Courtney B. Vance Says a 'Soldier Turned His Bayonet On Me' During Detroit Unrest When He Was 7

Courtney B. Vance recalled being faced with a "bayonet" by a soldier when he was 7-years-old during the 1967 civil unrest in Detroit

Courtney B. Vance
Courtney B. Vance. Photo: Gregg DeGuire/Getty

Courtney B. Vance is reflecting on his early memories with the police.

The actor, 60, was a guest on SiriusXM's The Joe Madison Show on Friday in which he was asked to describe a defining moment in his life.

"We grew up in Detroit in '68, with the riots in '67, and we lived on West Grand Boulevard, and the tanks came right down our street," Vance said. "And I was into G.I. Joe and I went down, we were sitting on our house which looked right on down, and we had a long front lawn that went down to the Boulevard, and I saw G.I. Joe, and I took off before my parents could get me."

In 1967 Detroit, a series of violent confrontations broke out between black residents and the Detroit Police Department. The governor of Michigan at the time, George W. Romney, ordered the state's National Guard to stop the clashes.

Vance, who was 7 years old in 1967, said he was excited "because I was going to get G.I. Joe!"

"And the soldier turned his bayonet on me," he recalled. "And I was in shock by the time my mother and father were on me, and they pulled me back. Defining moment."

The American Crime Story actor said his life continued with a series of defining moments including the first time he was able to vote in 1980 when Ronald Reagan defeated the incumbent president Jimmy Carter.

"The Carter election, the defining moment where I was actually able to vote, and it was a huge, huge thing in my life that I was 20, and now I could, I'm a part of the system, I can do my part," he said. "And then, because you're not going to get through this life without challenge."

He continued, saying his father dying and his own education were critical moments that changed his life forever.

"My father dying at 30 and dealing with that, but probably the first one was when I was eight and my parents asked me where I was going to go to school," Vance said. "And I was going to go to the Catholic school that I was in, and my parents made the decision to take the scholarship. It was not a full scholarship, but it still was going to impact our family very strongly, and send me to a private school, Detroit Country Day and shift my life."

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Protests have erupted across the country over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was arrested by a white police officer and later died after suffering injuries from the police officer kneeling on his neck for almost 10 minutes.

Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have also been remembered during the protests. Taylor's family told PEOPLE they were grateful Taylor's name was being invoked in the protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

I'm glad they're saying her name,” Taylor’s cousin Tawanna Gordon told PEOPLE. “We just want her legacy to stay out here. We just want people to know her story because she won't get to tell it. And we just want people to know, this is not something that is new. This is this longstanding, systemic issue.”

“I'm so grateful for people wanting justice, and just standing up and trying to be a voice for her,” Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer told PEOPLE. “It's heartbreaking this stuff is just happening all over the world."

Palmer added, "They are different situations, but it's the same thing happening over and over. Nobody deserves to lose anyone to these circumstances.”

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero ( which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement ( provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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