History of Detroit

The city of Detroit, the largest city in the state of Michigan, was settled in 1701 by French colonists. It is the first European settlement above tidewater in North America.[3] Founded as a New France fur trading post, it began to expand with British and American settlement around the Great Lakes in the nineteenth century. Industrialization drove it into becoming a world-class industrial powerhouse and the fourth-largest American city by 1920, due to the auto industry. It held that standing through the mid-20th century.

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The first Europeans to settle in Detroit were French traders and colonists from the New Orleans (the La Louisiane) colony. Traders from Montreal and Quebec had to contend with the powerful Five Nations of the League of the Iroquois, who took control of the southern shores of Lakes Erie and Huron through the Beaver Wars of the 17th century, during which they conquered or pushed out lesser tribes.

The region grew initially based on the lucrative inland and Great Lakes connected fur trade, based on continuing relations with influential Native American chiefs and interpreters. The Crown's administration of New France offered free land to colonists to attract families to the region of Detroit. The population grew steadily, but more slowly than in English private venture-funded colonies. The French had a smaller population base and attracted fewer families. During the French and Indian War (1756-1763), the French reinforced and improved Fort Detroit (1701) along the Detroit River between 1758–1760. It was subject to repeated attacks by British regular and colonial forces, strengthened by Indian allies.

Fort Detroit was surrendered to the British on November 29, 1760, after the fall of Quebec. Control of the area, and all French territory east of the Mississippi River, were formally transferred to the United Kingdom by the Treaty of Paris (1763) after the UK defeated France in the Seven Years' War. The British census counted 2,000 people in Detroit in 1760, but the population had dropped to 1,400 by 1773.[4] The city was in territory which the British reserved for Indians under the Royal Proclamation of 1763. It was transferred to Quebec under the Quebec Act of 1774. By 1778 in a census taken during the American Revolution, population was up to 2,144. It was then the third-largest city in the Province of Quebec, after Montreal and Quebec.[5]

After 1773 a steady but growing trickle of Anglo-European settlers took families across the barrier range, or through lower New York State into the Ohio Countrygradually spreading across present-day Ohio along the south shore of Lake Erie and around the bottom of Lake Huron. After the 1778 Sullivan Expedition broke the power of the Iroquois, the New York corridor joined the gaps of the Allegheny, Cumberland Narrows and Cumberland Gap as mountain passes, enabling settlers to pour west into the mid-west, even as the American Revolution wound down.

After the peace, a flood of settlers continued west, and Detroit reaped its share of population, established itself as a gateway to the west and the Great Lakes, and for a time outshone all other cities west of the mountains, save for New Orleans.

During the 19th century, Detroit grew into a thriving hub of commerce and industry. After a devastating fire in 1805, Augustus B. Woodward devised a street plan similar to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's design for Washington, D.C. Monumental avenues and traffic circles were planned to fan out in radial fashion from Campus Martius Park in the heart of the city. This was intended to ease traffic patterns and trees were planted along the boulevards and parks.[6]

The city spread along Jefferson Avenue, with multiple manufacturing firms taking advantage of the transportation resources afforded by the river and a parallel rail line. In the late 19th century several Gilded Age mansions were built just east of Detroit's current downtown. Detroit was referred to by some as the Paris of the West for its architecture, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison.[1] Throughout the 20th century various skyscrapers were built centered on Detroit's downtown.

Following World War II, the auto industry boomed and the area witnessed suburban expansion. The Detroit metropolitan area has emerged as one of the largest in the United States. Immigrants and migrants have contributed significantly to Detroit's economy and culture. In the 1990s and the new millennium, the city has experienced increased revitalization. Many areas of the city are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and include National Historic Landmarks. The city with its population migration to the suburbs has had to adjust its role in the midst of a much larger metropolitan area in the 21st century.

Native American presence

Hearths and geological features from the Holcombe beach site near Lake Saint Clair show that Paleo-Indian people settled in the area of Detroit as early as 11,000 years ago.[7] The Mound-builders lived in the area and mounds were noted at several locations in Detroit including at Fort Wayne and Springwells.

In the 17th century, the region was inhabited by Huron, Odawa, Potawatomi and Iroquois peoples.[8] The first Europeans did not penetrate into the region and reach the straits of Detroit until French missionaries and traders worked their way around the League of the Iroquois, with whom they were at war in the 1630s.[9] In the late 1600s, raids led by the Five Nations Iroquois throughout the region led other native peoples to flee, leaving permanent villages abandoned when the French decided to build a fort on the northern border of the Detroit River.[8]

Early French settlement

The first recorded mention of the site was in the 1670s, when French missionaries found a stone idol venerated by the Indians there and destroyed it with an axe. Early settlers planted twelve missionary pear trees "named for the twelve Apostles" on the grounds of what is now Waterworks Park.[10]

The city name comes from the Detroit River (French: le détroit du Lac Érie), meaning the strait of Lake Erie, linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie; in the historical context, the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.[11] The sieur de Cadillac in 1698 proposed to his government in Paris that Detroit be established as a shelter for displaced Indian allies. Paris approved and in 1701 Cadillac led a party of 100 Frenchmen to establish a post called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, naming it after his sponsor the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. In 1704 he was given ownership over the strenuous opposition of officials in New France. An investigation by de Pontchartrain showed Cadillac was a tyrannical profiteer whose mischief hurt the French cause, so Cadillac was removed and sent to faraway New Orleans as governor of Louisiana.[12]

Ste. Anne de Détroit, founded 1701, is the second oldest continuously operating Catholic parish in the United States; it was the first building erected in Detroit.[1]

The main business was trading furs with the Indians, using goods supplied from Montreal.[13] It was the largest French village between Montreal and New Orleans.[14] Indian villages of rival tribes grew up near the fort which lead to the Fox Wars in the early 1700s.

Francois Marie Picoté, sieur de Belestre, the last French commander at Fort Detroit (1758–1760), surrendered on November 29, 1760 to the British. Control of the area was formally transferred to the British by the Treaty of Paris (1763). New France was renamed Quebec and the settlement became Detroit. Grants of free land attracted families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765.

Demonstrating their independent power, several tribes in the region collaborated in Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763; they overran many smaller forts but could not subdue Detroit.

American control

Detroit was the goal of various American campaigns during the American Revolution, but logistical difficulties in the North American frontier and American Indian allies of Great Britain would keep any armed rebel force from reaching the Detroit area. In the Treaty of Paris (1783), Great Britain ceded territory that included Detroit to the newly recognized United States, though in reality it remained under British control. Great Britain continued to trade with and defend her native he area, and supplied local nations with weapons to harass American settlers and soldiers. The British left in 1796 following the Jay Treaty. In 1794, a Native American alliance, that had received some support and encouragement from the British, was decisively defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near Toledo, Ohio. Wayne negotiated the Treaty of Greenville (1795) with many of these nations, in which tribes ceded the area of Fort Detroit to the United States.

Father Gabriel Richard arrived at Ste. Anne's in 1796. He helped start the school which evolved into the University of Michigan, started primary schools for white boys and girls as well as for Indians, as a territorial representative to U.S. Congress helped establish a road-building project that connected Detroit and Chicago, and brought the first printing press to Michigan which printed the first Michigan newspaper.[1][2] In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive.[15] Detroit's motto and seal (as on the Flag) reflect this fire.

First incorporation

Detroit was incorporated as a town by the legislature of the Northwest Territory at Chillicothe, Ohio, on January 18, 1802, effective February 1, 1802. Government was administered by a five-person board of trustees and there was no office of mayor. Following this, Ohio became a state and the eastern half of Michigan was attached to the Indiana Territory.

Woodward plan

Before the new territorial government officially began, a fire destroyed nearly all of Detroit on June 11, 1805. The Michigan Territory was established effective June 30, 1805, as a separate territory with Detroit as the capital. The newly appointed governor, William Hull, and the territorial judges (Augustus B. Woodward, Frederick Bates, James Witherell, and John Griffin), constituted the territorial government. They convinced the U.S. Congress to pass an act on April 21, 1806, which authorized them to lay out a town that included all of the old town of Detroit plus an additional 10,000 acres (40 km²) to be used as compensation for persons who lost their house in the fire.[16]

After the fire of 1805, Justice Augustus B. Woodward devised a plan similar to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's design for Washington, D.C. Detroit's monumental avenues and traffic circles fan out in a baroque styled radial fashion from Grand Circus Park in the heart of the city's theater district, which facilitates traffic patterns along the city's tree-lined boulevards and parks.[6] Main thoroughfares radiate outward from the city center like spokes in a wheel.

City incorporation

On September 13, 1806, the territorial government passed an act incorporating the new city of Detroit. The governor appointed Solomon Sibley as mayor. Shortly afterward, Sibley resigned and Elijah Brush was appointed in his stead. The mayor was appointed by the governor and, under the act of incorporation, was able to disapprove legislation passed by the popularly elected council without any recourse for overriding the mayor. Because of this, many felt that the real aim of the governor in incorporating the city was to remove the popularly elected town officers and exert a more direct influence over governance of the city.[17] This form of government was extremely unpopular, and was repealed on February 4, 1809. However, to prevent resurrection of the popularly elected town government, on September 16, 1810, an act passed repealing all laws pertaining to Michigan that had been passed by the Legislature of the Northwest Territory. This effectively eradicated any trace of legitimacy for the former popularly elected town government.

War of 1812

In the War of 1812, Governor Hull surrendered Detroit to a smaller British force which threatened to allow its Indian allies to kill all American prisoners.[18] The British had bluffed the Americans into believing there were thousands of native troops. Tecumseh marched his native troops through a clearing and then circled the same troops through the clearing again to make it seem there was a much larger native force. Hull was convicted of cowardice and sentenced to death by a court martial, but received a presidential pardon. The U.S. Army recaptured Detroit in 1813 after the British abandoned it and used it as a base to invade Canada and permanently end the threat of Indian raids on American settlements.[19] After the British abandoned Detroit, American forces caught up to the escaping British and natives, and killed Tecumseh. Lewis Cass, as territorial governor, on October 24, 1815, restored control of local affairs to the people of Detroit, with the election of a five-person board of trustees and enactment of a charter for the city of Detroit.

Slavery in early Detroit

One piece of the Detroit narrative that is often exempt from the telling of history is that of slavery. Although Detroit, or the North in general, is often perceived to have been free of slavery, slavery indeed played a role in the city's history. Captive indigenous and African people contributed to the early development of the city. It is likely that enslaved people were among the first group that Cadillac brought to settle Detroit in 1701 and that their labor was used to plant the first crops. The labor of enslaved persons was crucial for the city's construction, enslaved blacks provided the labor for the fur trade, and indigenous women were exploited for sex.

From Detroit's establishment to Michigan's gain of statehood, the ownership of slaves was dynamic. Slaves were originally held by the French and their Indian allies, then by British officers and businessmen, and finally they were held during American occupation preceding Michigan statehood. Slaveholders included merchants, farmers, political leaders, priests, and others who held power within the society.

Partly due to the inadequate documentation, the story of slavery in Detroit is incomplete and unknown by many. There is nearly no record of the direct words of Detroit slaves, but there are some surviving records of slavery in the journals, wills, and finance accounts of slaveholders. Few scholarly works have been written about the role slavery played in Detroit and Michigan has not produced any full-length narratives of slavery.[20]

A city emerges

Government under the board of trustees continued until an act of the Territorial Legislature on August 5, 1824, created a Common Council of the City of Detroit. The Council consisted of five aldermen, the mayor, and the recorder. In an act of April 4, 1827, the number of aldermen increased to seven. In 1839, it increased to 14: two aldermen from six wards plus the mayor and recorder. A seventh ward was created in 1848, an eighth in 1849, and the ninth and tenth wards in 1857. Also in 1857, a new city charter provided that the mayor and recorder would no longer sit as members of the council. At this time, the council consisted of 20 members, two aldermen from ten wards. In 1873, a twelfth ward was added and aldermen from an illegally constituted eleventh ward also temporarily sat on the council. In 1875, a properly constituted eleventh ward and a thirteenth ward were added. The city charter of 1883 changed the name of the body to the Board of Aldermen. A few years earlier in 1881, a separately elected ten-person body named Board of Councilmen (also called the City Council), was established. This body was abolished in 1887.

After Detroit rebuilt in the early 19th century, a thriving community soon sprang up, and by the Civil War, over 45,000 people were living in the city,[21] primarily spread along Jefferson Avenue to the east and Fort Street to the west. As in many major American cities, subsequent redevelopment of the central city through the next 150 years has eliminated all but a handful of the antebellum structures in Detroit. The oldest remaining structures are those built as private residences, including a group in the Corktown neighborhood and another set of houses strung along Jefferson Avenue — notably the Charles Trowbridge House (1826), (the oldest known structure in the city), the Joseph Campau House (1835), the Sibley House (1848), the Beaubien House (1851), and the Moross House (1855). Other extant pre-1860 structures include Fort Wayne (1849); Saints Peter and Paul Church (1848) and Mariner's Church (1849); and early commercial buildings such as those in the Randolph Street Commercial Buildings Historic District, for example.

The main communication medium from the 1830s until the rise of television in the 1950s was the newspaper. Detroit had a large variety of daily papers, meeting the needs of the political parties have different language groups in the city, as well as the needs of readers concerned with news of business, labor, agriculture, literature, local churches, and polite society.[22]

Civil War era

Prior to the American Civil War, the city's access to the Canada–US border made it a key stop for runaway slaves along the underground railroad.[23] The Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Detroit's Campus Martius Park commemorates the state's role in the American Civil War. Thousands of Detroiters formed volunteer regiments, including the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment (part of the legendary Iron Brigade) which fought with distinction and suffered 82% casualties at Gettysburg in 1863. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying Thank God for Michigan! Following Lincoln's assassination, General George Armstrong Custer delivered a eulogy to the thousands gathered near Campus Martius Park. Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the American Civil War and called them the Wolverines.[24]

The Detroit race riot of 1863 occurred on March 6, 1863 and was the city's first such incident, as Irish and German Catholics resisted the mandatory draft laws. At the time, it was reported as "the bloodiest day that ever dawned upon Detroit."[25] The casualties of the day included at least two people dead, and many others injured, mostly African-American, 35 buildings were burned to the ground, and a number of other buildings were damaged by fire.[26]

Rise of industry and commerce

Detroit's central location in the Great Lakes Region has contributed to its status as a major center for commerce and global trade. As Detroit grew, it emerged as a U.S. transportation hub linking the Great Lakes system of waterways to the Erie Canal and to rail lines. Pharmaceutical firms such as Parke-Davis in the 1870s and the Frederick Stearns Company in the 1890s established centers between East Jefferson Avenue. Globe Tobacco built a manufacturing facility closer to downtown in 1888. During the late 19th century, cast-iron stove manufacturing became Detroit's top industry; by the 1890s, the city became known as the "Stove Capital of the World".[27]

The rise of manufacturing led to a new class of wealthy industrialists, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Some of these nouveau riche built along East Jefferson, resulting in structures such as the Thomas A. Parker House (1868), the Croul-Palms House (1881), the William H. Wells House (1889), the John N. Bagley House (1889), and the Frederick K. Stearns House (1902).

Detroit began increasingly to expand, and other citizens pushed north of downtown, building houses along Woodward in what was at the time a quiet residential area. The city has many restored historic Victorian structures, notably those in the Brush Park and East Ferry Avenue historic districts. The Elisha Taylor House (1870) and the Hudson-Evans House (1872) are both in Brush Park; the Col. Frank J. Hecker House (1888) and the Charles Lang Freer House (1887) are in the East Ferry Avenue neighborhood. Near the end of the 19th century, apartment living became more acceptable for affluent middle-class families, and upscale apartments, such as the Coronado Apartments (1894), the Verona Apartments (1894), the Palms Apartments (1903), the Davenport Apartments (1905) in the Cass-Davenport Historic District, and the Garden Court Apartments (1915) were constructed to meet the new demand.

These well-to-do late-19th-century residents also funded the construction of a spate of churches, such as the Cass Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church (1883), the First Presbyterian Church (1889), the Trinity Episcopal Church (1890) (built by James E. Scripps), and the First Unitarian Church (1890).

Immigrants in the 19th century

Detroit has long been a city of immigrants, from the early French and English settlers in the 18th century, through the Irish who settled in the Corktown neighborhood in the 1840s, and the Germans who comprised the largest group. Significant contingents during this period included German and Polish immigrants who settled in Detroit in the 1860-1890s.

Conditions were especially favorable for the Irish Catholics. Vinyard finds that they enjoyed many opportunities and suffered "negligible religious prejudice." They were especially successful in politics, government service, dockyard and construction jobs, and built numerous churches. They funded the migration of relatives from Ireland. They took very active leadership roles in the Democratic Party and labor unions[28][29]

European immigrants opened businesses and established communities. German immigrants established German-speaking churches, primarily on the east side of the city, including Saint John's-St. Luke's Evangelical Church (1872), St. Joseph Catholic Church (1873), and Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church (1875), as well as social clubs such as the Harmonie Club (1894) and west-side churches such as St. Boniface (1882) and Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church (1891).

Close behind, a wave of Polish immigrants established east-side Roman Catholic parishes such as St. Albertus (1885), Sweetest Heart Of Mary (1893), St. Josaphat's (1901), St. Stanislaus (1911), and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (1923). The Poles also settled on the west side, founding West Side Dom Polski (1916). The son of Prussian Polish immigrants, Rev. John A. Lemke, born in Detroit on February 10, 1866, was the first American-born Roman Catholic Priest of Polish descent to be ordained in America.[30] He was baptised at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church (1843), at the corner of St. Antoine and Croghan (Monroe), on February 18, 1866, attended St. Albertus for his primary education, and studied at Detroit College which is now the University of Detroit Mercy where he received a bachelor's degree in 1884; then, after attending St. Mary's in Baltimore, he completed his theological studies at St. Francis Seminary in Monroe, Michigan, and he was ordained by the Bishop John Samuel Foley in 1889.[30] The Catholics were especially energetic in building churches, schools, orphanages, hospitals and other charitable institutions.[31]

Nearly nine out of ten Detroiters in 1900 (87%) lived in single-family homes. European immigrants including German, Belgian, Polish, and Irish ethnics were likely to be home owners in the city. Most immigrants built their own home with the aid of their neighbors, or if still saving the purchase price they rented from fellow ethnics. They used an informal, localized, ethnically controlled housing market that was quite distinct from the professionally operated housing market. Homeownership in Detroit surged in the city's immigrant neighborhoods by 1900.[32]

Hazen Pingree

In 1887, John Pridgeon, Jr., a Democrat was elected mayor in a landslide after his Republican opponent endorsed prohibition in the heavily German city. Pridgeon's term was besmirched by multiple scandals involving the Common Council, city commissioners, grand jury investigations, and multiple indictments for bribery and graft. In 1889 Republicans recouped and called for "good government" by nominating a businessman with no political experience, Hazen S. Pingree after a colorful campaign in which Pingree revealed his tolerance by making a circuit of saloons. One of his first projects was simply paving the streets—only four streets were paved, and The Detroit Journal described the rest as "150 miles of rotting, rutted, lumpy, dilapidated paving." In hot weather some stretches oozed pitch and resin and occasionally caught fire from discarded cigar butts.[33] Warning repeatedly against the dangers of government by the corporations, he launched nationally visible crusades against Detroit's streetcar, gas, electric, and telephone companies. He successfully forced rate reductions that won him widespread popularity. He won public approval for a citizen-owned electric light plant, and became a national spokesman for municipal ownership and close regulation of utilities and street railways. When the nationwide Panic of 1893 pushed the nation into a deep depression (1893–97), he won approval by opening empty lots to garden farming – people called them "Pingree's potato patches." He was a steadfast Republican, and had nothing to do with the Populist Party that had considerable support among labor union members. Pingree added to the old stock Yankee Republican base by making large inroads into the German, Polish and Canadian elements. He was reelected in 1891, 1893 and 1895. Pingree was one of the most influential American mayors in the 1890s – historians now rated him number 4 among all American mayors, and see him as one of the earliest leaders of the Progressive Era.[34] He supported the gold standard in 1896, and worked hard to carry the city and state for William McKinley over silverite William Jennings Bryan in the intensely competitive 1896 presidential election. McKinley carried the city and state and Pingree was elected governor of Michigan.[35]

20th century

Henry Ford and the automobile industry

Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry when he virtually created the assembly line at his Highland Park Plant in 1910. His innovation transformed mass production and catalyzed Detroit’s growth and industrialization. Around the start of the 20th century, entrepreneurs in the Detroit area capitalized on the already-existing machine tool and coach-building industry in the city to forge into the production of automobiles. Detroit’s central geographic location and access to the Great Lakes and railways gave automobile producers easy access to capital and markets, making Detroit an ideal site for many automobile manufacturers’ headquarters. As Ford’s rivals quickly adopted his manufacturing techniques, the automobile industry flourished and essentially elevated Detroit from a second-tier industrial city to a world-class city. Thus, Detroit earned its famous nickname, the Motor City.[36]

At the turn of the 20th century, no one industry was dominant in Detroit. Early automotive production, which was still a relatively small industry at the time, is evidenced by structures such as the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant (1904) (a National Historic Landmark), and multiple structures in the surrounding Piquette Avenue Industrial Historic District (including the now-destroyed E-M-F/Studebaker Plant, 1906) and the New Amsterdam Historic District (including the original Cadillac factory, 1905) and small factories such as the Crescent Brass and Pin Company Building (1905). Then as automobile assembly and associated manufacturing came to dominate Detroit over the next thirty years, the newly minted automotive magnates built commercial and office buildings such as General Motors Building (1919), the General Motors Research Laboratory (1928), and the Fisher Building (1928).

In 1914, Ford revolutionized labor relations when he announced he would pay workers in his plants five dollars a day— about double the going rate at rival firms. In addition to attracting the best workers in Detroit, Ford’s high wage policy effectively stopped the massive turnover rate, raised productivity, lowered overall labor costs and helped to propel the Model T to industry dominance.[37] By the 1920s, however, Ford's formula of cheap cars with few options fell behind General Motors, which emphasized upscale quality and variety, and provided financing for car buyers. Labor relations in the automobile industry transformed again in 1935 when the United Auto Workers labor union was founded in Detroit.

The rapid growth of the automobile industry led to rising demands for labor. Immigrants from Europe initially filled much of the labor demand, but restrictive immigration acts in 1921 and 1924 caused a dramatic reduction in the supply of foreign-born workers to the United States.[38] Meanwhile, the automobile industry was growing exponentially. Beginning during World War I, Ford began hiring African Americans to close the labor shortage. At this time, the hardships of life in the Jim Crow South and the promise of manufacturing jobs in the North brought African Americans to Detroit in large numbers in the Great Migration. This massive influx of workers and their families caused Detroit’s population to soar from 265,000 to 1.5 million between 1900 and 1930 and pushed the city’s boundaries outward. The population boom led to a severe housing shortage and the construction of public housing aimed at middle-class auto workers.[39]

The rise of the automobile also required rethinking transportation within the city. The Chestnut Street-Grand Trunk Railroad bridge (1929) was a result of a grade separation that unsnarled train and automobile traffic. The Fort Street-Pleasant Street and Norfolk & Western Railroad Viaduct (1928) was a product of the same program, routing trucking traffic over the train traffic. And the West Jefferson Avenue-Rouge River Bridge (1922) allowed the Rouge River to be expanded for barge traffic.

Progressive movement

Progressivism was energized starting in the 1890s by upper middle class men and women who felt a civic duty to uplift society by "freeing" it from the tyranny of corrupt politicians who worked hand in hand with unscrupulous saloonkeepers.[40] The most prominent leader was Republican Mayor Hazen S. Pingree.[41] A representative community leader was automaker Henry M. Leland of the Detroit Citizens League. Supported by Detroit's business, professional, and Protestant religious communities, the League campaigned for a new city charter, an anti-saloon ordinance, and the open shop whereby a worker could get a job even if he did not belong to a labor union.[42]

Reinhold Niebuhr, a German-American Protestant minister trained at Yale Divinity School became nationally famous as a Detroit minister who attacked the KKK, which was strong among white Protestants in the city.[43] In an era when Henry Ford was an American icon, Niebuhr attracted national attention by criticizing the auto industry. He preached the Social Gospel, attacking what he considered the brutalization and insecurity of Ford workers.[44] Niebuhr had moved to the left and was troubled by the demoralizing effects of industrialism on workers. He became an outspoken critic of Ford and allowed union organizers to use his pulpit to expound their message of workers' rights. Niebuhr attacked poor conditions created by the assembly lines and erratic employment practices.[45]

Niebuhr rejected the prevailing optimism that prevailed in the 1920s. He wrote in his diary:

We went through one of the big automobile factories to-day. ... The foundry interested me particularly. The heat was terrific. The men seemed weary. Here manual labor is a drudgery and toil is slavery. The men cannot possibly find any satisfaction in their work. They simply work to make a living. Their sweat and their dull pain are part of the price paid for the fine cars we all run. And most of us run the cars without knowing what price is being paid for them. ... We are all responsible. We all want the things which the factory produces and none of us is sensitive enough to care how much in human values the efficiency of the modern factory costs.[46]

The historian Ronald H. Stone thinks that Niebuhr never talked to the assembly line workers (many of his parishioners were skilled craftsmen) but projected feelings onto them after discussions with Rev. Samuel Marquis.[47] As some studies of assembly line workers have shown, the work may have been dull, but workers had complex motivations and could find ways to make meaning of their experiences; many boasted about their jobs and tried hard to place their sons on the assembly line. Ford tried but failed to control work habits.

Sociologists who interviewed workers concluded that they were more interested in controlling their home lives than their work lives. The Ford solution was welfare capitalism, paying relatively high wages with added benefits, such as vacations and retirement, that reduced turnover and appealed primarily to family men. Link and Link conclude that by tying half a man's wages to the company's profit, Ford managers offered "a highly successful wage incentive plan that simultaneously increased job satisfaction and raised the productivity of labor."[48][49]

Gilded Age

At the beginning of the 20th century, historic Gilded Age areas such as Brush Park gave rise to even more upscale neighborhoods, including the Boston-Edison, Indian Village, and Palmer Woods. Woodward Avenue neighborhoods (such as the Warren-Prentis Historic District and the Willis-Selden Historic District) became mixed with apartments and commercial buildings. Many architecturally and historically significant churches and cathedrals arose during this period throughout the city's neighborhoods.

Automobile wealth along with educational & technological advancements led to a boom in downtown Detroit business, and the construction of a collection of early 20th century skyscrapers. The most notable of these are the Art Deco National Historic Landmark Guardian Building (1928) and The Fisher Building (1928). Many renowned architects including Albert Kahn, Wirt C. Rowland, and others designed and built a number of the cities skyscrapers and landmarks.

Shopping districts sprang up along Park Avenue, Broadway, and Woodward. In 1881, Joseph Lowthian Hudson opened a small men's clothing store in Detroit. After 10 years he had 8 stores in the midwest and was the most profitable clothing retailer in the country. In 1893, he began construction of J. L. Hudson Department Store at Gratiot and Farmer streets in Detroit. The store grew over the years and a 25-story tower was added in 1928. The final section was a 12-story addition in 1946, giving the entire complex 49 acres (20 ha) of floor space.

Multiple hotels were constructed, including the Fort Shelby Hotel (1916), the Detroit-Leland Hotel (1927), the Royal Palm Hotel (1924), and several others.

Extravagant movie palaces such as the Fox (1928) and the Palms (1925) entertained thousands every day. Public buildings, such as Orchestra Hall (1919), the Detroit Public Library (1921), and the Detroit Institute of Arts (1923) were inspired by the City Beautiful Movement.[1]

Immigrants in the 20th century

The development of the automobile industry did more than create a significant increase in Detroit’s industrial production. It also changed the demographics of the city by attracting large waves of immigrants from Europe and Canada and black migrants from the South to fill the rising demands for labor. These people, who increased the city’s population during the early 1900s, did not just affect the expanding automobile industry; they also transformed neighborhoods by defining certain areas and bringing jobs and money into the local community. Although many people began to pile into Detroit, Thomas Sugrue, author of “The Origins of the Urban Crisis,” suggests, “Beginning in the 1920s--and certainly by the 1940s--class and race became more important than ethnicity as a guide to the city’s residential geography.”

An early wave of immigrants came from Greece in the late 1890s; it peaked from 1910–14. These Greek peasants turned their understanding of supply and demand into thriving businesses as peddlers, grocers, and restaurateurs. Just as they lived in villages in Greece, so did they settle in a new “village” in Detroit known as Greektown. The Greek immigrants retained their native regionalism and factionalism by splitting their Detroit neighborhood into numerous sub-groups. With Americanization, however, the patriarchal culture diminished, although most families remained connected to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Like the Greeks, Italians began to settle in Detroit from 1890-1914. While most of these Italians came from Europe and Canada, thereby blending in with the Caucasian residents already living in the city, many were blacks from the South. Like American blacks, the Italian blacks faced economic and social discrimination; few employers, with the exception of Ford and Pullman, hired them. In fact, “By 1940, nearly 12% of Ford workers were African American” (Sugrue 25). This number is high compared to the number of blacks employed by other industrialists.

By 1914, Jews from Eastern Europe added to the already diverse demographics of Detroit. These new immigrants increased the established German Jewish community to about 34,000 people. Although the relationship between the wealthier, more Americanized German Jews and the poorer, less integrated immigrants tended to be a tense one, anti-Semitism was not an issue. Sugrue explains this by claiming, “Residents of Detroit’s white neighborhoods abandoned their ethnic affiliations and found a new identity in their whiteness” (Sugrue 22). Skin color, therefore, became more important than religious belief in the Americanization process.

As a result, the African Americans—many of whom had migrated from the South to Detroit when jobs opened up during World War II—suffered the most. According to Sugrue, “Black Detroit in 1940 was large and rapidly growing” (Sugrue 23). The residents in Detroit’s sizable “black ghetto” often found themselves in dilapidated houses that served as homes for multiple families. African Americans, who were spatially segregated from whites, lived in overcrowded and poorly maintained places like Paradise Valley (Sugrue 23-4, 36). As the community changed, only a handful managed to relocate to the northern part of the city near the Eight Mile/Wyoming area; a selected few succeeded in finding homes in Conant Gardens. Wherever the location, black neighborhoods remained crowded, a result of the Great Migration of blacks to the city.

The rise in the black population mirrored the overall increase in the population of Detroit. Between 1900 and 1930, the number of people in the city grew from 265,000 to more than 1.5 million residents. Polish immigrants contributed to this population surge, becoming in the 1930s a large immigrant group totaling more than 66,000. The Depression, followed by World War II, further diversified the city. Because political situations made it difficult to leave Europe during this time period, most of the new arrivals to Detroit came from within the United States: whites from Appalachia and blacks from the rural South. Sugrue notes that African Americans comprised more than a quarter of the city’s residents by 1960. After 1970, political tensions in the Middle East motivated Arabs, especially Palestinians, to also migrate to Detroit. These immigrants primarily relocated in Dearborn, an area that continues to remain an Arab center in the middle of Detroit.

Not only did Detroit increase in population during the twentieth century, but it also grew in geographic size. It expanded its borders exponentially by annexing all or part of the incorporated villages of Woodmere (1905), Delray (1905), Fairview (1907), St. Clair Heights (1918), and Warrendale (1925), as well as thousands of acres of land in the surrounding townships. Yet, areas such as Hamtramck and Highland Park maintained their status as legally separate cities within the larger metropolis of Detroit. Detroit, therefore, owes a great deal of its growth to the auto industry. The promise of jobs attracted immigrants from Europe, Asia, and the United States to settle in the Motor City. Originally defined by tightly knit ethnic clusters, the neighborhoods soon began to disperse. As Thomas Sugrue states, “Fewer and fewer white neighborhoods were ethnically homogeneous.” Although Detroit remains a large urban center today, it has lost much of its diversity to the suburbs. As a result, the remaining citizens of Detroit—primarily blacks—now face social and economic challenges that prevent them from enjoying lives of quality.[50]

Local politics

Local politics from the 1870 to the 1910s had been influenced by ethnics, especially German Americans and Irish Catholics who controlled the Democratic Party. This changed after 1910 as the old-stock Protestant business leaders, especially from the automobile industry, led a Progressive Era crusade for efficiency, and elected their own men to office, typified by James J. Couzens (mayor, 1919–22, US Senator, 1922–36). The critical change took place in 1918 when the voters changed the Common Council from a 42-man body elected on a partisan basis from 21 wards, to a nine-man unit, elected on a non-partisan basis from the city at-large. The ethnics (especially the Germans) and the Democrats lost their political base.[51] After 1930, however, the Democratic party rebuilt its strength, formed an alliance with the United Auto Workers union and restored the leadership of the ethnics, as typified by Frank Murphy (mayor 1930-33, governor 1937-39).[52] Mayors Jerome Cavanagh (1962–70) and Roman Gribbs (1970-74) were the last of the white ethnic mayors, until 2014. The election of Coleman Young (1974–93) as mayor in 1974 brought to power a new generation of black leaders who represented the city's new majority.[53]

Women in the 20th century

Most young women took jobs before marriage, then quit. Before the growth of high schools after 1900, most women left school after the 8th grade at about age 15. Ciani (2005) shows that type of work they did reflected their ethnicity and marital status. Black mothers were often day labors, usually as domestic servants, because other opportunities were limited. Most mothers receiving pensions were white and sought work only when necessary.[54]

Nursing became professionalized in the late 19th century, opening a new middle-class career for talented young women of all social backgrounds. The School of Nursing at Detroit's Harper Hospital, begun in 1884, was a national leader. Its graduates worked at the hospital and also in institutions, public health services, as private duty nurses, and volunteered for duty at military hospitals during the Spanish–American War and the two world wars.[55]

In the early 20th century, the middle-class women of the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs' (DFWC) promoted civic mindedness within the context of traditional gender roles. Most of them were married to prominent business and professional leaders. Issues of public health, sanitation, and public safety were of vital concern to all families. The DFWC pressured city leaders to provide adequate education and sanitation facilities, safe food handling, and traffic safety. They did not form coalitions with working class or ethnic women, nor labor unions.[56]

World War II spurred the transition toward women holding a more active role in society. As more men enlisted, women were expected to take up their mantle in factories, defense industries and American businesses. In fact, an increasing number of women became their family's main breadwinner; social campaigns like the infamous "Rosie the Riveter" further reinforced the idea of an independent working women. [57]

Despite these circumstances, the stereotypical image of women in society was hard-pressed to change. Though women were granted more opportunities of employment, they were still continuously shut out of traditionally male-dominated roles, including metalwork, chemicals, tool-making, steel, and construction. This is ironic, considering Detroit was a production hub during the war-- its many automotive factories were continuously churning out tanks, air crafts, and weapons. These gender-based restrictions limited the types of jobs women could hold, which led many women to work entry-level jobs in assembly lines where they were not expected, nor authorized to partake in more physical tasks. Since women could not participate in these more grueling tasks, employers used this as an excuse to under-pay them, and restrict their benefits. Women were still expected to be responsible for house-work and childcare, making it difficult for them to work the longer hours, and resulted in high rates of absenteeism, leaving them with an unsteady source of income. [57] This created a vicious cycle, where women were simultaneously expected to take on the role of the "man of the house", while not being given the same opportunities males were. The on-going tug-of-war between country and family left many women in a limbo, where they could not safely rely on their work to afford supporting their children.

African American women were especially discriminated against on the basis of both their race and sex. Many firms and factories prioritized white women, leading to African American women working in more dangerous environments where they were often harassed by their white male co-workers. In 1943, out of the 50 war production plants in Detroit that hired women, only 19 allowed African American women to work. Due to these restrictions, only 20% of African American women had a job by 1950, leaving many of their families searching for domestic or short-term stints to afford housing and food.[57]

It is often said that women "gained more rights" during World War II. While it is true that women were encouraged to take a more proactive position in society, they were still faced with many barriers-- especially women of color. It is difficult to raise an entire family with the number of job restrictions and lack of employment opportunities that women experienced. When their husbands and white men specifically, returned from war, they were often given their previously held employment positions, leaving newly-widowed women to search elsewhere for any work.

Great Depression

After the 1928 presidential campaign of Catholic Al Smith, the Democrats mobilize large number of Polish and other Catholic ethnics to make their comeback. Although the election for mayor was nonpartisan, the Democrats rallied behind Judge Frank Murphy, who served as mayor 1930-33. The Great Depression was devastating for Detroit, as sales of automobiles plunged and there were large-scale layoffs at all industrial enterprises. Murphy insisted that no one would go hungry, and set up the Mayor's Unemployment Committee that set up relief soup kitchens and potato gardens.[58] In 1933 Murphy resigned, and Frank Couzens was elected mayor, serving until 1938. He was the son of Republican U.S. Senator James Couzens, who had been mayor in 1919-22. In 1933 the city was in a financial crisis, as tax receipts had plunged and welfare spending had skyrocketed. The city had defaulted on its bond payments and had to use promissory notes (" script") to pay teachers, policemen and other employees. Couzens restored the city's financial credibility by cutting the debt and balancing the budget. He obtained large sums of federal relief money, and upgraded the street-lighting program and the sewage system.[59]

Labor unions

As Detroit become more industrialized, workers banded together to establish labor unions, such as the United Auto Workers in 1940. These unions settled wage, time, and benefit disputes with manufacturers. Though labor unions were less powerful than the manufacturers themselves, they shaped much of the development of Detroit's labor market, especially during World War II. Over 50% of Detroit's laborers belonged to a union by 1950, which in theory increased their image as "one unified body" from a manufacturer's perspective. With so many employees involved in unions, manufacturers were more prone to listening to their demands, which established a good working relationship between both parties, and led to "economic security and employment stability" for unionized laborers. [60]

Despite these benefits, however, labor unions were less beneficial toward people of color, especially African Americans. Their decisions often allowed, or even reinforced, discriminatory hiring practices by prioritizing white males compared to African American workers. They rarely vouched for African Americans in management positions, leading to most hired African Americans working entry-level positions for years. [60] This created a long-standing falsified reputation of African Americans in the industrial sector: since few were given the opportunity to be in management positions, employers automatically-- and wrongly-- assumed they did not deserve to be.

Like most things, labor unions showcased both the positives and negatives of Detroit's history. They were created to grant more transparency between workers and their employers, but only reinforced the socio-economic divide between white workers and workers of color. Over time, however, the role of the union has become more diversified. In the later years of the Great Depression, unions like the United Auto Workers partnered with African American churches and civil rights organizations like the NAACP to integrate African American workers into the benefits that other workers already received. They increased African American membership, vouched for more civil rights in the workforce, and are a large reason for the increase in African American employment during World War II, when factories and manufacturers were in need of more workers. [61]In fact, labor activism during the later 20th century increased influence of union leaders in the city such as Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters and Walter Reuther of the autoworkers.

The unionization process in autos was led by CIO organizers. The strongest response came not from semi-skilled assembly line men, but from the militant leadership of skilled tool and die makers and British and Irish ethnics. They had been complacent during the late 1920s but reacted with extreme militancy to the hardships of the depression.[62] Following the success of the sit down strikes at General Motors, non-unionized, semi-skilled workers followed suit in numerous plants in 1937. They were supported by the pro-union mood of the city, the New Deal's permissive political climate, and Governor Frank Murphy's pro-labor sympathies. They won many concessions and formed numerous locals outside the auto industry. Ford, however, successfully resisted unions until 1941.[63]

World War II and the "Arsenal of Democracy"

The entry of the United States into World War II brought tremendous changes to the city. From 1942 to 1945, production of commercial automobiles in the city ceased entirely, as its factories were used instead to construct M5 tanks, jeeps, and B-24 bombers for the Allies. The Guardian Building was converted into a headquarters for wartime production.[64] The city made a major contribution to the Allied war effort as part of America's Arsenal of Democracy. Historians note that this accolade was "easily and often corrupted to 'arsehole'" by tired Detroiters waiting in lines everywhere.[65] The government believed that Detroit was vulnerable to air attack, and encouraged companies to diversify production to outside the region.[66]

The B-24 Liberator, the most produced bomber in history, was used to bomb Germany heavily. Prior to the war, the aviation industry could produce, optimally, one such plane a day at an aircraft plant. By 1943, Ford's plants managed to produce one B-24 an hour at a peak of 600 per month in 24-hour shifts. Many pilots slept on cots waiting for takeoff as the B-24 rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Willow Run facility.[67]

Racial tension grew rapidly in World War II, as high paying jobs brought in tens of thousands of families, despite severe housing shortages. The historian of Detroit's Poles finds that they saw the blacks as "threatening their jobs, homes, communities, and churches."[68] An August 1942 Life article, "Detroit is Dynamite", discussed in detail the city's labor and race issues, stating that "the news from Detroit is bad this summer ... The result is a morale situation which is perhaps the worst in the U.S."[69] Because of the city's importance to the war effort, the article was censored from copies of the magazine sold outside North America.[70] The long-awaited riot exploded in June 1943, as groups of blacks and whites fought it out. The 3-days of street fighting started on Belle Isle, and killed 25 blacks and 9 whites, wounded 433, and destroyed property valued at $2 million. The U.S. Army was called in to restore order.[71]

Throughout World War II, thousands of African Americans migrated from the South up to Detroit largely to escape racist Jim Crow laws and the extreme poverty. As more white men enlisted to fight in the war, African Americans believed more employment positions would open, allowing them to find jobs easier, especially since Detroit was a manufacturing center in the midst of the war. This was largely true; to meet production demands, factories were forced to hire African Americans and women. African Americans especially saw an increase of employment by over 103%. [57] Despite this, however, African Americans were given fewer employment benefits, lower wages, and little to no ability to move up the supposed industrial ladder.

These unjust labor practices were the foundation for discrimination in other areas as well, namely housing. With an increased influx of African Americans from the South, housing became extremely scarce, especially in poorer neighborhoods. African Americans were often expected to live in "black only neighborhoods", as realtors believed that mixing African Americans into white neighborhoods would lower the value of white homes. This caused overcrowding in already decrepit Detroit neighborhoods like Paradise Valley. Living in these conditions led to the increased spread of disease and vermin, and made illness within these African American neighborhoods run rampant. [57]

During World War II, Detroit became a center of industry, largely due to its innovative roots. The treatment of African Americans during World War II, however, represented the duality between an increase in labor versus a decrease in the standard of living. These tensions between African Americans and whites continued to mount, as African Americans continued to face increased discrimination in the workforce and at home. This boiled over, into the post-war era and the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Postwar Era

In economic terms, the postwar years 1945-70 brought high levels of prosperity as the automobile industry had its most prosperous quarter-century.[72]

Although Detroit had a Rapid Transit Commission, it was not popular with the politicians or the public after the strikes of 1946 ended and automobile production resumed. People demanded cars so they could commute from work to spacious houses surrounded by grass instead of riding the trolley to cramped upstairs apartments.[73] During the war, three expressways were built to support the region's war industries. Furthermore, the wartime model of federal, state, and local governments jointly planning and funding expressways gave a successful model for planning and financing more highways. Progress was slow in 1945-47 because of inflation, steel shortages, and the difficulty of building in built-up areas. by the early 1950s highways were in place, and plans were underway to make Detroit a central hub in the forthcoming Interstate Highway System. The new highways had a funding advantage over mass transit because of the availability of federal highway monies coupled with the availability of matching state money. Ultimately, they were paid for by gasoline taxes, which commuters seldom grumbled about.[74]

Other sources indicate the replacement of Detroit's large electric streetcar network with buses & highways was much more controversial. In 1930, Detroit had 30 electric streetcar lines over 534 miles of track. In 1941, a streetcar ran on Woodward Avenue every 60 seconds at peak times.[75] Wartime restrictions on vital war materials such as rubber and gasoline caused particularly heavy use of the streetcar system during the 1940s. However, between the end of the war and 1949, the city discontinued half of its 20 streetcar lines. Five more were discontinued in 1951 — three of them switched abruptly to bus lines during a DSR strike. More closings followed until August 1955, when Mayor Albert Cobo, who promoted freeway construction as the way of the future, urged City Council to sell the city's recently purchased fleet of modern streetcars to Mexico City. It was a controversial move. A newspaper poll showed that Detroiters, by a margin of 3-to-1, opposed the switch to buses. Some even jeered the sunken freeways Cobo championed, dubbing them "Cobo canals." "A lot of people were against the decision ... A common complaint was about the sale of the [new] cars, that the city didn't get its money's worth. Of course, the city had an answer for anything. ..." On April 8, 1956, the last streetcar in Detroit rolled down Woodward Avenue. After less than 10 years in service, Detroit's fleet of streamlined streetcars was loaded on railcars and shipped to Mexico City, where they ran for another 30 years.[76]

The Hudson's department store, the second largest in the nation, realized that the limited parking space at its downtown skyscraper would increasingly be a problem for its customers. The solution in 1954 was to open the Northland Center in nearby Southfield, just beyond the city limits. It was the largest suburban shopping center in the world, and quickly became the main shopping destination for northern and western Detroit, and for much of the suburbs. By 1961 the downtown skyscraper accounted for only half of Hudson's sales; it closed in 1986.[77] The Hudson's name would latter be discarded all together. The remaining Hudsons were first rebranded as branches of Chicago's flagship Marshall Field's State Street, and later rebranded again as branches of New York City's flagship Macy's Herald Square.

Ethnic whites enjoyed high wages and suburban life styles. Blacks comprised 4% of the auto labor force in 1942, 15% by the war's end; they held their own and were at 16% by 1960. They started in unskilled jobs, making them susceptible to layoffs and to replacement when automation came. The powerful United Auto Workers union championed state and federal civil rights legislation, but was in no hurry to advance blacks in the union hierarchy. a large well-paid middle class black community emerged; like their white counterparts, they wanted to own single family homes, fought for respectability, and left the blight and crime of the slums as fast as possible for outlying districts and suburbs.[78]

By 1945, Detroit was running out of space for new factories; tight-knit home-owning neighborhoods rejected the notion of tearing out housing to make room for factories. There was plenty of space in the suburbs, and that is where the factories had to locate. The proposals of liberal UAW leaders such as Walter Reuther for urban redevelopment did not please the UAW's largely white, conservative membership. The members repeatedly voted for conservative mayoral candidates, such as Republicans Albert Cobo (mayor 1950-57) and Louis Miriani (mayor 1957-62), for they protected white neighborhoods from residential integration.[79] Home ownership was not just a very large financial investment for individuals, it was also a source of identity for men who remembered the hardships and foreclosures of the Great Depression. Sugrue says, "Economically vulnerable homeowners feared, above all, that an influx of blacks would imperil their precarious investments."[80]

As mayor in 1957-62, Louis Miriani was best known for completing many of the large-scale urban renewal projects initiated by the Cobo administration. These were largely financed by federal money, due to his rejection of implementing a city tax. Miriani also took strong measures to overcome the growing crime rate in Detroit. The United Automobile Workers (UAW), then at the height of its size and power, officially endorsed Miriani for re-election, stressing what they viewed as his conservative "law and order" position. However, while some African Americans praised Miriani for helping to break down racial divides, other disagreed with the UAW that Miriani did enough.[81]

Historian David Maraniss cites milestones in 1962-64 that marked the city's sharp decline: the failure of a plan to host the Olympics; urban renewal uprooting black neighborhoods; urgently needed police reforms that stalled; and the failure to transform Detroit through the Model Cities and War on Poverty programs. Tensions started building that exploded in the 1967 riot, the most costly and violent in the country during a summer of numerous riots in cities.[82]

The 1970s brought a worldwide energy crisis with high gasoline prices. For the first time, the American industry faced serious competition from imported automobiles, which were smaller and more fuel-efficient. German Volkswagens and Japanese Toyotas posed a growing threat.

Civil rights and the Great Society

In June 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a major speech in Detroit that foreshadowed his "I Have a Dream" speech two months later. In Detroit, King was accompanied by Rev. C. L. Franklin. Detroit played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; the Model Cities Program was a key component of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty. Begun in 1966, it operated five-year-long experiments in 150 cities to develop new anti-poverty programs and alternative forms of municipal government. The ambitious federal urban aid program succeeded in fostering a new generation of mostly black urban leaders.

Detroit had one of the largest Model Cities projects. It promised a great deal and delivered much less, as Detroit suffered from the unintended consequences.[83] Mayor Jerome Cavanagh (Mayor 1962—69) was the only elected official to serve on Johnson's task force. Detroit received widespread acclaim for its leadership in the program, which used $490 million to try to turn a nine-square-mile section of the city (with 134,000 inhabitants) into a model city. The city's political and business elite, and city planners, along with the black middle class, wanted the federal funding to assist the economic growth of the entire city. They sought to protect the central business district property values from nearby slums and to construct new revenue-generating structures. But, local community organizers and civil rights activists rallied poor residents in opposition to these plans. They said federal renewal funding should be used to replace deteriorating housing stock, whether with new public housing or low-cost housing built by private developers. The Model City program was terminated in Detroit and nationwide in 1974 after major race riots in the late 1960s most of its target cities.

Detroit witnessed growing confrontations between the mostly white police force and inner city blacks, culminating in the massive 12th Street riot in July 1967. The riot erupted in mostly black neighborhoods. Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops. The result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods, and the affected district lay in ruins for decades.[84]

Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, explained the long-term effects of the riot:

The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit's losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the riot, totally twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosionthe outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.[85]

Scholars have produced many studies documenting the fall of Detroit from one of the world's premier industrial cities in 1945 to a much smaller, weaker city in the 21st century, struggling to survive against the loss of industry and population, against crime, corruption and poverty. Boyle also blames the big corporations. He summarizes the scholarly consensus in 2001:

Detroit was betrayed by a lack of political vision, torn asunder by racial conflict, and devastated by deindustrialization. Detroit's problems peaked in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Since then the city has struggled to recover, to build a new economy and a new polity. However noble the goals, though, these efforts have failed to reverse Detroit's deterioration. Motown remains in the grip of the crisis that began fifty years ago.[86]

Milliken v. Bradley

On August 18, 1970, the NAACP filed suit against Michigan state officials, including Governor William Milliken, charging de facto public school segregation. The trial began April 6, 1971, and lasted 41 days. The NAACP argued that although schools were not legally segregated, the city of Detroit and its surrounding counties had enacted policies to maintain racial segregation in public schools. The NAACP also suggested a direct relationship between unfair housing practices (such as redlining of certain neighborhoods) and educational segregation, which followed segregated neighborhoods.[87] District Judge Steven J. Roth held all levels of government accountable for the segregation in his ruling on Milliken v. Bradley. The Sixth Circuit Court affirmed some of the decision, withholding judgment on the relationship of housing inequality with education. The court specified that it was the state's responsibility to integrate across the segregated metropolitan area.[88]

The governor and other accused officials appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which took up the case February 27, 1974.[87] The subsequent Milliken v. Bradley decision had wide national influence. In a narrow decision, the Court found that schools were a subject of local control and that suburbs could not be forced to solve problems in the city's school district. According to Gary Orfield and Susan E. Eaton in their 1996 book Dismantling Desegregation, the "Supreme Court's failure to examine the housing underpinnings of metropolitan segregation" in Milliken made desegregation "almost impossible" in northern metropolitan areas. "Suburbs were protected from desegregation by the courts ignoring the origin of their racially segregated housing patterns." "Milliken was perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of that period," said Myron Orfield, professor of law and director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. "Had that gone the other way, it would have opened the door to fixing nearly all of Detroit's current problems."[89]

John Mogk, a professor of law and an expert in urban planning at Wayne State University in Detroit, says, "Everybody thinks that it was the riots [in 1967] that caused the white families to leave. Some people were leaving at that time but, really, it was after Milliken that you saw mass flight to the suburbs. If the case had gone the other way, it is likely that Detroit would not have experienced the steep decline in its tax base that has occurred since then."[89]

Supreme Justice William O. Douglas' dissenting opinion in Miliken held that

there is, so far as the school cases go, no constitutional difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Each school board performs state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes when it draws the lines that confine it to a given area, when it builds schools at particular sites, or when it allocates students. The creation of the school districts in Metropolitan Detroit either maintained existing segregation or caused additional segregation. Restrictive covenants maintained by state action or inaction build black ghettos ... the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations.[90]

1970s and 1980s

While 55 percent of Detroiters were counted as white in the 1970 census, by 1980 the city's proportion of white residents had declined to 34 percent of the population. The population shift was even more stark considering that Detroit was 83 percent white at the time of the city's all-time population high in 1950. The migration of whites to the suburbs left blacks in control of a city suffering from an inadequate tax base, too few jobs, and swollen welfare rolls.[91] According to Chafets, "Among the nation's major cities, Detroit was at or near the top of unemployment, poverty per capita, and infant mortality throughout the 1980s."[92]

In the 1973 mayoral election the polarization was nearly total, as 92% of blacks voted for Coleman Young, while 91% of the whites voted for former police Commissioner John Nichols, although neither appealed to racial issues during the campaign.[93] Although Young had emerged from the far left element in Detroit, he moved to the right after his election. He called an ideological truce and won the support of Detroit's economic elite.[94] The new mayor was energetic in the construction of the Joe Louis Arena, and upgrading the city's mediocre mass transit system. Highly controversial was his using eminent domain to purchase and raze a 465-acre inner-city neighborhood known as Poletown that was home to 3,500 people, mostly Polish property owners, in order to make way for a half-billion dollar General Motors Cadillac assembly plant. Rich argues that he pulled money out of the neighborhood to rehabilitate the downtown business district, because "there were no other options."[95] Young tried to rein in the city's largely white police department, whose aggressive tactics angered black voters.

Young was an outspoken advocate for federal funding for Detroit construction projects, and his administration saw the completion of the Renaissance Center, Detroit People Mover, and several other Detroit landmarks. During Young's last two terms there he faced angry opposition from neighborhood activists. He usually prevailed, winning re-election by wide margins in 1977, 1981, 1985, and 1989, for a total of 20 years as mayor, based largely on black votes.[96]

On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed near Detroit, killing all but one of the 155 people onboard, as well as two people on the ground.


Young was blamed for failing to stem the crime epidemic that Detroit became notorious for in the 1970s and 1980s. Dozens of violent black street gangs gained control of the city's large drug trade, which began with the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and grew into the even larger crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s. There were numerous major criminal gangs that were founded in Detroit and dominated the drug trade at various times; most were short-lived. They included The Errol Flynns (east side), Nasty Flynns (later the NF Bangers) and Black Killers and the drug consortiums of the 1980s such as Young Boys Inc., Pony Down, Best Friends, Black Mafia Family and the Chambers Brothers.[97] The Young Boys were innovative, opening franchises in other cities, using youth too young to be prosecuted, promoting brand names, and unleashing extreme brutality to frighten away rivals.[98]

Several times during Young's tenure Detroit was named the arson capital of the U.S., and repeatedly the murder capital of the United States. Often Detroit was listed by FBI crime statistics as the "most dangerous city in America" during his administration. Crime rates in Detroit peaked in 1991 at more than 2,700 violent crimes per 100,000 people.[99] However, crime continued to be a problem in Detroit long after Young's tenure as mayor ended; according to national statistics the arson rate in Detroit was 6.3 times the national average in 2003 and the murder rate was 5.1 times the national average.[100] In addition, the majority of Detroit residents, including many blacks, have left the city, leaving a glut of abandoned buildings that have become magnets for drugs, arson, and other crime.

The night of October 30 (the night before Halloween) was a traditional day for pranks but became known as "Devil's Night" as Detroit youth went on a rampage in the 1980s. A tradition of light-hearted minor vandalism, such as soaping windows, had emerged in the 1930s, but by the 1980s it had become, said Mayor Coleman, "a vision from hell."[101] The arson primarily took place in the inner city, but surrounding suburbs were often affected as well. The crimes became increasingly more destructive. Over 800 fires were set in the peak year 1984, overwhelming the city's fire department. Hundreds of vacant homes across the city were set ablaze by arsonists. The fires continued to happen but the number was sharply reduced by razing thousands of abandoned houses that often were used to sell drugs as well—5,000 in 1989-90 alone. Every year the city mobilizes " Angel's Night," with tens of thousands of volunteers patrolling areas at high risk .[102][103]

Metropolitan region

The Detroit area emerged as a major metropolitan region with construction of an extensive freeway system in the 1950s and 1960s which expanded in the ensuing decades. The 1950s, 60s, and 70s witnessed an expansion of the cultural phenomenon of U.S. muscle cars including Camaro, Mustang, and Charger. Automotive designers and business executives such as Bill Mitchell, Lee Iacocca, and John DeLorean rose to prominence for their contributions. Freeways facilitated movement throughout the region with millions of people taking up residence in the suburbs. A desire for newer housing and schools accelerated migration from the city to the suburbs. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs, the city has had to adjust its role within the larger metropolitan area. Downtown Detroit has seen a resurgence in the 21st century as a business center and entertainment hub with the opening of three casino resort hotels. In 1940, the city of Detroit held about one-third of the state's population, while the metropolitan region currently holds roughly one-half of the state's population. For the 2010 census, the city of Detroit's population was 713,777, while metropolitan Detroit's combined statistical area had a population of 5,218,852. Through much of the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, the city completed significant revitalizations. Immigration continues to play a role in the region's projected growth with the population of Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint (CMSA) estimated to be 6,191,000 by 2025.[104]

21st century

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city began to experience a revival, much of it centered in Downtown, Midtown, and New Center. After purchasing and renovating the historic Fox Theatre and Fox Office Centre in 1987, Mike Ilitch and Marian Ilitch moved Little Caesars Pizza's headquarters to Downtown Detroit.[105] One Detroit Center (1993) arose on the city skyline. Newer downtown residents are predominantly young professionals.[106][107] The city has three casino resort hotels - MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Greektown Casino - with one of the larger gaming industry markets in the U.S. New downtown stadiums Comerica Park and Ford Field were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively; this placed the Lions' stadium in the city proper for the first time since 1974. Opened in 2017 Little Caesars Arena allows the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons to have a shared home, and thus locating the Pistons' in the city proper for the first time since 1978, also making Detroit the only North American city to have all major professional sports based in its downtown. In 2008, the city witnessed grand restorations of the historic Book Cadillac Hotel and the Fort Shelby Hotel.[108] The city has hosted major sporting events - the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, 2006 Super Bowl XL, 2006 World Series, WrestleMania 23 in 2007 and the NCAA Final Four in April 2009 - all of which prompted many improvements to the area.

The city's International Riverfront is a focus of much development which has complemented similar developments in Windsor, Ontario. In 2007, Detroit completed the first major portions of the River Walk, including miles of parks and fountains. The Renaissance Center received a major renovation in 2004. New developments and revitalizations are a mainstay in the city's plan to enhance its economy through tourism.[109] Along the river, upscale condominiums are rising, such as Watermark Detroit. Some city limit signs, particularly on the Dearborn border say "Welcome to Detroit, The Renaissance City Founded 1701".[108][110]

In 2004, Compuware established its world headquarters in downtown Detroit followed by Quicken Loans in 2010. Significant landmarks such as the Fox Theatre, Orchestra Hall Detroit Opera House, and the Gem Theater have been restored and host concerts, musicals, and plays. The Detroit Institute of Arts completed a major renovation and expansion in 2007. Many downtown centers such as Greektown, Cobo Center and Campus Martius Park, draw patrons and host activities.

In September 2008, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (who had served for six years) resigned following felony convictions. In 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 federal felony counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering,[111] and was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.[112]

In July 2013, Michigan state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr asked a federal judge to place the City of Detroit into bankruptcy protection.[113]

In March 2014 the indebted Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began cutting off water to customers homes with unpaid bills over $150, or if the payment was more than 60 days overdue. As of the 15th of July, more than 15,000 homes had been cut off.[114]


Historical populations
Census City[115] Metro[116] Region[117]
*Estimates [118][119]
Metro: Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
Region: Combined Statistical Area (CSA)

Keys to the city

Ten people have been awarded the key to the city of Detroit:

See also



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    Further reading

    • Bak, Richard (2001). Detroit Across Three Centuries. Thompson Gale. ISBN 1-58536-001-5., narrative history
    • Conot, Robert. American Odyssey: A unique history of America told through the life of a great city (1974) 735pp; detailed narrative history.
    • Davis, Michael W. R. Detroit's Wartime Industry: Arsenal of Democracy (2007)
    • Doody, Colleen. Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism by (University of Illinois Press; 2013) 175 pages; Detroit as a center for an emerging American conservatism and militant anti-communism.
    • Emerson, Charles. 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013) compares Detroit to 20 major world cities; pp 182–93.
    • Gavrilovich, Peter; Bill McGraw (2006). The Detroit Almanac. Detroit Free Press, 3rd ed. ISBN 978-0-937247-48-8.
    • Georgakas, Dan, et al. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution (2nd ed. 1999) online edition
    • George, Nelson. Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound (2nd ed. 2007)
    • Holli, Melvin G. Reform in Detroit: Hazen S. Pingree and Urban Politics (1969), on 1890s
    • LeDuff, Charlie. Detroit: An American Autopsy (2013)
    • Maraniss, David. Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story (2015) online review on 1962-64
    • Martelle, Scott. Detroit: A Biography (2012) excerpt and text search
    • Mirel, Jeffrey. The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System: Detroit, 1907-81 (2nd ed. 1999)
    • Poremba, David Lee (2003). Detroit: A Motor City History. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2435-2.
    • Poremba, David Lee (2001). Detroit in Its World Setting: A Three Hundred Year Chronology, 1701-2001. Wayne State University. ISBN 0-8143-2870-9., Timeline format
    • Rich, Wilbur C. Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (1999)
    • Schneider, John C. Detroit and the Problem of Order, 1830-1880: A Geography of Crime, Riot and Policing (1980) online
    • Taylor, Paul. "Old Slow Town": Detroit during the Civil War (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2013). x, 248 pp.
    • Vachon, Paul. Forgotten Detroit. Arcadia Publishing, 2009. ISBN 0738560871, 9780738560878.
    • Woodford, Arthur M. (2001). This is Detroit 1701-2001. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2914-4., 268pp; survey

    Ethnic and social history

    • *Akhtar, Saima, "Immigrant Island Cities in Industrial Detroit," Journal of Urban History, 41 (March 2015), 175-92.
    • Alvarado, Rudolph V., and Sonya Yvette Alvarado. Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Michigan (2003)
    • Badaczewski, Dennis. Poles in Michigan (2002)
    • Cantor, Judith Levin. Jews in Michigan (2001)
    • Capeci Jr., Dominic J., and Martha Wilkerson. Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943 (1991) online
    • Darden, Joe T., and Richard W. Thomas, eds. Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide (Michigan State University Press; 2013) 346 pages; post-1967 history
    • Delicato, Armando (2005). Italians in Detroit. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-3985-6.
    • Denissen, Christian (1987). The Genealogy of French Families of the Detroit River Region, 1701-1936. Detroit Society for Genealogical Research. ISBN 0-943112-02-8.
    • Fine, Sidney (2007). Violence in the Model City: The Cavanagh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot Of 1967, reprint of 1989 edition. Michigan State University Press. ISBN 9780870138157.
    • Godzak, Roman (2000). Archdiocese of Detroit (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-0797-0.
    • Godzak, Roman (2000). Make Straight the Path: A 300 Year Pilgrimage Archdiocese of Detroit. Editions du Signe. ISBN 2-7468-0145-0.
    • Hooker, Clarence. Life in the Shadows of the Crystal Palace, 1910-1927: Ford Workers in the Model T Era (1997) online edition
    • Meier, August and Rudwick, Elliott. Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW (1979) online edition
    • Morris-Crowther, Jayne. The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s: A Challenge and a Promise (Wayne State University Press; 2013) 217 pages; covers white and black clubs
    • Nabeel, Abraham, and Andrew Shryock, eds. Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream (2000); 629pp; analytic and personal accounts
    • Rockaway, Robert A. The Jews of Detroit: From the Beginning, 1762-1914 (Wayne State University Press, 1986)
    • Shaw, Todd C. Now is the Time! Detroit Black Politics and Grassroots Activism (Duke University Press, 2009)
    • Schneider, John C. Detroit and the Problem of Order, 1830-1880: A Geography of Crime, Riot, and Policing (1980) online edition
    • Smith, Suzanne E. Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit(2001) excerpt and text search; online edition
    • Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton U.P. 2005)
    • Tentler, Leslie Woodcock (1992). Seasons of Grace: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2106-2.
    • Vargas, Zaragosa. Proletarians of the North: A History of Mexican Industrial Workers in Detroit and the Midwest, 1917-1933 (1999) excerpt and text search
    • Vinyard, Jo Ellen. The Irish on the urban frontier: Nineteenth century Detroit, 1850-1880 (1976)
    • Vinyard, JoEllen McNergney. For Faith and Fortune: The Education of Catholic Immigrants in Detroit, 1805-1925 (1998) excerpt and text search
    • Wilson, Brian. "The Spirit of the Motor City: Three Hundred Years of Religious History in Detroit," Michigan Historical Review (2001) 27#1 pp 21–56 online
    • Wolcott, Victoria. Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (2001)
    • Wolcott, Victoria. "Gendered Perspectives on Detroit History," Michigan Historical Review, (2001) 27#1 pp 75–91 online
    • Zunz, Olivier. The Changing Face of Inequality: Urbanization, Industrial Development, and Immigrants in Detroit, 1880-1920 (2000), quantitative new social history excerpt and text search

    Primary sources

    • Henrickson, Wilma Wood, ed. (1991). Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814320147.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link), 600pp of primary and secondary 0sources
    • Holli, Melvin G, ed. Detroit (1976)
    • Young, Coleman, And Lonnie Wheeler. Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young (1994)

    Historic books

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