It's conventional wisdom -- conventional, but completely wrong -- that Detroit's White Flight began after the 1967 riot. White Flight had already been going on for almost 20 years at that point. The '67 riot only accelerated the exodus.
|Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy|
The 1863 Detroit riot exploded in the wake of Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration. There had already been tensions between Blacks and Whites, and the openly racist Detroit Free Press was happy to fan the flames for months on end. When a rumour swept through the neighbourhoods that a Black man did something, something, something to a White person, White folks went crazy. [Isn't that always the way? See: May 31, 1921 ► When Whites Went Crazy In Tulsa] They roamed the streets screaming, "Kill all the niggers," beating people on sight. At the time it became known as "the bloodiest day that ever dawned on Detroit."
Prior to that day Detroit did not have a police force. However, one was quickly formed and in the original incorporating documents the city fathers of Detroit made it clear that one of its primary jobs would be to keep the Blacks folk in line.
|A sign in Detroit during the war, when the Feds proposed |
to build Black housing to relieve overcrowding
[This is the simplified version. The conditions that led to these 3 riots are explained in much greater detail in The Detroit Riots, my earlier article on these topics.]
As soon as World War Two was over, prosperity reigned, in Detroit and across the nation. Part of that prosperity was due to the fact that all across the country houses had to be built for all the returning soldiers. 'Merka saw a housing boom like no other. This was great for the economy and for the growing White Middle Class. However, it didn't trickle down to Black folk.
In the Detroit area, developers started building north of 8 Mile, the city limits made famous by Eminem's 2002 movie. These suburbs grew exponentially during the '50s and '60s and were attractive to the people with the same mindset as those who refused to share their neighbourhoods and work places with Blacks during the 40s.
|The last remnant of a vibrant Black |
neighbourhood and business district
Then came several decades of terrible local government, which just made everything in Detroit a whole lot worse. But, let's be clear. What these politicians made worse was already there: an absolute division of Black and White and the continued blighting of a once great city. Systemic racism is the foundation on which it was built. The White folk of Wayne County moved across 8 Mile and, quite literally, turned their back on Detroit.
That, dear reader, has been the story of Detroit from the very beginning. As soon as Black folk gained a small toehold in a neighbourhood, that neighbourhood eventually turned all Black. Block by block. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Until the entire city was virtually Black, while the suburbs became predominantly White. Eventually integration came to the suburbs, but it never had a chance in the City of Detroit.
|IRONY ALERT: |
Detroit's seal, which represents the fire of 1803
Speramus Meliora = We hope for better things
Resurcet Cineribus = It will rise from the ashes
This White Flight to the suburbs reduced Detroit's population and 'Merka's systemic racism kept it low. At one time there were almost 2 million people in Detroit proper. When I was growing up in Detroit, we were proud to call Detroit the 5th largest city in the country. Now it's the 18th, sandwiched between Charlotte, North Carolina, and El Paso, Texas. Its population of just over 700,000 is about a 3rd of what it was during the go go '50s. As the city's population shrank, so did it's tax base. These are the conditions that led to Detroit's bankruptcy.
This would be as good a time to remind people that Detroit is responsible for two things that not only made 'Merka better, but made 'Merka great: Cars and Motown. These products of Detroit have been bought and sold all around the country during the same 6 decades that Detroit has slid into decline. Detroit cars and Motown -- and it almost seems like they were made for each other -- were bought and sold all around the world over the last 6 decades.
The people north of 8 Mile, the greater country at large, and the rest of the world took ittle notice of the problems facing Detroit until recently. During the last 6 decades they couldn't have cared less what was happening to the city. That's why I call Detroit 'Merka's first throwaway city.
Take it away, MC5:
CRANK IT UP!!!