Tuesday to eat free and enjoy music and camaraderie.

Gray said the family home is still standing, but it’s in bad shape.

Wearing red and white shirts, people ate, enjoyed entertainment, had their health assessed and picked up free fresh produce to take home.

Larry Coston proudly walked up and said he has been responsible for cutting the recreation center’s lawn and keeping the area secure for the last four years.

“We close it down at 10 p.m.,’’ he said. “We make sure everything stays locked down. I live in the community, and this is a great thing for the area and for the children. It’s positive. The area needs this kind of activity. We are still striving to grow.’’

Children in the area often go hungry once school is out, said Sara Gold, director of healthy kids at United Way.

Wendy Santure of Fiat Chrysler, who works with the World Class Manufacturing Academy, brought a state-of-the-art rolling classroom trailer to the festivities, where children were able to work on iPads and play games.

“It has grown every year,’’ she said. “We feel like it’s important to bring these events right into the neighborhoods.”

Free Press Special Writer Omar Abdel-Baqui  contributed to this report. Contact Perry A. Farrell: pafarrell@freepress.com