Orville L. Hubbard

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Orville Liscum Hubbard (April 2, 1903 – December 16, 1982) was the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan for 36 years, from 1942 to 1978. Sometimes referred to as the "Dictator of Dearborn", Hubbard was the most outspoken segregationist north of the Mason-Dixon line. During his administration, non-whites were aggressively discouraged from residing in Dearborn, and Hubbard's longstanding campaign to "Keep Dearborn Clean" was widely understood to mean "Keep Dearborn White." Hubbard is also remembered as a political boss who delivered a wide range of city services to his constituents, including the construction of a 626-acre (2.53 km2) rustic camp outside the city and the purchase of an eight-story senior citizen tower in Florida, all for use by Dearborn residents.

Early years[edit]

Hubbard was born April 2, 1903, and raised on a farm near Union City, Michigan. Before being elected mayor of Dearborn, Hubbard ran for office unsuccessfully nine times, including three unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of Dearborn, three campaigns for the Michigan State Senate and one each for Congress, Dearborn City Council and township justice of the peace.[1]

Biographer David Good described Hubbard as a "one-time high school athlete, ex-Marine, nonpracticing attorney, self-acknowledged expert on matters from the milking of cows to the history of the American Revolution, and personal symbol of suburban America's resistance to racial integration."[2][3]

Mayor of Dearborn: 1942–1978[edit]

Hubbard was elected mayor 15 times, his last in 1973. Sometimes referred to as the "Dictator of Dearborn",[4] he regularly won re-election with more than 70% of the vote and once recruited a candidate "to avoid the unseemly appearance of an unopposed election." Hubbard's "opponent" was reportedly seen on more than one occasion wearing a Hubbard button on his jacket.[5] He suffered a massive stroke on November 3, 1974, and the City Council president served as mayor pro tem, running the city on a day-to-day basis, for the rest of Hubbard's final term.

Hubbard's segregationist policies[edit]

Dearborn in the Orville Hubbard years became known nationally as a symbol of racial segregation. Hubbard's longstanding campaign to "Keep Dearborn Clean" was widely understood as a thinly veiled campaign to keep Dearborn white. Hubbard became the most famous segregationist north of the Mason-Dixon line, and when he left office in 1978, only 20 African-Americans lived in Dearborn—a city with a population of 90,000.

In 1948, Hubbard led a campaign to defeat a referendum to build a low-income housing project in Dearborn on the ground it could turn into a "black slum." Cards opposing the referendum urged Dearborn residents to "keep the Negroes out of Dearborn."[2]

In 1956, Hubbard received national publicity after telling an Alabama newspaper that he favored "complete segregation" of the races.[2]

During the Lyndon Johnson administration, the federal government put Hubbard on trial for conspiracy to violate human rights in an incident involving mob vandalism to the home of a man rumored to have sold the home to an African-American. Hubbard was acquitted of the charges.[2]

For many years, Hubbard was unabashed in his comments about segregation. He once told a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser: "They can't get in here. We watch it. Every time we hear of a Negro moving--for instance, we had one last year--in we respond quicker than you do to a fire. That's generally known. It's known among our own people and it's known among the Negroes here." [1] He also boasted that one of his tactics to discourage blacks who had just moved into Dearborn was by providing police and fire protection that was "a little too good"—wake-up visits every hour or so through the night in response to trouble calls.

Hubbard's other memorable statements on race include the following:

  • He once examined the bullet-riddled body of a black man and called it an open-and-shut case of suicide.[2]
  • Hubbard was once quoted as saying, "I’m not a racist, but I just hate those black bastards."[2]
  • During the 1967 Detroit riots, Hubbard ordered Dearborn police to "shoot looters on sight."[2]
  • "I favor segregation", he told The New York Times in 1968. With integration, Hubbard said, "you wind up with a mongrel race."[6]

However, after the civil rights prosecution by the federal government, and investigations by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Hubbard was more cautious in his public comments. In an interview with the Detroit News in the early 1970s, Hubbard claimed: "I don't keep the niggers out of Dearborn. I don't keep anybody out of Dearborn. I haven't done anything to encourage 'em. I don't do anything to discourage 'em." In that interview, Hubbard also contended that his "Keep Dearborn Clean" slogan had nothing to do with racial segregation and was based on his efforts to keep Dearborn city politics free of corruption. He asserted: "Our first slogan said, 'Keep Dearborn Clean from Vice, Graft and Corruption. That's exactly what it means."[2] Even then, however, he noted his alarm that Dearborn was "a little postage-stamp community" that was "surrounded now", and that "eventually they'll overrun the place."[2]

Hubbard's other initiatives as Dearborn's mayor[edit]

Whether because of or in spite of his racial policies, Hubbard was a popular figure in Dearborn with a reputation for providing city services unavailable in other communities.

Dearborn Towers[edit]

In 1967, Hubbard led an effort to purchase an eight-story, 88-unit apartment building with canal views in Clearwater, Florida. Though similar proposals had been rejected by Dearborn voters, Hubbard won City Council approval for acquisition of the project, which was renamed "Dearborn Towers." The City paid $1.1 million for the property, which was made available for rental at reduced rates to Dearborn's senior citizens.[7][8] The complex, a one-mile (1.6 km) walk from the beach, included a heated pool, organized poker nights and other activities. The project was billed in the 1960s as the first attempt by a U.S. city to own property outside the state. However, in 2007, Dearborn voters authorized selling the property (then valued at over $8 million) to help overcome a city budget deficit.[7][8]

Camp Dearborn[edit]

During the Hubbard administration, the City of Dearborn also built Camp Dearborn on 626 acres (2.53 km2) in Milford Township, Michigan. Opened on July 4, 1948, Camp Dearborn was Hubbard's pet project, and he was involved in its design. Hubbard dubbed the camp "the citizen's country club."[9] Dearborn had a substantial tax base as the headquarters of Ford Motor Company, which allowed Hubbard to provide his constituents with services unheard of in other cities of its size.[9][10]

Unsuccessful proposals[edit]

During his tenure as Dearborn mayor, Hubbard made several unsuccessful proposals, including a proposal to incorporate several other Wayne County suburbs into a super-suburb of Dearborn and a proposal for the City of Dearborn to purchase and operate Detroit's Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.[11]

Hubbard's legacy[edit]

Hubbard remains a controversial figure in Michigan politics many years after his death. In his book "Detroit Divided", University of Michigan researcher Reynolds Farley found that African-Americans in Metro Detroit still view Dearborn as harboring racial hostility, more than 30 years after Hubbard left office.[12] Dearborn's African-American population is up from fewer than 100 in 1980 to more than 1,200 in 2000. Still, that represents less than 1.3 percent of the population in a city that borders the predominantly African-American City of Detroit.[12] Dearborn is not by any means unusual in that respect, however, as such stark racial differences between Detroit and its suburbs are typical. For example, in Livonia, Michigan, another West-side suburb of Detroit, less than 1% of the population is African-American.

Controversy over the Orville Hubbard statue[edit]

A statue of Orville Hubbard

A statue of Hubbard erected in front of City Hall remains a subject of controversy. A Michigan Historical marker near the statue refers to Hubbard as "an effective administrator" who "made Dearborn known for punctual trash collection", but omits any discussion of his segregationist policies."[13] Some groups have urged the City to remove the statue.[14][15] In his book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, James W. Loewen listed the Hubbard statue as one of the Top 20 historical monuments ripe for "toppling", along with the obelisk celebrating the White League in New Orleans and "The Good Darky" statue at the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge.[16]

Further stirring controversy, the City of Dearborn has designated the former mayor's birthday as a municipal holiday, and has named a street and a two senior citizen's centers after him.

Carl Levin's comments at Rosa Parks' funeral[edit]

In 2005, Senator Carl Levin spoke at the funeral of Rosa Parks, making the following comments about Hubbard: "The South had Orval Faubus; Michigan had Orville Hubbard. Orville Hubbard vowed to keep Dearborn clean, meaning keep Dearborn white."[17] Levin's comments drew an angry response from Hubbard's family. A letter published in the Detroit Free Press from Hubbard's granddaughter, Susan L. Hubbard, referred to Levin's comments as "mean-spirited ramblings of an arrogant, Washington politician", and attributed the following quotation to former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young: "Orville Hubbard was quite a man. Believe it or not, he was a person I admired. He and I disagreed on some things, but he was a hell of a mayor. I regarded him as one of the best mayors in the United States. ... He took care of business. He knew how to meet the needs of his people."[18]

The musical: "Orvie!"[edit]

In 2006, Hubbard was the subject of a musical play, Orvie! The musical was written by David L. Good, a former Detroit News reporter and editor, who is the author of a biography of Mr. Hubbard, and the composer Bob Milne.[5][19] Hubbard's daughter, Nancy Hubbard, then the president pro tem of the Dearborn City Council, described the play as "a put-down, like a joke", that distorted her father's contributions.[20] She said her father was a popular mayor who shoveled snow, picked up trash and sent constituents birthday cards and post cards from his travels. "He did everything for this community -- the libraries, civic center, the pools. He put Dearborn on the map."[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Famous People". Dearborn Area Living. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Detroit News: Orville Hubbard -- the ghost who still haunts Dearborn". The Detroit News. Retrieved 2007-12-04.  excerpted from Good, David L (1989). Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2289-1. 
  3. ^ "Mayor Orville Hubbard Statue". Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  4. ^ Good, David L. (1989). Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn: The Rise and Reigh of Orville L. Hubbard. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2289-1. 
  5. ^ a b Rubin, Neal (2004-03-28). "Orville Hubbard now a song-and-dance man". Detroit News. 
  6. ^ "Ask local express: Was Orville Hubbard really that bad?". Detroit Free Press. 2004-08-09. 
  7. ^ a b Nichols, Darren A. (2007-06-11). "Dearborn seniors may lose Fla. perk; City considers selling beach-view apartment tower to fill budget hole". Detroit News. 
  8. ^ a b Nichols, Darren A. (2007-10-15). "Residents oppose vote to sell senior Towers in Fla.". Detroit News. 
  9. ^ a b Warikoo, Niraj (2007-09-09). "Suburb revamps citizens' escape: Visitors attracted to tradition, idyllic feel". Detroit Free Press. 
  10. ^ "The Ordeals of Orville". Time. 1950-08-21. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  11. ^ Marsh, Richard (1998-12-10). "Ideas of Hubbard's that didn't thrive". Press & Guide Newspapers. Retrieved 2007-12-04. [dead link]
  12. ^ a b Trowbridge, Gordon. "A policy of exclusion: Invisible boundaries created dividing line between black, white suburbs". Detroit News. 
  13. ^ "L1152". Michigan Markers web site. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  14. ^ "Down with Orville Hubbard". Retrieved 2007-12-04. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Dearborn, Michigan - Statue of Dearborn's Jaunty Racist Mayor". RoadsideAmerica.com. 
  16. ^ "Down with Orville Hubbard". Metro Times. 2000-01-19. 
  17. ^ "U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) delivers remarks at the funeral of Rosa Parks". Political Transcript Wire. 2005-11-02. 
  18. ^ Hubbard, Susan L. (2005-11-11). "From our readers: Sen. Levin wrong about Dearborn, Hubbard". Detroit Free Press. 
  19. ^ Maynard, Micheline (2006-07-21). "Dearborn Mayor's Posthumous Musical". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  20. ^ a b Bello, Marisol (2004-01-12). "Dearborn's racist ex-mayor inspires a musical comedy; Flamboyant leader's warts, goodness shown". Detroit Free Press.