By Charles Sercombe
In a few weeks a Hollywood production crew will be transforming a portion of Jos. Campau to resemble what a Detroit business strip looked like during the 1967 riot.
The reason Hamtramck is being used is because it still looks like a section of Detroit from that era. Apparently a riot scene will be recreated for the movie.
Hamtramck itself did not experience any spillover from the riot, which took place just a couple of miles away to the west.
News of the movie being shot on Campau prompted talk among some who lived here during that time.
Frances Krula called The Review to recount her experience, back on July 23, 1967. She is now 87 years old and lives at the Hamtramck Senior Plaza.
The riot started in the early morning hours – technically Sunday morning, but basically Saturday night while most people were asleep. The riot grew and grew during the night but it wasn’t until later during the day on Sunday that word had spread about the scale of it and mounting violence.
Krula said she had taken her son and daughter, who were 7 and 10 years old respectively at the time, to a movie at the former Martha Washington Theatre on Jos. Campau just south of Caniff.
During the movie something strange started to happen, she said. One by one fellow moviegoers began to filter out of the theater while the movie was still showing. And then the air conditioning kicked into high gear – making it so cold that Krula felt forced to leave.
“It was getting too cold,” Krula said.
Outside, news of the riot was spreading, and there was a sense of panic in the air.
Krula remembers hearing over and over one word: riot.
“I was crying and the kids were crying,” Krula said.
Krula felt paralyzed and too afraid to walk alone to her home on Casmere. In a moment, though, her son recognized a friend in a passing car. Her son yelled out at the friend’s family to stop and take them away.
Once at home, Krula said, her husband was outside with the neighbors, talking excitedly about the riot.
For the next few days there was palpable fear among residents that the violence would spread to Hamtramck.
Krula said her family, like many others, stayed home, inside.
“We were very cautious, very scared,” she said.
How did the rest of Hamtramck react at the time?
To find out we went to the Hamtramck Public Library and looked at the back issues of The Citizen, the former weekly newspaper that covered Hamtramck.
Three days after the riot broke out, The Citizen hit the streets with that week’s issue.
Looking at the front page you’d hardly know that there was a major riot going on in next-door Detroit.
The lead headline on top of the front page was: “Local merchants being fleeced by stolen check passing gang”
But just under that headline there was a single column story on the riot with this headline: “City free of riot damage”
The story pointed out that while Detroit suffered $2 million in damages in two days of rioting, Hamtramck “escaped without a dime’s worth of damage to any property.”
The story credited the “precautionary measures” taken by police and city officials.
Those measures included: “a blockade thrown around the city and all vehicles entering the city appearing to carry persons of suspicious character were halted. Without a valid reason to enter or pass through the city they were turned back.”
Cars that had stolen items were confiscated and the occupants were arrested.
In a story below that, there was a total of 75 people arrested for looting in the riot. Hamtramck was between two riot zones.
They came through not only in cars but on foot. Many of those walking were carrying freshly looted items. Some were also carrying concealed guns and narcotics.
On the night that rioting broke out Mayor Joseph Grzecki set up an emergency office in police headquarters and worked out a plan of action with public safety officials. He stayed there for 24 hours straight.
There was one fatality The Citizen reported on and that was an 18-year-old who lived on Mackay on the Detroit side of the Carpenter border. The Citizen reported that Fred Temple, 18, was found shot to death with two of his friends in the Algiers Motel.
That incident was written about at length in a best-selling book called “The Algiers Motel Incident” by John Hersey.
For whatever reason – curiosity? Wanting to get in on the action? — Temple and his friends went into the riot area later on Sunday.
His mother told The Citizen that before he left home, “I begged him not to leave the house that Sunday but he went down there with some friends.”
His mother further stressed that her son had never been in trouble.
Once there, Temple called his mother and said he and his friends were trapped by the rioting and were taking a room in the Algiers for safety, located on Woodward (and razed in the 1970s), according to The Citizen article.
That decision proved fatal. Not only were the three already in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Algiers was not a place to be in even on a good day.
The motel was long known as a drug den and a place where prostitutes worked.
According to other media reports, someone in the motel fired a blank starter pistol from a balcony at the motel.
That prompted National Guardsmen and police officers to storm the motel to capture what they thought were snipers firing at them.
Temple and his two friends, all of whom were African-American, were rounded up. Witnesses at the Algiers Motel said that Temple and his friends were taken into rooms and soon after shots were heard.
Officers insisted that the trio were snipers, said media reports of that time.
But as it turned out, a 32-year-old Detroit officer, who had been with the department for only two years, was charged with murdering Temple. Two other officers were later charged with the killings.
The indictment was based on interviews with 80 people and a 30-page internal report conducted by the Detroit Police Department.
At the time the charges were announced the prosecutor’s office would not release details of the investigation.
The trial of the officers was moved to Flint where an all-white jury found them innocent.
In all 43 people lost their lives during the riot.
On the home front, while the riot raged on 60 civilians, including many city officials, were deputized and assigned to patrol the city.
An army tank was stationed at the Dodge Main plant.
At all entrances into the city police officers and police reserves were armed with shotguns.
By Wednesday, the riot had nearly ended and in Hamtramck things began to return to normal.
In all, there were only two incidents of note that happened during the week of the riot: An attempted break-in at a liquor store, which was repelled by police officers, and two boys who threw a Molotov cocktail at an American Legion hall.
The two Hamtramck juveniles were caught hours after the incident. Asked why they did it, one replied: “To see something burn.”
The week after the riot, The Citizen ran a front-page photo of two soldiers in a friendly chat with two smiling African-American workers from the GM Chevrolet plant on Holbrook and St. Aubin.
The caption under the photo was a mangled attempt at humor that could not have been more grossly insensitive. It said: “Things were so calm by last Wednesday morning that the army’s ‘Screaming Eagles’ had nothing to shoot but the breeze.”
Do you have memories or a tale to tell about living in Hamtramck during the 1967 Detroit riot? If so, drop us a line at (313) 874-2100, or email us at news@the hamtramckreview.com.