The first race riots in Detroit, Michigan’s history would take place on March 6, 1863. At the time, there was a growing frustration in the white community based on the newly passed Emancipation Proclamation and many of them were drafted into the American Civil War. They strongly opposed participating in the war because they didn’t agree with allowing the black population to have anything that resembled equal rights. The local newspaper, Detroit Free Press, which was a publication ran by the democratic party would run news stories blaming the black members of the city for a lot of the issues that were taking place.
They argued that if the slaves in the south were freed it would take jobs from working-class whites in Detroit. The tension in the city finally came to a head during the trial for William Faulkner, who was a mixed-race man that was accused of raping two girls, one of them were white. Even though William Faulkner considered himself “Spanish-Indian” the free press and other newspapers labeled him black. The only thing they cared about was the fact that he was black and raped a white girl. When Falkner was escorted out of the courtroom on the first day of his trail and crowd of white people formed outside and begin harassing Faulkner and throwing stones at him.
The next day, March 6, a larger crowd arrived and did the same thing, even after Faulkner was sentenced to life in prison. The Detroit Provost Guard was in charge of protecting him and fired blanks at the crowd in an attempt to settle them down. When that didn’t work, they fired real bullets and killed an innocent bystander named Charles Langer. Upset by the killing of a white man the angry mob set out to attack the city’s black neighborhood. They attacked a copper shop first but the black men in the shop fought back and one had a shotgun, so the mob burned the building to the ground instead.
All occupants were able to get out but one man, Joshua Boyd who sustained injuries during the initial attack would eventually die from his injuries. In total, the angry mob burned down at least 30 buildings, caused several thousand dollars in damages and ultimately left at least 200 black families homeless. No one was held criminally responsible for the death of Boyd or Langer. Several years after the incident, the women who accused William Faulkner of rape would recant their stories causing him to be released from prison. It’s also important to note that this incident was the reason Detroit created the police force they currently have today.