Centering White Voices: How WOOD TV 8 framed the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids

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Next summer will mark the 50th anniversary of what is often called the 1967 “race riots” in Grand Rapids.

Previously, we have looked at the Grand Rapids Press coverage of this black uprising, which was responding to police brutality and systemic oppression. The Grand Rapids Press coverage does little to look at the root causes and instead focuses disproportionately on property destruction and the opinions of law enforcement and white residents.

Recently, we were looking through the Grand Rapids Public Library Archives and came across a video tape that has a few stories from WOOD TV 8 about the 1967 riot in Detroit and Grand Rapids. It is likely that there were several other TV news stories about the 1967 riot, but the tape we came across only had a few stories specific to the Grand Rapids riot.

We also don’t have the right to post these stories until we can get permission from WOOD TV 8 to post the footage, but in the meantime, here are transcripts of the stories. The transcripts provide an interesting window into how the local TV news framed the 1967 riot, along with which people they chose to interview. These stories are instructive and reflect how white voices are centered even when communities of color are responding to White Supremacy.

The footage begins with an image of a bus labeled as, Kent County Sheriff Department – Labor Camp. Several black people get off the bus, while armed guards stand outside the bus. The footage continues with three black people being frisked by a white Grand Rapids Police officer. During this footage there is no voiceover or sound of any kind.

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The first clip with sound is with the Grand Rapids Police Chief in 1967. He reads the following statement:

Chief of Police – Speaking on behalf of Mayor Sonnevelt and City Manager Nabers, we are proposing to establish a prohibited area near the southeast end, in the districted bounded on the east by Madison, on the south by Cottage Grove, on the west by the expressway and on the north by Wealthy.screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-11-54-31-am

We ask all people and we particularly place emphasis on all people, to please refrain from going into the area with the limits I have just described. In addition, we are also closing the exit ramps, I repeat, only the exit ramps on the 131 expressway, Burton St on the south and Pearl St on the north. So, for the benefit of those motorists bound  north or south on 131, do not plan on getting off on any exits from Pearl on the north to Burton on the south.

Reporter – Chief have you heard any word about any National Guards troops coming into town?

Chief of Police – I have just been advised by operations in East Lansing that there is one battalion of National Guardsmen that has been released and will be available in Lansing. However, I was also reminded that in addition to our request, they have similar requests in Pontiac, Flint and from Lansing, so we are going to cut this pie four ways.

Reporter – How long will you keep the particular area sealed off?

Chief of Police – Until such time that we feel that conditions are such that can be opened for general usage.

Reporter – How many officers will you have out there tonight?

Chief of Police – We will have an excessive, we would like to think, an excessive amount of police out there tonight.

Next story, also an interview with the Grand Rapids Chief of Police.

Reporter – But you have requested National Guard Troops?

Chief of Police – Yes, very definitely. The City Manager and I have both talked to the Governor’s office and they are attempted to send to us National Guardsmen to take care of the some of the needs.

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This brief interview with Grand Rapids Chief of Police is followed by some brief footage of property destruction in Grand Rapids (image above) and then cuts to an interview with a business owned identified as Mr. Chester.

Reporter – Mr. Chester, what happened here last night?

Business owner – We had all of our windows of our front office broken in, rocks thrown threw them, everyone of them destroyed. And then in the back of our plant they had a fire started, but fortunately there was no damage to speak of.

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Reporter – Do you have any estimate as to the damage that was caused?

Business owner – Not yet, but is can be anywhere…..there were 9 panes and each of these panes can cost over a $100.

Reporter – What is your reaction to this whole disturbance last night?

Business owner – Sickening, needless to say and very disappointing.

Reporter – What are your plans now? Will you remain open?

Business owner – We plan on remaining open and doing business as usual.

Reporter – What happens if they come back tonight and do some looting tonight?

Business owner – We’ll do our best to be back in operation tomorrow morning.

There is about another minute of footage with no sound, footage of property destruction and police presence, like this image of cops in front of the Firestone garage on Wealthy St and LaGrave.

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2 Responses to Centering White Voices: How WOOD TV 8 framed the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids

  1. Pingback: Cops, Property and the White Gaze: Photos from the 1967 Riot in Grand Rapids | Grand Rapids People's History Project

  2. Pingback: 50 years after the 1967 Riot in Grand Rapids: What we know and what can we learn? | Grand Rapids People's History Project

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