Oral Histories

The five oral histories transcripts generously provided by the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan is part of the Detroit Riot Oral History Project led by the departed and highly esteemed historian Sidney Fine. From the roughly twenty transcribed oral histories interviews, ten were selected based on familiarity, rank, visibility and influence. Five have been digitized, uploaded and the remainder will be provided throughout the summer months.

These narratives collectively shape and reconstruct the overall empirical account of what occurred, the key players and the day-by-day replay. Yes, this may seem as a “whose who” in the political maneuvering of the rebellion, but as the transcripts will reveal, it’s more of an "all hands in" trying to get a hold of the insurrection. Secondly, within the timeline of project completion, the Detroit Riot Oral History Project was easily accessible. Lastly, the reader sees a shift in the narrative from it being painted strictly on race prior to the rebellion to one of humanism and a revolt over injustices after the four days of anarchy. “This was a revolution, a riot by black people over the system,” said Governor George Romney.[1]

While this is described as a digital archive, a repository—its sociopolitical goal is to correct and challenge half a century of misinformation and folklore simply by using quantitative research that has been completed and finding participants who are willing to share their stories. It also underscores 1967 Detroit’s larger goal of removing the partition that divides the academy from society. Arguably, the information was public with a visit to the archives, it was photographed and made accessible for a wider and less visible audience. Additionally, 1967 Detroit emphasizes and highlights an aggressive trend and practice in the academy and the library to digitize material. This direction is only going to grow as digital humanities (DH), a merger of the humanities with the digital platform increases expontentially with technology. There's ongoing research in DH and its possible implications for projects such as this.  

Focusing on the divide--simply put, here’s the information that scholars have produced--read, contextualize, go forth and conquer. 


[1] Detroit Riot Oral History Project, 21 June 1985, Sidney Fine Collection—Gov. George Romney, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.