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African Americans working, playing and rebelling in Detroit

Barbara Ransby, a longtime activist, is a professor of African American studies, gender and women’s studies and history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is author of “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement,” and “Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson.” Her new book, “Making All Black Lives Matter,” will be published in 2018.

“Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination,” by Herb Boyd (Amistad )

The film and publishing worlds this year have rediscovered the 1967 Detroit rebellion. Fifty years ago, the five-day uprising triggered by decades of police brutality and racism left 43 people dead and hundreds injured; thousands were arrested. Its eruption in bloodshed and flames is now playing out on the big screen in director Kathryn Bigelow’s searing film “Detroit.” Scholar and journalist Herb Boyd also revives that era in his comprehensive and compelling new book, “Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination.”

Both the film and the book carried me back to my childhood on the streets of the Motor City during the vibrant and volatile years of the 1960s and ’70s, a time that marked the beginning of my political consciousness. Boyd’s book, carefully researched and enhanced by the author’s personal reflections, provides readers with a necessary framework for understanding Detroit, both before and after ’67.

In his sweeping account of the city, dating back to the 18th century, Boyd, a onetime Detroiter, identifies three important themes to carry us through the decades: the centrality of black labor in building and rebuilding Detroit, the creative spirits of black people, and the power of creative resistance and steel-willed resilience as driving forces in the city’s history.

Like Boyd, I have vivid memories of the robustness of Detroit’s cultural and political landscape. From the colorful and…

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