Vinnie Martini snapped photos of the Detroit uprising as he made diaper deliveries. See his pictures in color.
Detroit — When he wasn’t picking up dirty diapers from porches and replacing them with clean cloths, Vinnie Martini took pictures of the National Guardsmen, looting and destruction he saw throughout his delivery route the week of July 23, 1967.
Martini was 24 at the time and worked for the American Mop Rental and Infant Diaper Service on 15th Street and Grand River. While many businesses shut down during the Detroit uprising, the commercial laundry kept its machines running and drivers, like Martini, delivering fresh diapers in pickups. These were the days before disposable diapers.
He snapped a few dozen color pictures with his Kodak as he drove down Detroit streets.
“I was just curious and wanted to take pictures,” said Martini, now a 74-year-old Allen Park resident. “Believe me, I didn’t think I was doing anything of historic consequence.”
While reading The Detroit News’ 1967 anniversary edition this month, one photograph of two National Guardsmen caught his eye. It looked strikingly similar to a picture he took of two guardsmen standing at 12th and Hazelwood, clutching their rifles.
Martini poked fun at The News photography, joking he was “a little more advanced.”
“I was taking my stuff in color, and you had black and white,” he laughed.
Another one of his photos shows National Guard troops and jeeps in front of Neumann’s Gun Shop on 12th Street.
“They were keeping people from going in and looting the store because there were weapons and guns in there,” he said.
Martini also captured a destroyed car, hit by a tank at the corner of Warren and Grand River, charred buildings and “soul brothers” scribbled on storefronts to ward off looters.
One day, he had to deliver dust control products at the Wayne County jail. But guardsmen blocked the police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, so he gave up on the delivery and snapped a picture from a side street.
“I couldn’t drive my vehicle in front of the police station,” he said, “so I got a side shot, and there’s National Guard troopers standing in the street.”
Martini left the delivery business — he now works as a safe cracker, opening bank vaults and safety deposit boxes for owners who lose their keys. Yet 50 years later, he’s adamant about one thing: It was not a race riot.
“There were white guys down there breaking into buildings and taking whatever they could get, as well as the blacks,” he said.
Martini, who’s white, grew up on Evergreen and Pembroke in a diverse neighborhood.
“There was Mexicans, Italians, Polish, blacks, whites,” he said. “Every nationality was in that area I lived, so I never felt threatened.”
He also frequented his fair share of blind pigs for drinking and gambling.
“There was never any problems or confrontations,” he said. “There was a blind pig I went to on Hastings that was owned by a black guy, and you felt like you were at home.”