When former Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie died last week, I thought, not just of her, but of those of her generation who have made it possible for our toes and hands to grasp the modicum of political power that we now have.
Ms. Currie, as I called her, never came apart at the seams, even amidst the torrent of challenges she faced during her last days in office. She was even nice to Steve Wilson.
Of course, Wilson understood that, pushed too far, the Arkansas native whose distinct brand of English sounded like a hot butter knife slicing through a piece of newly baked cornbread, would correct him as a mother would an unruly child.
Jackie Currie’s guts, tenacity and intellect reflect a particular generation of Detroit activists and politicians who include many unsung women who literally transformed the landscape of this city.
She and women like Lois Williams, who helped to organize tenants in Detroit’s Jeffries Projects; Lena Bivens, who did the same in the old Brewster-Douglass Projects; Erma Henderson, who founded the Equal Justice Council and Women’s Conference of Concerns; Alice Hines, who co-founded Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services; Gladys Woodward of the Southwest Detroit NAACP and the Delray United Action Council, who focused on air quality long before the “green movement”; and Mildred Smith, who defended the destruction of her neighborhood located near Wayne State University against the encroachment of developers who literally wanted to move she and her neighbors out with no reciprocity. The Research Park Housing Development now stands as Ms. Smith’s legacy.
Ms. Currie helped to form S.H.A.R House, which has saved the lives of countless individuals who otherwise would have been lost to the scourge of drug abuse. She founded the Detroit branch of the National Political Congress of Black Women, chaired by the late Shirley Chisholm.
During her days on the Wayne County Commission as one of its first female members, and serving as the Detroit City Clerk for so many years, she never sought to walk higher than those with whom she lived on Detroit’s east side.
I’ll always remember the sharp outfits that she and recently-elected Detroit Charter Commissioner Teola Hunter wore at the City County Building.
I cite these bits of history for the newcomers to politics, and for her detractors who would rather bury her legacy than celebrate it.
Jackie Currie brought elegance to Detroit in a political ring replete with pit bulls.
Several months ago, one of Detroit’s dailies reminded us of the ultimately baseless accusations made against Jackie Currie concerning her use of “community ambassadors” to assist seniors with completing absentee voting ballots.
That bears repeating: Ms. Currie was found innocent of any wrongdoing in this activity, a practice that is still alive and well in numerous communities throughout Michigan.
One has to ask: Why did the media, and certain members of the community, so vociferously attack this native of the segregated South who understood the need to secure the franchise?
That’s about enough to say about this great woman. She deserves a rest.
But her legacy should not be lost in innuendo and supposition created by the negative media of several years past. She was a woman who made it possible for some of the very men and women who castigated her to have the right to do so.
I remember talking to Jackie Currie in an impromptu call about four months ago. At that time, her primary interest was to secure land near her home to build a facility which would allow the community to have convenient, accessible recreation.
Even in her last days, Ms. Currie bore no malice to those who had malice toward her. She told me that the truth would come out. I’m just glad I’ve lived long enough to be one of the exponents of that truth.
She was indeed a phenomenal woman.
Ron Scott is spokesperson for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.