Coleman A. Young, circa 1981
|66th Mayor of Detroit|
January 1, 1974 – January 3, 1994
|Preceded by||Roman Gribbs|
|Succeeded by||Dennis Archer|
|Member of the Michigan Senate|
from the 4th district
January 1, 1965 – 1973
|Preceded by||Charles S. Blondy|
|Succeeded by||David S. Holmes, Jr.|
Coleman Alexander Young
May 24, 1918
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S.
|Died|| November 29, 1997 (aged 79) |
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Resting place||Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|Spouse(s)||(1) Marion McClellan (m. 1947–54, divorced); |
(2) Nadine Baxter (m. 1955–60, divorced)
|Children||Coleman Young II|
|Branch/service||United States Army Air Forces|
|Years of service||1942–1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Coleman Alexander Young (May 24, 1918 – November 29, 1997) was an American politician who served as mayor of Detroit, Michigan, from 1974 to 1994. Young was the first African-American mayor of Detroit.
Young had emerged from the far-left element in Detroit, and moderated somewhat after his election as mayor. He called an ideological truce and gained widespread support from the city's business leaders. The new mayor was energetic in the construction of the Joe Louis Arena, and upgrading the city's mass transit system. He assisted General Motors in building its new "Poletown" plant at the site of the former Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck. This was an expansion project that required evicting many long-time residents in the neighborhood. Some opponents said that he pulled money out of the neighborhoods to rehabilitate the downtown business district, but he said "there were no other options."
Young's tenure as mayor has been blamed in part for the city's ills, which have included the exodus of middle-class taxpayers to the suburbs, the emergence of powerful drug-dealing gangs, and the rising crime rate. 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."
Early life and education
Young was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to William Coleman Young, a dry cleaner, and Ida Reese Jones. His family moved in 1923 to Detroit, as part of the Great Migration out of the South to industrial cities that offered more opportunity. There Young graduated from Eastern High School in 1935. He became a member of the United Auto Workers, and worked for Ford Motor Company. Later Young worked for the United States Post Office Department.
During World War II, Young served in the 477th Medium-Bomber Group (the renowned Tuskegee Airmen) of the United States Army Air Forces as a second lieutenant, bombardier, and navigator. As a lieutenant in the 477th, Young played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945. Some 162 African-American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base near Seymour, Indiana.
In the 1940s, Young was labelled a fellow traveler of the Communist Party by belonging to groups whose members also 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. He made sarcastic retorts and repeatedly cited the Fifth Amendment, refusing 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. To a committee member's statement 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." To the HUAC congressman from Georgia, he said: "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."
He said to another HUAC congressman:
"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 young union organizer and factory worker who was threatened with repeated violence after members of the HUAC alleged that he might be a communist, 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 in Detroit on the East Side in the 1940s and 1950s, which had become a center of the African-American community. In 1960, he was elected as a delegate to help draft a new state constitution for Michigan.
In 1964, Young won election to the Michigan State Senate. 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 police violence suffered by black residents in 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 people and arresting hundreds without cause during its two-and-a-half-years of operation.
The unit's operations were suspended in 1972 by order of Mayor Roman Gribbs, who preceded Young. In November 1973, Young narrowly defeated former Police Commissioner John Nichols for mayor. Nichols had been fired by Gribbs because he refused to resign while campaigning for mayor. Nichols would later be elected as Sheriff of suburban Oakland County.
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.
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, the Harbortown retail and residential complex, 150 West Jefferson, One Detroit Center and 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 and divorced. He fathered a son with Executive Assistant Director of Public Works Annivory Calvert and initially denied paternity until DNA tests proved that he was the child's biological father. He served as a state senator in Michigan's 1st Senate district and was previously a state representative in Michigan's 4th 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 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 race riots of 1863, 1943, and 1967 during Young's terms as mayor, he has been blamed for failing to stem crime in the city. 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 again 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.
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, totalling 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.
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!
In his first term, when he went to Washington DC to meet the Housing and Urban Development secretary, Young was greeted by a lower-ranking black official to which he said:
I didn't come to see the house nigger. Get me the man. 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.
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.
- Young is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.
- The City-County Building which houses City of Detroit and Wayne County offices was renamed the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building in 1999.
- Young put together the financing package for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. He has a wing named after him there.
- 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.
- Bachelor, Lynn. "Reindustrialization in Detroit: Capital Mobility and Corporate Influence." Journal of Urban Affairs (1982), 4#3, pp. 35–50.
- Bixby, Michael B. "Condemnation of Private Property in Order to Construct General Motors Plant Is for Public Use: Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit." Urban Law. 13 (1981): 694.
- Bockmeyer, Janice L. "A culture of distrust: the impact of local political culture on participation in the Detroit EZ." Urban Studies (2000), 37.13, pp. 2417–2440. EZ = "empowerment zone"
- Boyd, Herb. "Blacks and the Police State: A Case Study of Detroit," Black Scholar (1981), 12#1, pp. 58–61.
- Boyle, Kevin. "The ruins of Detroit: Exploring the urban crisis in the motor city." Michigan Historical Review (2001), 27#1, pp. 109–127. in JSTOR
- Chafets, Zev "Devil's Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit (1990)", Vintage (October 1, 1991), ISBN 0679735917, ISBN 978-0679735915
- Halpern, Martin. "'I'm Fighting for Freedom': Coleman Young, HUAC, and the Detroit African American Community." Journal of American Ethnic History (1997), 17#1, pp. 19–38. in JSTOR
- Hill, Richard Child. "Crisis in the motor city: The politics of economic development in Detroit", in Restructuring the city: The political economy of urban redevelopment (1983): 80–125.
- Lewis, Emily J. "Corporate Prerogative, Public Use and a People's Plight: Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit". Det. CL Rev. (1982): 907.
- McCarthy, John. "Entertainment-led regeneration: the case of Detroit." Cities (2002), 19#2, pp. 105–111.
- McCarthy, John. "Revitalization of the core city: The case of Detroit." Cities (1997), 14#1, pp. 1–11.
- 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.
- Orr, Marion E., and Gerry Stoker. "Urban regimes and leadership in Detroit." Urban Affairs Review (1994), 30#1, pp. 48–73.
- Orr, Marion. "Urban regimes and school compacts: The development of the Detroit compact." Urban Review (1993), 25#2, pp. 105–122.
- Rich, Wilbur C. Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (African American Life Series) (Wayne State University Press, 1989), ISBN 978-0-8143-2093-8; the major scholarly study
- Rich, Wilbur C. "Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: 1973–1986", in The New Black Politics: The Search for Political Power (1987).
- 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) (2nd edn, 2005), ISBN 978-0-691-12186-4
- Thomas, June Manning. Redevelopment and Race: Planning a finer city in postwar Detroit (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)
- Young, Carlito H. "Constant Struggle: Coleman Young's Perspective on American Society and Detroit Politics," The Black Scholar (1997), 27#2 pp. 31–41 in JSTOR
- Clemens, Paul. Made in Detroit, Anchor (2006); memoir of growing up in Detroit during Mayor Young era. ISBN 978-1-4000-7596-6
- Johnson, Arthur L. Race and Rembrance: A Memoir (African American Life Series), Wayne State University Press (2008)
- Young, Coleman. Hard Stuff, autobiography; 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
- Rich, Wilbur C. (1999). Coleman Young and Detroit Politics. ISBN 978-0814320945. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- rich 1999, p. 139.
- rich 1999, p. 185-6, 202.
- Spreen, Johannes F. (2005). Who Killed Detroit?. iUniverse. p. 153. ISBN 9780595802678.
- Wilson, James Q. (May 11, 1998). "The Closing of the American City". The New Republic. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "Spingarn Medal Winners: 1915 to Today". NAACP. Archived from the original on May 5, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- McGraw, Bill (November 30, 1997). "Long-powerful mayor shaped Detroit, confronted critics and fought for racial justice". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on March 9, 2005. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
- "About the Coleman A. Young Mayoral Papers Project". Detroit Public Library. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
- "Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young dies at 79". CNN. Archived from the original on September 25, 2000. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
- Murphy, John D. (March 1997). The Freeman Field Mutiny: A Study in Leadership (Thesis). Air Command and Staff College.
- Rich 1999, pp. 70–72.
- "Coleman A. Young, 79, Mayor of Detroit And Political Symbol for Blacks, Is Dead". The New York Times. November 30, 1997.
- Alexander, Coleman (May 5, 2005). The Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young. Wayne State Univ Press.
- Alexander 2005, p. kindle locations 258–264.
- Lunn, Harry (March 13, 1952). "Rally at Wayne Causes Near Riot". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Alexander 2005, p. Kindle locations 264–268.
- Klehr, Harvey; Haynes, John Earl; Radosh, Ronald (September 5, 2011). "Childs at Play: The FBI's Cold War triumph". The Weekly Standard. 16 (47). Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Young, Coleman; Wheeler, Lonnie (February 24, 1994). Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young. Viking Adult. p. 186. ISBN 978-0670845514.
- Deslippe, Dennis A. (April 23, 2006). ""Do Whites Have Rights?": White Detroit Policemen and "Reverse Discrimination" Protests in the 1970s" (PDF). The Journal of American History. History Cooperative. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "New Men for Detroit and Atlanta". Time. January 14, 1974. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Shaw, Todd C.; Spence, Lester K. (July 2004). "Race and Representation in Detroit's Community Development Coalitions". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 594: 125–142. doi:10.1177/0002716204265172. JSTOR 4127698.
- 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.
- "Coleman Young Dead at 79, Detroit Mourns Loss of a Pioneer". The Michigan Daily. Associated Press. December 1, 1997. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "Detroit's 'great warrior,' Coleman Young, dies". CNN. November 29, 1997. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "Ex-Police Chief Gets A 10-Year Sentence In Detroit Graft Case". The New York Times. August 28, 1992. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "Former Detroit Police Chief Convicted of Embezzlement". The New York Times. May 8, 1992. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Parsigian, Elise K. (1992). Mass media writing. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 32. ISBN 9780805811315.
- Smith, Otis Milton; Stolberg, Mary M. (2000). Looking Beyond Race: The Life of Otis Milton Smith. Wayne State University Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-8143-2939-9. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Damron, Gina (December 28, 2012). "Detroit's homicide rate nears highest in 2 decades". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "Michigan: Decline in Detroit". Time. October 27, 1961. Archived from the original on May 20, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Largest cities in the United States by population by decade
- "Detroit Crime Barometer" (PDF). Wayne University Center for Urban Studies. October 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 29, 2013.
- Young 1994, p. 179.
- Meredith, Robyn (February 19, 2008). "Civic Angels Curb Detroit 'Devil's Night' Fires". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Alexander, 1994 & Kindle Locations 222–225.
- Cooper, Desiree (December 3, 1997). "Rapper deifies cusser". Metro Times. Archived from the original on May 5, 2006. 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."
- "Detroit's 'great warrior,' Coleman Young, dies". CNN. 29 November 1997. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
- Alexander 2005.
- Alexander 2005, p. Kindle Locations 243–248.
- "Coleman Alexander Young". Find a Grave. January 1, 2001. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- McConnell, Darci (March 24, 1999). "City-County Building to honor Young". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- "National Winners". Jefferson Awards Foundation. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Harp, Andrea S. April 17, 2001. "Coleman A. Young: Social and Political Powerbroker". The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Wayne State University. (Retrieved June 20, 2007)
- Special section remembering Coleman Young by the Detroit Free Press (archived)
- Coleman A. Young (1918-1997) special section by the Metro Times (archived)
- The Coleman A. Young Foundation. "Coleman A. Young". (Retrieved June 20, 2007)
- "Coleman Young". Find a Grave. Retrieved December 24, 2009.
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