Attacks continue against: The Man, The Mayor, The M#IC (displayed on desk plate), Coleman Alexander Young. The first black mayor of the blackest city in America, Detroit (census 2010). He fought fearlessly for a dying city. Yet after saving the city, many whites still accuse him of racism and mismanagement.
This fallen Warrior cannot speak for himself, but his quick wit and “signature” sharp tongue would, in a New York minute. I am a lifelong grass-roots resident, resolved to change the narrative of a despised and loved man, in his own words.
“Regan Americans everywhere have done their part in picking clean the likes of Detroit…and then turning to each other and saying indigently, “Look what the ——-. did to our city” (Young, Coleman. “Hard Stuff” Viking Penguin.(1994), p.305
The saga continues. Donald Trump, Dan Gilbert, Katie Parker, and more, hate on the Democratic governance of African American communities. Republican presidential candidate, Trump, alleges: “The inner cities have been run by the Democratic party more than fifty years; these policies produced poverty, joblessness, failing schools and broken homes.”
Katie Parker, Republican Consultant, echoed Trump recently on: “All In with Chris Hayes”. When asked about white flight, she states, “In my hometown Detroit, the mayor asked all the white people to leave.”
Rick Perlstein, contributing writer for “The Nation”, rebutted: “Detroit basically won WWII and saved us from Fascism and Hitler …and its reward was the white people fled the city, after the African Americans worked in their factories…” ; adding that Parker’s comment regarding white flight wasn’t worthy of respect.
Dan Gilbert, investor and developer, highlights Detroit’s accomplishments, “excluding” Young’s blueprint to its landscape. He states that he’s rebounding Detroit from fifty years of mismanagement (Gallagher, John. Detroit Free Press, 2013).
Unquestionably, Young inherited a dying city; while on its ventilator, whites fled, deeming 1943 Race Riot, its catalyst. When the automobile production bottomed, more fled. After the 1967 Riot, millions left, taking countless jobs, leaving an incalculable depleted tax base, stranding millions of struggling citizens. A bumper sticker read: “Could the last one leaving, please turn off the lights.”
“No comparable urban community that I am aware of in the nation or the entire world has lost a population at the rate than Detroit has in the past forty years. Nowhere else has white flight been as dramatic as it has been in this city. …” (Young, 295).
On election day, Young reflected on some of the prejudices he faced, including a Catholic school priest ripping up his application in his face; he thought it was a preposterous impossible dream come true, and only in America. .
“…This had happened because I was in the right place at the right time, for once in my life; my fortune was a direct result of my city’s misfortunes … I was taking over an administration of Detroit because the white people didn’t want the damn thing anymore. They were getting the hell out, more than happy to turn their troubles over to a sucker like me.” (200)
Young never lived down his infamous acceptance speech (in part): “…to all dope pushers, to all rip-off artists, to all muggers… It’s time to leave Detroit.” I said, “Hit Eight Mile Road. I don’t give a damn if they’re black or white, or if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road”(200).
Suburban whites interpreted this as the mayor sending thugs to rob them. Whites, media and Young accused each of racism his twenty year reign (and still today):
“I refuse to accept responsibility for racism, because, I am, in fact – as both a citizen and mayor- it’s sworn enemy and lifelong victim of its machinations. To me it’s a pathetic commentary that I’m so roundly and vigorously indicted for racism when the truth is that I merely react to its assault. If a mugger grabs an old lady on the street and hits her upside the head, do we indict the old lady for screaming (4)?
Young, a shrewd power-broker, averted bankruptcy and leveled Poletown for jobs. The Detroit Free Press editorial characterized Young as, “A successful mayor and a consummate politician, who has put what’s good for Detroit—or, more exactly, what Coleman Young thinks is good for Detroit –above all else (April 5/ 1987).
The mayor’s allegiance to Democrat President Jimmy Carter, was a windfall. Given the city’s financial devastation, he provided generous federal funding for urban development, in upwards of millions.
Young revitalized downtown’s landscape from bridge-to-bridge: including: the Renaissance Complex, Hart Plaza (his favorite), the Millender Center, Cobo Annex, and against all odds, the Joe Louis Arena, convincing Red Wings owner, Bruce Norris to stay in Detroit.
Henry Ford II asserts:
“He really knows the game. He plays the black side. He plays the white side. He plays the business side and the labor side. That’s the game…He plays both sides. Goddamn, it’s just remarkable” (McGraw, Bill: Deadline Detroit, 2/18/2013).
Young states that for two decades the Regan and Bush administration failed Detroit and other urban cities miserably, with no urban plan… “They permitted the number of urban poor to nearly double during their terms” (Young,304).
The Gilberts and Parkers, may have heard generations of horror stories about a divisive mayor. Do they think a city plagued with: poverty, blight, crime, joblessness, failing schools and bad infrastructure, had been better off without Mayor Coleman Young–really?
The Truth is, Coleman Young was the only Detroit mayor –from either part party–since the 1950’s, to lead the city with more income than debt. He was also proven to be: one of the “top five mayors” in Detroit ” (Austin, Dan. Meet the 5 Best Mayors in Detroit History. Detroit Free Press, 3/19/15).
“I have tried my damnedest in the office of mayor to carry forward the pursuit of unity on both the intramural and extramural levels… Despite my record of fifty-fifty hiring, I have been boorishly charged over the years with “racial politics” and “playing the race-card”, I prefer to think of it as “equal opportunity politics”, and “playing the equality card”. I only wish that my fellow public servants in the suburbs were held to the same standards…” (Young 330)