In spite of terrible odds, there are those that rise above their circumstances to do great things. The same can be said for Detroit. Out of the slums come leaders of every profession that have excelled by their own merits. That means that even in Detroit’s inner city, there is a path to be found to make it. Just like Lewis and Clark, there are those that can take the right steps to avoid all the hazards of the journey and make it to their destination intact
However, take those same people that are put through that gauntlet and put them through a better upbringing and they most likely would still succeed. And with them, would succeed millions more that do not under the bitter circumstances of the inner city.
So when we saw businesses failing at 5 times the rate of normal business cycle turn downs in this last great recession, we can certainly say that the owners that made the decisions they made were responsible for their business failures, we can also say that 80% of those businesses that did fail would not have in a better environment that they did not have direct control over, same for those that lost their homes and jobs through the collapse. Under the environment, they made the decisions they thought best for their families and turned up way short.
I write to affect the global circumstances so that more can make it. The 68% of kids that sat in those classes expecting to learn the skills necessary to survive that didn’t make it because of all the support structures that failed them need something better than they are getting. The question is can we create a system solution that can turn around present circumstances and that can create better odds for future kids?The rules in Detroit were pervasively written in the institutions that governed the city, institutions run by the big three auto makers.
Every city has its elites, those few that have made it into the rarified air that makes them appear to themselves as gods. These are the ones that shift the economy, that pioneer its path before the masses tread on it.
I can imagine the CEOs of the big three auto manufacturers coming together at the Detroit Club in 1914 talking about the war and how they might prosper from it. Of course they expected that the windfall would be temporary so no provisions would be made for city planning to accept the hundreds of thousands of new workers and their families. No, everyone would sacrifice for the war effort and when the war was over, these wonderful immigrants and southern blacks would be persuaded to go back home.
The city was run by these captains of industry and their selections for who would run the wards. City planning was thus built upon the premise of greatest efficiency of industry as opposed to any livability factor. The city was growing exponentially and perhaps the chaos of growth could energize the police officers being deputized from southern cities for Detroit to handle the influx of blacks and Poles they thought.
As opposed to America’s growth, which climbed at a rate of 1.1% a year, Detroit’s population was growing at 4 times that rate. Certainly car production alone could not sustain such a growth rate as was occurring for military production. Certainly, the substandard housing that was going up at record pace wasn’t meant for the long haul, for no one would expect that after the war boom would come a depression followed by an even bigger war boom, in which Detroit would play a pivotal role.
After two big wars and an extended industrial war boom, Detroit could not have expected to ride on its past. But where was the planning? Was the only planning scarcity, and to let the rats abandon a sinking ship? Was the only planning to put a volatile mix of people into a beaker and to stir in the catalyst of fewer jobs?
This is why city planning ought to be left for those that consider all the people of a community as stakeholders in the city’s future, not just the chosen few who employ strategies to maximize short term goals, without considering it their responsibility to care for the community they have recruited as immigrants and migrants to do their bidding.
Here is a quick history of racially divided Detroit from it nascent auto days until the first big Detroit riot in 1943. It tells of industry drawing in masses of European immigrants, southern blacks and southern poor whites, and poorly preparing the city for them only to have racial prejudice surface and then finally explode in 1943.
Detroit Automobile Company August 5, 1899 – the first plant
Ford assembly line – starts the boom town and immigration
.1914 – Ford announces $5 a day pay – starts African American migration
Tension mounts in slums for housing and at factories for jobs between blacks and Poles
.1920s – rise of Detroit KKK membership to 20,000. KKK emphasizes racial segregation in housing
.1925 – During year, Racist Detroit police kill 40 blacks
Osian Sweets, a black man, kills a man in a mob attacking his new home in a white neighborhood. Goes on trial for murder and is eventually acquitted. In response, Detroit white neighborhoods pass restrictive “whites only” covenants.
Great Depression hits – Autoworkers unions organize
Klan clashes with the unions and the fades into background for awhile
.1940 – Franklin Roosevelt names Detroit as the Arsenal of Democracy, declaring the city to be strategic to winning the war.
.1941 – Executive Order 8802 – Roosevelt forbids work discrimination based on race
Detroit would need workers on a massive scale for the war effort so its demand for workers started the second great migration of African Americans North.
This massive influx of new labor brought Detroit, already in a housing shortage, to a boiling point.
Housing shortages and black shanty towns – Federal government builds 700 units at Sojourner Truth Housing Project to ease shortage amidst white protests
February 28, 1942 move in day ta Sojourner. White mob riots, KKK burns a cross, police tear gas and arrest 220 blacks. For two months, the city does nothing to allow blacks to move in or to protect them. Finally, they are allowed to move in.
Poor urban planning – government earmarks 17 billion for new war factories in Detroit but only 5 million for new housing in a city that was still short 12,000 units.
July 1942 – Life Magazine writes an article called “Detroit is Dynamite” where it tells the world how Detroit, the manufacturing bastion of hope for America, could not build if it continued to be so factious and bickering.
Migrants vs. Nativists
Blacks vs. Southern Whites
Protestants vs. Catholics
Communists vs. Conservatives
KKK vs. Blacks
Poles vs. Blacks for lowest paying jobs
.1943 – Efforts by Fair Employment Protection Committee to enforce fair labor practices result in several race strikes protesting blacks in the workplace. Many blamed the Klan for staging these strikes.
.1943 – Catholic Trade Unionists declare that a subterranean race war is raging in the city and will explode in violence if nothing is done to stop it.
City officials meet with police to plan for race riot
Hot summer of 1943 – people flock to parks.
Early June – a small brawl breaks out between Blacks and Whites in park and spills over to neighborhood before Police break it up.
Mid June – brawl breaks out at amusement park as whites try to chase blacks out of the park
June 20 – Brawls break out in parks, continue to resurface in the night. Groups roam downtown. Whites spread a false rumor that a black man raped and murdered a white woman on a bridge. Blacks spread a false rumor that whites threw a black woman and her baby off that bridge. Then the whites and blacks begin to riot in two separate parts of town.
Police stood aside and watched the white riots go on for 36 hours as white rioters dragged blacks from their cars and beat them. The Black riots centered on damaging white storefronts in black parts of town and in response the police used force on black rioters. 17 of 25 dead blacks from the riot were killed by police. 433 were injured. Police arrested 1,800, mostly black. Stories surfaced of savage police beatings and murders. Martial law was declared and federal troops were brought in to quell the riots.
This was the basis of institutional racism that was pervasive in Detroit as a result of its volatile mixture. Even more violent race riots would erupt again in 1967 demonstrating the lack of the city’s success in dealing with this destructive social issue.