DETROIT — Deborah Chenault Green is 62, a writer. But 50 years ago she was a pre-teen, sleeping on the porch to escape the oppressive heat, awakening to see a sky that glowed unnaturally.
Azerine Jones is a retired baker. But in 1967 she was the 12-year-old daughter of a barber who watched his business go up in smoke.
Gerard Townsend is 66 now, living in a seniors building near the Detroit waterfront. But a half century ago, he was just a kid on a city bus.
The bus stopped near 12th and Clairmount streets. Townsend stepped off — and into the very start of the Detroit riot.
"I saw all these guys with masks and shields," he said — city police officers, most of them white, far outnumbered by a seething black crowd.
In the days that followed, he would witness — and take part in — an epic eruption of violence that still reverberates in his life and the life of this city.
Five days of violence would leave 33 blacks and 10 whites dead, and more than 1,400 buildings burned. More than 7,000 people were arrested.
A decline that had already begun would accelerate; Detroit was the nation's fourth biggest city in 1960, but would rank 21st by 2016. The middle class fled, and a proud city fell into poverty, crime and hopelessness.
There are signs of rebirth in Detroit. But the men and women who lived through the riots are getting older, and most doubt they will live to see Detroit reclaim its former glory, when its very name was synonymous with American know-how and industry.