|Coleman A. Young|
|Coleman A. Young|
|66th Mayor of Detroit, Michigan|
January 1, 1974 – January 3, 1994
|Preceded by||Roman Gribbs|
|Succeeded by||Dennis Archer|
|Member of the Michigan State Senate|
May 24, 1918|
|Died||November 29, 1997
|Resting place||Elmwood Cemetery|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Corps|
|Years of service||1942-1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Coleman Alexander Young (May 24, 1918 – November 29, 1997) served as mayor of Detroit, Michigan from 1974 to 1994. Young became the first African-American mayor of Detroit in the same week that Maynard Jackson became the first African-American mayor of Atlanta.
Young's tenure as mayor had been blamed in part for the city's ills. Political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote that, "In Detroit, Mayor Coleman Young rejected the integrationist goal in favor of a flamboyant, black-power style that won him loyal followers, but he left the city a fiscal and social wreck."
Young was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Coleman Young, a dry cleaner, and Ida Reese Jones. His family moved to Detroit in 1923, where he graduated from Eastern High School in 1935. He worked for Ford Motor Company, which soon blacklisted him for involvement in union and civil rights activism. He later worked for the United States Postal Service, where with his brother George he started the Postal Workers union. George later went on to become Postmaster for this same facility, which handles over ten million pieces of mail each year. During World War II Young served in the 477th Medium-Bomber Group (Tuskegee Airmen) of the United States Army Air Forces as a bombardier and navigator. As a lieutenant in the 477th, he played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in which 162 African-American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base near Seymour, Indiana in 1945.
In the 1940s Young was labelled a fellow traveler of the Communist Party by belonging to groups that had some members that belonged to the Party, and was accused of being a former member. Young's involvement in radical organizations including, the Progressive Party, the United Auto Workers and the National Negro Labor Council made him a target of anti-Communist investigators including the FBI and HUAC. He protested segregation in the Army and racial discrimination in the UAW. In 1948 Young supported Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace.
In 1952, Young stunned observers when he appeared before the McCarthy era House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and defied the congressmen with sarcastic retorts and repeatedly refused to answer whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party. The encounter came at a highly publicized formal hearing in Detroit. Young’s performance made him a hero in Detroit’s growing black community. On HUAC’s charge that he seemed reluctant to fight communism, Coleman said: “I am not here to fight in any un-American activities, because I consider the denial of the right to vote to large numbers of people all over the South un-American.” On the HUAC congressman from Georgia: “I happen to know, in Georgia, Negro people are prevented from voting by virtue of terror, intimidation and lynchings. It is my contention you would not be in Congress today if it were not for the legal restrictions on voting on the part of my people.” On the HUAC committee: “Congressman, neither me or none of my friends were at this plant the other day brandishing a rope in the face of John Cherveny (A 26 year-old immigrant factory worker who was threatened with violence for refusing to join the local union). I can assure you I have had no part in the hanging or bombing of Negroes in the South. I have not been responsible for firing a person from his job for what I think are his beliefs, or what somebody thinks he believes in, and things of that sort. That is the hysteria that has been swept up by this committee.”
Young built his political base on the East Side in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1960, he was elected as a delegate to help draft a new state constitution for Michigan. In 1964 he won election to the Michigan State Senate, where his most significant legislation was a law requiring arbitration in disputes between public-sector unions and municipalities. During his senate career, he also pointed out inequities in Michigan state funding, "spending $20 million on rural bus service and a fat zero for the same thing in Detroit."
Five terms as Mayor
Young's 1973 Mayoral campaign addressed the role of the violence inflicted upon an increasingly black city—the black population in Detroit was slightly less than fifty percent in 1972—by a disproportionately white police department. Young pledged the elimination of one particularly troubled police decoy unit, STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets), whose officers had been accused of killing 22 black residents and arresting hundreds more without cause during its two-and-a-half-year existence.
The unit's operations were suspended in 1972 by order of the Mayor preceding Young, Roman Gribbs. In November 1973, Young narrowly defeated former Police Commissioner John F. Nichols, who was fired by Gribbs because he refused to resign while campaigning for Mayor. Nichols would later be elected as suburban Oakland County Sheriff.
Mayor Young promptly disbanded the STRESS unit, began efforts to integrate the police department and increased patrols in high crime neighborhoods utilizing a community policing approach. Young's effect on integrating the Detroit Police Department was successful, the proportion of blacks rose to more than 50 percent in 1993 from less than 10 percent in 1974 and has remained at about that level. Both actions were credited with reducing the number of brutality complaints against the city's police to 825 in 1982 from 2,323 in 1975.
Young won re-election by wide margins in November 1977, November 1981, November 1985 and November 1989, for a total of 20 years as mayor, based largely on black votes.
Although Young had emerged from the far left element in Detroit, he moved to the right as mayor. He called an ideological truce and won the support of Detroit's economic elite. 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 assistance to General Motors to build its new "Poletown" plant at the site of the former Dodge Main plant, which involved evicting many long-time residents. Rich argues that he pulled money out of the neighborhood to rehabilitate the downtown business district, because "there were no other options."
Young was an outspoken advocate for large Detroit construction projects, and his administration saw the completion of the Renaissance Center, Detroit People Mover, the General Motors Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly Plant, the Detroit Receiving Hospital, the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant, the Riverfront Condominiums, the Millender Center Apartments, Harbortown, 150 West Jefferson, One Detroit Center & the Fox Theater restoration, among other developments. During Young's last two administrations there was opposition among some neighborhood activists to these large construction projects. This opposition typically manifested itself in rigorous budget debate rather than in serious electoral challenges against Young. Most of the time Young prevailed over this opposition, seeking jobs and economic stimulus as a way to help rebuild Detroit's neighborhoods.
Young was twice married & divorced. He has one son.
His son, Coleman A. Young II, is currently a State Senator in Michigan's 1st State Senate district and was previously a State Representative in Michigan's 4th State Representative district, the same district where Young lived as Mayor and served as State Senator.
Young was a Prince Hall Freemason. He died from emphysema in 1997. Upon learning of Young's death, former President Jimmy Carter called Young "one of the greatest mayors our country has known." 
Republican Michigan Gov. John Engler called the former Democratic mayor "a man of his word who was willing to work with anyone, regardless of party or politics, to help Detroit -- the city he loved and fought for all his life." 
Young's Police Chief, and political ally William L. Hart, served for 15 years as Detroit Police Chief before being indicted and convicted for stealing $1.3 million from police undercover funds. Hart was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and ordered to pay back the money. Deputy Chief of Police Kenneth Weiner, also a close associate of Young, was charged and convicted in a separate case involving investment fraud and stealing an additional $1.3 million from the same fund. Young was never charged with any crime.
Though there were no civil disturbances as serious as the Detroit Race Riots of 1863, 1943, and 1967 during Young's terms as mayor, he has been blamed for failing to stem crime in Detroit. Several violent gangs controlled the region's drug trade in the 1970s and 1980s. Major criminal gangs that were founded in Detroit and dominated the drug trade at various times 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.
In 1965, nine years before Young was elected mayor, Detroit experienced an upwards trajectory of its homicide rate. In 1974, the year Young took office, the homicide rate in Detroit was slightly above 50 homicides per 100,000. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Detroit's homicide rate trended downward, going below 40 homicides per 100,000 in 1977 and 1979. In 1980, Detroit saw a steep increase in its homicide rate, in which it peaked at 63.5 homicides per 100,000 in 1987. In 1994, the year Young retired from office, the homicide rate was roughly 54 homicides per 100,000.
Young's administration coincided with some periods of broad social and economic challenges in the U.S. including recession, the oil-shock, decline of the U.S. automotive industry and loss of manufacturing sector jobs in the Midwest to other parts of the U.S. and the world. Detroit faced a continuing white flight to the suburbs that began in the 1950s and accelerated after the 1967 Detroit race riots and ongoing crime and drug problems in the inner city. It was common for Young's opponents to blame him for these developments, but Young's defenders responded that other factors such as white resistance to court ordered desegregation, deteriorating housing stock, aging industrial plants and a declining automotive industry leading to a loss of economic opportunities inside the city all contributed to the phenomenon. By the end of his last term, the population of Detroit had lost close to half of its peak 1950 population, though a significant part of that population loss occurred before Young was elected mayor.
Detroit civil rights leader Arthur L. Johnson in his memoirs: Race and Remembrance blames the racist policy of redlining by the banking and insurance industries for much of Detroit's problems. He cites a series of investigative articles in 1988 by the Detroit Free Press titled "The Race for Money" which documented the discriminatory practices of the major banks in metropolitan Detroit. "The Free Press series showed that black Detroiters were much less likely to qualify for a home mortgage than suburban whites in the same income bracket... The unfair lending practices of the major banks also made it more difficult for blacks to secure business, home improvement and auto loans. In effect, banks were punishing blacks who wanted to make Detroit their home..."
Economic conditions in Detroit generally trended sideways or downward over the period of Mayor Young's political tenure, with the unemployment rate trending from approximately 9% in 1971 to approximately 11% in 1993, when Young retired. However, most economic metrics (unemployment, median income rates, and city gross domestic product) initially dropped sharply during economic recessions, reaching their "low points" in the late 1980s and/or early 1990s, with the unemployment rate in particular peaking at approximately 20% in 1982.
Young himself explained the impact of the riots in his autobiography:
- 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 explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.
Young himself expressed his belief that reform of the Police Department stood as one of his greatest accomplishments. He implemented broad affirmative action programs that lead to racial integration, and created a network of Neighborhood City Halls and Police Mini Stations. Young used the relationship established by community policing to mobilize large civilian patrols to address the incidents of Devil's Night arson that had come to plague the city each year. These patrols have been continued by succeeding administrations and have mobilized as many as 30,000 citizens in a single year in an effort to forestall seasonal arson. However, arson, murder, and crime, in general, remain serious problems in Detroit.
Coleman Young was known for his blunt statements, frequently using profanity:
On trying to enroll at De La Salle Collegiate High School in Detroit: “A brother in the order asked if I was Hawaiian. I told him, ‘No, Brother, I’m colored.’ He tore up the application form right in front of my nose. I’ll never forget it. It was my first real jolt about what it means to be black. That was the end of me and the Catholic Church.”
- "I'm smiling all the time. That doesn't mean a God damned thing except I think people who go around solemn-faced and quoting the Bible are full of shit.
- "Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words."
- Coleman Young to Detroit journalists via closed-circuit television from Hawaii: "Aloha, Mother Fuckers!"
- "Racism is like high blood pressure—the person who has it doesn’t know he has it until he drops over with a God damned stroke. There are no symptoms of racism. The victim of racism is in a much better position to tell you whether or not you’re a racist than you are."
- "I issue a warning to all those pushers, to all rip-off artists, to all muggers: It’s time to leave Detroit; hit Eight Mile Road! And I don’t give a damn if they are black or white, or if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road."
On mortality: “I know goddamned well that I am not immortal, nor do I have any mortal lock on the position of mayor. I’m a phase in the history of this city and, depending on your perspective, a brief one.” On how he would like to be remembered: “I suppose I’d like to be remembered as the mayor who served in a period of ongoing crisis and took some important steps to keep the city together, but left office with his work incomplete.”
Death and legacy
- Young is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.
- The city county building for the City of Detroit and Wayne County was renamed the "Coleman A. Young Municipal Building."
- He has a wing named after him at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
- Detroit City Airport, a general aviation facility serving Detroit, has since been renamed Coleman A. Young International Airport.
- In 1979, Young received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
- Boyd, Herb. "Blacks and the Police State: A Case Study of Detroit," Black Scholar (1981) 12#1 pp 58–61
- Chafets, Zev "Devil's Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit (1990)" Vintage (October 1, 1991) ISBN 0679735917, ISBN 978-0679735915
- Johnson, Arthur L. "Race and Rembrance: A Memoir (African American Life Series) Publisher: Wayne State University Press; First Edition edition (August 1, 2008) ISBN 0814333702 | ISBN 978-0814333709
- Neill, William J. V. "Lipstick on the Gorilla: The Failure of Image-led Planning in Coleman Young's Detroit," international Journal of Urban & Regional Research (1995) 19#3 pp 639–653
- Rich, Wilbur C. Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (African American Life Series) (Wayne State University Press, February, 1989, ISBN 978-0-8143-2093-8
- Shaw, Todd C. and Lester K. Spence, "Race and Representation in Detroit’s Community Development Coalitions," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (20040 594#1 pp 125–142 doi: 10.1177/0002716204265172
- Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton Studies in American Politics) by Princeton University Press; Revised edition (August 1, 2005), ISBN 978-0-691-12186-4
- Clemens, Paul. Made in Detroit, Anchor, (2006), memoir of growing up in Detroit during Mayor Young era. ISBN 978-1-4000-7596-6
- Young, Coleman. Hard Stuff, autobiography; published by Viking Adult (February 24, 1994) ISBN 978-0-670-84551-4
- Young, Coleman. The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young, compiled by McGraw, Bill et al., (Wayne State University Press. 1991) ISBN 978-0-8143-3260-3
- James Q. Wilson. "The Closing of the American City," The New Republic May 11, 1998
- NAACP Spingarn Medal
- Wilbur C. Rich (1999). Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker. Wayne State U.P. pp. 70–72.
- "Coleman A. Young, 79, Mayor of Detroit And Political Symbol for Blacks, Is Dead". New York Times. November 30, 1997.
- Coleman Alexander (2005-05-05). The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young (African American Life) (Kindle Locations 252-255). Wayne State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Coleman Alexander (2005-05-05). The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young (African American Life) (Kindle Locations 258-264). Wayne State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Coleman Alexander (2005-05-05). The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young (African American Life) (Kindle Locations 264-268). Wayne State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Klehr, Harvey, John Earl Haynes, and Ronald Radosh. "Childs at Play: The FBI’s Cold War triumph." The Weekly Standard. Vol. 16, No. 47 (September 5, 2011)
- Young, Coleman. Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young (1994) p.186.
- , Time Magazine, January 14, 1974 New Men for Detroit and Atlanta
- Wilbur C. Rich, Coleman Young and Detroit Politics, (1989) p 139
- Rich, 185-6, 202
- Todd C. Shaw and Lester K. Spence, "Race and Representation in Detroit’s Community Development Coalitions," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (20040 594#1 pp 125-142 doi: 10.1177/0002716204265172
- Gray, David (2012). The History of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM 1971 – 2011: The Fabric of Freemasonry. Columbus, Ohio: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM. p. 414. ISBN 978-0615632957.
- Michigan Daily, December 1, 1997.Coleman Young Dead at 79, Detroit Mourns Loss of a Pioneer.
- Elise K. Parsigian (1992). Mass media writing. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 32.
- Otis Milton Smith; Mary M. Stolberg (2000). Looking Beyond Race: The Life of Otis Milton Smith. Wayne State University Press. p. 230.
- Time, October 27, 1961 Decline in Detroit
- Johnson, Arthur L. "Race & Remembrance" (2008) page 136, Wayne State University Press http://books.google.com/books?id=c1kCq9g8orIC&pg=PA136&lpg=PA136&dq=redlining+detroit+%22coleman+young%22&source=bl&ots=fJuSh4fIYW&sig=gJ4yNidjRCxBzWFPIN5E9CUPt0w&hl=en&sa=X&ei=1AwpUca8B6Xp0gGC6IGYDg&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=redlining%20detroit%20%22coleman%20young%22&f=false
- Wayne University Center for Urban Studies, October 2005
- Young, Coleman. Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young (1994) p.179.
- The New York Times, February 19, 2008 Civic Angels Curb Detroit 'Devil's Night' Fires
- Coleman Alexander (2005-05-05). The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young (African American Life) (Kindle Locations 222-225). Wayne State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Desiree Cooper (1997-12-03). "Rapper deifies cusser". Retrieved 2008-02-28. "And when addressing a party of Detroit journalists (for whom he held a healthy contempt) via closed-circuit television from Hawaii, Young opened his remarks with a robust: "Aloha, motherfuckers.""[dead link]
- McGraw, Bill et al. (1991). The Quotations Of Mayor Coleman A. Young. Wayne State University Press.
- Coleman Alexander (2005-05-05). The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young (African American Life) (Kindle Locations 243-248). Wayne State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Coleman A. Young memorial at Find a Grave.
- Harp, Andrea S. April 17, 2001. "Coleman A. Young: Social and Political Powerbroker". The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Wayne State University. (Accessed June 20, 2007)
- Metro Times. December 3, 1997. "Coleman A. Young (1918 - 1997)" Recollection and remembrance on the longtime mayor. (Accessed June 20, 2007)
- The Coleman A. Young Foundation. "Coleman A. Young". (Accessed June 20, 2007)
- "Coleman Young". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
|Mayor of Detroit