Why Detroit Won’t Elect a Black Democrat to Congress (The News, 12/16/19)
I. Introduction. There was a time when Detroit, a city that was founded by slaveowners and the Great Migration, was a place where there was no middle class and almost no black people. That is still the case today, and the reality of Detroit is reflected in its political history. While the election of Barack Obama in 2008 ushered in a new era of racial reconciliation and acceptance in Detroit, Detroit voters have been largely turned off by a variety of issues related to race.
The racial and economic problems gripping Detroit are not the exclusive responsibility of the city’s current political leadership; they are the responsibility of Detroit’s history. Detroit’s racial problems were first noticed in the 1980s, when both the city’s black and white leaders realized that they had to address the city’s history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination, even if it caused them to lose political power and money.
There is a popular narrative, repeated endlessly, that the Detroit area was an attractive place to black families fleeing southern poverty and that there was a lot of racial harmony for decades in the city. The reality is that during the first two decades of the ’70s, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the local black community experienced a severe decline, with the decline accelerated when the city was hit by two more disasters with great racial overtones during the early ’70s – one was the death of an 8-year-old black child from a fire that killed 20 white children when the four-story apartment complex collapsed. The second was a police shootout in which unarmed and innocent black men were killed.
The story goes on to say that in both cases, the police, city officials, and community leaders failed to address the problem and that “the black community in Detroit began to grow increasingly frustrated”, while, the story says, “Detroit’s black population continued to fall”.
There are dozens of examples of what goes on in the black community in Detroit, including the many cases in which the courts gave the black community too much deference and gave them too much power.
A great many people in the black community and in Detroit are ready to admit that the current political class in Detroit has done an excellent job in addressing the problems – the problems that have made it impossible for the black community