Skip to comments.Detroit: Coleman Young's Triumph Of Self-Destruction
Posted on 04/08/2002 6:30:18 PM PDT by gohabsgo
Having watched Detroit self-destruct, I reflected this weekend about how it happened, making sure to retain positive memories, while being concise in my summary. In the spring of 1966, I was eight years old, attending Anthony Wayne Elementary, a public school with a 90% white and 10% black population. Detroit couldn´t have been a better place to be for a kid. The Motor City and the Big 3 (GM, Ford and Chrysler) were still on a roll, but there were warning signs on the horizon.
AM radio station CKLW belted out the Supremes, the Monkees, and the Beatles. We could walk two miles to school safely, piles of leaves were burned curbside in autumn, and everyone knew everyone else in the neighborhood. Devil´s Night (the night before Halloween), involved knocking over alley garbage cans and tossing toilet paper over neighbors trees. Now granted an eight year old kid is largely ignorant, but we were starting to overhear an increasingly prevalent parental observation that "things were going to hell."
Before my reluctant slide into class warfare, I had the privilege of trusted, color-blind companionship with two black classmates, Karen Brown and Melvin Traylor. Karen was the first girl I ever had a crush on. Straight A´s, a meticulous dresser, a unique personality with her horn-rimmed glasses, enthusiasm, and love for baseball. I could care less that Karen was black, she was a neat person, and that´s all that mattered. Melvin was one of the guys we´d tumble around with at lunch break. Lunch consisted of eating as quickly as possible, then rolling up a milk carton to be tossed in the middle of the field, where 20 boys would then battle over who could pick up the milk carton and stay on their feet long enough to be gang tackled by everyone else.
Melvin was bigger than the rest of us white boys, but we looked up to him because he laughed so hard when we tried to tackle him. I can sincerely say that never once did race affect my relationship with Karen and Melvin. All of us competed with each other to learn multiplication tables, to excel in spelling, reading, and penmanship. We helped each other, there were no socially invented obstacles. Brotherhood, not civil rights, was how teachers described our ethnic differences. And our grades in Citizenship were of utmost importance to our parents.
Our gym teacher was Mr. Grant, a tough, no-nonsense black man who when he caught us with forbidden gum balls would make us empty our pockets, crush each gum ball with our heels, then throw them in the wastebasket. He was fair, respected, and required that we play by the rules; no exceptions, no favorites. I liked Mr. Grant a lot and wanted to be like him, cut and athletic. He may or may not have known that when the gym was empty, we´d come back and take the prized gum balls out of the wastebasket.
In 1966, Look Magazine named Detroit an "All American City." The positive national attribution was short-lived. On July 23, 1967, police raided a blind pig at 12th St. and Clairmount, for dispensing liquor after 2:00 a.m. 82 were arrested. Then someone threw a brick through the back window of a squad car, and crowds gathered. The episode set off riots that eventually would claim 43 lives. Social commentators called the chaos and mayhem "race riots." But according to the Detroit Almanac (Detroit Free Press, 2001): "A deep polarization between races grew out of that riot, even though it was not a race riot. In fact, the first person killed was a white looter, Walter Grzanka, 45."
For us kids it was pretty cool to see National Guard jeeps cruising main roads headed downtown. But on the day we saw an Army tank, things weren´t funny anymore. There were curfews, distrust, and there was black, and there was white. Apartheid had arrived in Detroit. The near monopoly Detroit held in the automobile industry was changing too. Unions, foreign competition, and racial divisions on the assembly line, all impacted the decline in product quality.
The media wove a controlled and sanitized translation of reality, and any discussion that departed from this version was suicidal. We didn´t need to look further than the backyard for the consequences of opinions that deviated from orthodoxy. In September 67´, Michigan Governor George W. Romney, a leading contender for the 68´ Republican presidential nomination, ended his political career by saying he´d been "brainwashed" by American generals in Vietnam.
Unhappiness and gloom enveloped the city, almost overnight. Having a white perspective about the eroding social dynamic became heresy. My parents had had enough. It was time to get out, and in retrospect, the move five miles to Grosse Pointe would forever change our lives. Now, some 32 years later, I wonder: what happened to this once great city? And why, while the economic and social catastrophe unfolded in the 70´s, was nobody permitted to talk about it. It´s as if everyone knew about a loved one being diagnosed with cancer, but nobody was authorized to reflect on the patient´s diagnosis for fear of the truth.
Unlike Chicago, Boston, and New York, all certainly with their own unique racial challenges, no city has been so completely obliterated and divided along racial lines as Detroit. So the question is, did this have to happen the way it did? And did exploitation and exacerbation of mild racial divisions into a full scale separation serve anyone other than the politicians who have turned victimhood into an industry? The question is valid. And the one political figure who gained the most from this metropolitan nightmare was Coleman Young, who served as Detroit Mayor from 1974-1993.
What Young taught me, my parents, and my friends is that we were all in the class of people christened "racists in the suburbs." It is still disheartening to comprehend the magnitude and reckless divisiveness that statement caused the majority of whites who lived and worked in Detroit. The riots, according to Young were not riots, but "rebellion."
Author Tamar Jacoby said in the book Someone Else´s House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration (1998), "Detroit was governed by a black demagogue from the moment Coleman Young was elected Mayor. The damage to integration was biracial in nature, for Young, in his campaign to destroy Detroit in the name of saving it for black people, had plenty of help from myopic whites." Automobile executives were, Jacoby writes, willing to fork over millions "in thinly disguised riot insurance." The contemporary parallel to Jesse Jackson´s shake-down tactics is numbing.
According to Jacoby, the "most irresponsible white leader in Detroit and perhaps in the whole country was a relatively obscure district court judge named Stephen Roth. Roth was responsible for the decision to order busing between inner-city Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. His ambitious plan would touch on the lives of 780,000 children living in 53 suburbs. Many would be bused for as much as an hour and a half each day. "The most intimate personal routines seemed to be hanging on one man's whimsy," Jacoby writes. With Coleman Young doing everything in his power to encourage whites to leave Detroit, and with Roth's decision forcing them to move to the outermost suburbs, it was not long before Detroit became one of the blackest cities in the United States and its suburbs among the whitest.
And, what does this once great city have to show for it´s failed experiment in forced integration? It appears that disintegration is the clear winner. Today if a white man speaks his mind about meriting one´s rewards, it constitutes "hate," and when a black man does the same thing, he´s an "Uncle Tom." Young himself argued that only white people can be racist. It was a confusing time for everyone in the city, and places previously safe became what police called "no-man´s land." And it all happened so fast.
I sometimes wonder what happened to Karen Brown, Melvin Traylor and Mr. Grant, my friends; people dislodged from my life when the first jeeps and tanks patrolled Detroit on that hot summer night in 1967. Perhaps we´re just browsing though time, so it´s important we choose the things we´re proud of. But it is frustrating to know that these relationships based on character, honesty and mutual respect are somehow now diminished by the diabolical work of self-professed civil rights "activists" who see only skin color. If I were to ever meet Karen, Melvin or Mr. Grant again, I´d treat them the same way they treated me in 1966. And that´s the truth.
Out of curiosity, I looked up Anthony Wayne Elementary School on the web. 2000: Grade 4, percentage of students at grade level: Reading 35%, Math 36%, Science 35%. The majority of kids are failing! In 1967, it was rare that anyone failed to be scholastically prepared to advance. It wasn´t perfect, but teachers were focused on academic excellence, unlike today where the educational environment centers on self esteem and a simplified curricula of lowered expectations. I´m convinced the division isn't between black and white, or even rich and poor. The division is between the prepared and unprepared, the educated and uneducated, those who possess a positive attitude and those who do not. The next generation of kids will be angry if they are unprepared to compete.
It´s funny how much closer kids come to defining equality, not of being uniform and conformist, but of treating each other righteously, as trusted friends. At the same time, isn´t it ironic how much closer an honored "civil rights activist" like Coleman Young came to creating the "separate but equal" atmosphere he purported to abhor. Perhaps it was his own perverse form of revenge, having unfairly been denied scholarships because of his race, and having been fired from Ford Motor for union organizing, that caused his intense bitterness.
As kids, we elementary lads were inseparable, then we were separated. We were individuals, then became unwitting members of groups. Young´s legacy is that he redefined integrity and called it integration, while seizing vast political power, all in the name of "progress." Maybe that was his real objective all along, we were just were too naive and innocent to see it coming.
Will future generations look upon the crumbling ruins of Detroit as they did the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome?
A few years ago, I took a drive past my old neighborhood on the east side. What I saw sickened me. I will never go back again.
Gad, I haven't heard that term for 35 years!
I was actually at a Chinese restaurant at 12th and Clairmount at 3:00am on July 22, 1967, after a Tigers ball game, and driving back to Windsor in my 1966 White Dodge Coronet convertible - top down, I noticed black people on every street corner.
I even asked a coupla guys at a stoplight: "What's going on, guys? Why is everyone out tonight?" Their answer was: "We're just waiting."
The next night, Detroit exploded into a riot, but it wasn't a RACE riot! It was a looting spree, and it was actually comical to watch on TV. (I could watch it on TV because they closed the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Ambasador Bridge, so I couldn't go to work.)
The fires and violence started after 36 hours, and it got very ugly. Detroit was forever changed after that week-of-violence, and I've always felt that there was a much larger plan behind the havoc.
Gordon Lightfoot did a song about it: "Black Day in July", and I got the Everly Brothers autographs in a club in Windsor because the four of us were the only ones there - no Detroit customers!
Well, that's my little trip down memory lane. Stay well and vigilant, folks........FRegards
Detroit really is a no-white-mans land now. I go through Port Huron to get to Midland, Ontario now.
Morgan, where the hell have you been?
Stay well, kids........FRegards
Coleman Young was Yasser Arafat. He had an agenda that was plainly stated, but liberals forbade anybody to speak it openly. He ran Detroit like a third world dictatorship, running everything into the ground while amassing a fortune for himself and his cronies. Plus, the one thing more important than money, he held supreme power. His machine ran the city, the courts, the public schools, and extorted tribute from everything else left in the city.
As with Mao and the "3000 princelings", Coleman's henchmen, or their children, still run the city and schools like feudal fiefdoms, even today. Dennis Archer, as the new mayor, found out he could not get rid of department heads in the city government. They had been appointed, usually illegally, by Young, and they weren't going to leave. All they had to do was invoke the sacred name of Coleman Young, and they'd have hundreds of ministers ready to bring down a howling mob on anyone's head.
That's why I liken Young to Arafat. Detroit is run like the PLO territories, complete with its own version of intifada. Along with the good people still trapped in Detroit are two generations of dangerous losers who revel in their own misery, thinking that that's how they are sticking it to "the man". Coleman Young encouraged them, using their hate and misery as building blocks of his own wealth and power.
Now CKLW was always great to listen to on our transistor radios. We used to sit on the beach with our toes dangling in Lake St Claire and listen to Motown. Then, when I was about 12 I started listening to WDRQ. That was FM, I was now a grown up.