|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.|
(m. 1947; div. 1954)
(m. 1955; div. 1960)
|Children||Coleman Young II|
|Branch/service||U.S. 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. 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 white middle-class taxpayers to the suburbs, the emergence of powerful drug-dealing gangs, and the rising crime rate. However, some of these things began well before[when?] Young's tenure.
In 1981, Young received the Spingarn Medal for achievement from the NAACP.
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 worker-oriented 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."
According to historians Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Ronald Radosh, Coleman Young was "a secret CPUSA [Communist Party USA] member."
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."
Coleman Young decided to run for mayor of Detroit in 1973. At the forefront of his campaign, he sought to address the increasing police violence suffered by black residents in the city. By 1972, the black population in Detroit was only slightly less than fifty percent—but was patrolled disproportionately by a white police department. Specifically, Young notified Police Commissioner John Nichols that the police decoy unit, STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets), was a major racially charged problem of the city. Officers deployed under STRESS had been accused of killing 22 people and arresting hundreds without cause during its 2+1⁄2 years of operation. In his campaign, Young quoted “one of the problems is that the police run the city… STRESS is responsible for the explosive polarization that now exists; STRESS is an execution squad rather than an enforcement squad. As mayor, I will get rid of STRESS”. The police responded by endorsing John Nichols, the Police Commissioner who was running for mayor against Coleman Young.
Throughout the campaign, Young had an edge over Nichols due to both a growing black population base and due to his broad political experience in local, state, and national politics. In opposition, Nichols took advantage of the white fear of black crime in the street in order to advance his campaign. Nichols represented a national trend of increased police power and brutality in post-riot cities, and therefore, in Young's opinion, had to be defeated. While neither candidate openly spoke about race, after the fact, Young admitted that in 1973, “the race was about race”. Both mayoral candidates were conscious of the high racial tensions in the city, but both attempted to appeal to all groups.
In November 1973, Young narrowly defeated former Police Commissioner John Nichols for mayor, becoming the first black mayor of Detroit. His election represented a major turning point in both the city's racial and political history. In his inaugural address, Mayor Young stated that “the first problem that we must face as citizens of this great city, the first fact that we must look squarely in the eye, is that this city has too long been polarized”. He stated that “we can no longer afford the luxury of hatred and racial division. What is good for the black people of this city is good for the white people of this city. What is good for the rich people of this city is good for the poor people of this city. What is good for those who live in the suburbs is good for those of us who live in the central city”. Winning by such a small margin in a racially polarized city, Young knew the burden he would have to shoulder as mayor.
Young served five terms as mayor of Detroit from 1974–1994. 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.
As Mayor during his first term, 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.
When asked in an interview about the high and low points of his first term, Young responded that avoiding the near riot he faced after the shooting of the black teenager was a high. He stated that “we found a police department, which had been guilty of excesses in the past, being professional and, even under provocation, not firing a single shot. We also found leaders, black and white who had the courage to get out there in front of angry citizens and help keep the peace”. In contrast, his biggest challenge was the fact that Detroit had been in a depression for the two and a half years he had been in office. He stated that “most of [his] time has been spent putting out fires instead of going ahead with plans for the city”, something he hoped to address in his second term.
In 1978, Mayor Young won his second term as mayor and planned to execute many campaign promises unfulfilled from his first term. At the forefront of his agenda, Young wanted to ensure affirmative action initiatives in order to positively transform the racial makeup of city departments, particularly the police department. Young addressed the issue of Affirmative Action head on, and welcomed the NAACP to Detroit with the words, “welcome to Detroit, the Affirmative Action City… I can’t think of any recent issue that is more important to the future of minorities and women and the whole American people than the issue of affirmative action” (Young, 1978).
His efforts for affirmative action were stalled in 1981, when a budget crisis forced Detroit voters to approve an income tax hike and city officials to sell $125 million in emergency bonds. Young had to convince Detroit voters to trust his plans to save the city from bankruptcy, and he had to convince state legislature and municipal workers to accept a two-year wage freeze. In addition, Black unemployment in the city remained at 25 percent – all issues that Young attempted to tackle during his third term.
Young's third term as mayor focused heavily on both the covert and overt forces of racism that divided the city and suburbs. Being mayor of a predominantly black city surrounded by predominantly white suburbs meant that Young dealt with an inescapable rift between the two. In 1984, Young stated that racism was “at an all time high” (Young, 1984). Young understood the need for suburban-city cooperation as essential for regional growth; the two needed to work with each other. Young attempted to resolve this division by attracting more jobs in the city for a stronger partnership.
During his fourth term, Young continued to work on improving racial relations of the city and neighborhood standards. He worked on many successful projects to build more than 1,800 apartment units in the city, with “50 percent black and 50 percent white, half from within Detroit and half from outside”. He sought for these projects to promote economic and racial integration in the city.
Young struggled with Detroit's severe population drop; through his mayoralty, Detroit suffered a loss of 800,000 people. Young attributed this 40 percent drop in population to the deterioration of neighborhoods which he promptly worked to overcome. Instead of agonizing over the issue, Young came up with ways to correct some of the imbalances between land and people. He redeveloped many neighborhoods throughout the city in order to revitalize Detroit's landscape. In response to these large construction projects, there was opposition among neighborhood activists. 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.
Mayor Young's fifth and final term was largely characterized by the police beating death of Malice Green on November 5, 1992. A writer for the Detroit News and Free Press expressed the effect of this event on Young's mayoralty: “the foundation upon which Mayor Coleman Young built his career and his administration was rocked Thursday by the beating death of a Detroit man at the hands of Detroit police officers”. This issue was directly relevant to Young's mayoral goal of improving relations between the black population of Detroit and the police and severely undermined much of the progress he had worked so tirelessly to accomplish.
Undoubtedly, integrating the police department was one of Young's greatest accomplishments in improving race relations in the city. His major accomplishments included affirmative action in the police department, economic development across the city, and successful management of two fiscal crises.
Young left a significant legacy in the city of Detroit. Throughout his time as mayor, he 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.
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.
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:
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 whom 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.
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."