The 1967 Saginaw riot was one of 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967”. This riot occurred in Saginaw, Michigan, on July 26, 1967. Tensions were high across Michigan that week as the 1967 Detroit riots in nearby Detroit had been escalating since Sunday July 23.
On July 25, 1967, officers surrounded a house full of black people and shot into the house, wounding several people. Two days before that on July 23, Detroit set the tone for other cities all over the country to follow in their footsteps. Cities were impacted by what some called riots – cities burned, businesses were looted, and people were arrested. However, some officials believed what took place in Saginaw was a revolt, not a riot.
Saginaw mayor Henry G. Marsh chose to only meet privately with Civil Rights leaders in a conference closed to members of the public, the public started a protest. The Saginaw News reported that the demonstrators were demanding an open housing ordinance, more jobs for local youth, eliminate slum housing, stop harassment and intimidation of black employees who stand up for their rights, recognize and respect grassroots black leaders. White and black people participated and were demonstrating for hours. The protestors were met by riot police at City Hall and began getting out of hand, eventually turning into a riot that spread through downtown and into the neighborhoods of Saginaw. In all, 7 people were injured, 5 of whom were civilians and 2 were police.
The next youth to be killed, Pollard, was shot and killed by officer Ronald August after he took him into Annex Room A-3. August later admitted to the killing but claimed it was in self-defense. The third person to die, Temple, was shot by Detroit Police Officer Robert Paille who also claimed he killed him in self-defense. Despite the three deceased bodies in the Motel Annex, the Detroit police officers on the scene, Paille, August, and David Senak, did not report any of the deaths to the Detroit Police Homicide Bureau as required. Instead they left the annex after demanding that the survivors keep quiet about the incident.
The next day Charles Hendrix, who provided security for the motel, found the bodies and reported the deaths to the Wayne County Morgue which in turn called the Detroit Police Homicide Bureau. In 1969, Dismukes along with Paille, August, and Senak were charged with murders. Dismukes went to trial first and was acquitted by an all-white jury. Paille was charged with first-degree murder in Temple’s death but his case was dismissed when the judge invalidated his confession because he had not been read his Miranda rights. August, who was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Pollard, was acquitted by an all-white jury in Mason, Michigan despite his confession. Senak was also found not guilty at that trial.
Despite the not-guilty verdicts, the Algiers Motel Incident continued to garner public attention. In 1967 and 1968 investigative reporter John Hersey interviewed survivors, members of the victim’s families, and the policemen involved. Those interviews became the basis for his 1968 book The Algiers Hotel Incident. The Pollard and Temple families filed lawsuits against the police officers which resulted in modest settlements and the three officers left law enforcement. The Algiers Motel was renamed the Desert Inn soon after the incident and eventually demolished in 1979.