|It's just a dream... just a dream|
During his 1973 campaign Young had promised to give blacks their rightful place in city government. He decreed that for every white cop promoted, a black officer had to be advanced too. One housing manager recalls: "I was a white liberal intent on doing some good. What surer route to doing good than public housing? Then in 1977 my career halted. My supervisor warned me nicely: because of my race, I had no future in the agency." To the complaint that such measures amounted to reverse discrimination, Young had a categorical reply: "You're damn right—the only way to arrest discrimination is to reverse it."
Since 1971, the number of businesses in the city had fallen by 30 percent, from 15,527 to 10,923. The number of tax returns from employed Detroiters had also fallen by 24 percent – from 408, 378 to 309,554.
Young saw jobs leaving for the suburbs. The general population was declining, but the proportion of people with problems – the number of households on welfare or public assistance – was rising.
He saw that the tax base wasn’t growing, and Detroit was caught between the pincers of declining revenues and increased demand for city services. Nearly 60 percent of Detroit’s residents were receiving some form of public aid in 1981 and enrollment in welfare programs had increased by 64,000 people during the previous year alone.
According to data collected by the city, 891,000 whites had lived in Detroit in 1969, but by 1976, when Young was proudly unveiling his Renaissance Center, only 543,000 remained.
As a result of the massive out-migration of urban whites, between 1970 and 1990 the percentage of blacks in Detroit rose from 44.5 to 78.4 percent, giving the Motor City one of the largest African-American populations in the urban North.
In fact, nothing Young ever said stemmed the tide of white fight, and the effect of this exodus was to bring severe economic distress to the city. When Detroit lost much of its white population, it also lost a signficant portion of its economic base. As the social geographers Bryan Thompson and Robert Sinclair have pointed out, when white Detroiters left the inner city, they took “the majority of the important service, professional, and leadership activities of the Detroit Metropolitan system” with them. Soon it was no longer inner-city Detroit but the surrounding suburbs that housed the core of the region’s auto industry. And, in time, industry foremen, supervisors, inspectors, and many white workers no longer called Detroit their home, either. Increasingly, they moved to suburbs such as Royal Oak Township, Troy, East Detroit, the Grosse Pointes, Dearborn, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Madison Heights, Sterling Heights, Southfield, Redford Township, Westland, Farmington, Allen Park, Melvindale, and Lincoln Park. Increasingly, they moved to nearby suburbs that had few, if any, blacks within their borders.
As Detroit became more impoverished after 1973, its neighboring suburbs grew ever wealthier. By 1980 the median income in Detroit was $17,033, whereas in the bordering suburb of Grosse Pointe Woods it was $35,673. That same year in Detroit 27 percent of blacks and 6.8 percent of whites were receiving some type of public assistance and 25 percent of blacks and 7 percent whites lived below the poverty line.
When Detroit lost most of its white population, tax base, and political support, its future was severely compromised. As Rich notes, Detroit was irreparably harmed by “the impact of changing demographics, especially the loss of revenue occasioned by white flight.” Not coincidentally, while Detroit had lost 56,400 jobs by 1977, the suburbs had gained 36,500. (p. 240-241, African American Mayors: Race, Politics, and the American City, Edited by David Colburn and Jeffrey Adler)
Johnson, who serves as one of Detroit's four police commissioners, is not naive about the city's problems. But in his view, they spring not from black incompetence, or violence, but from white hostility.
''Whites don't know a goddamned thing about what's gone wrong here. They say, 'Detroit had this, Detroit had that. . . .' But economic power is still in the hands of whites. It's apartheid. They rape the city, and then they come and say, 'Look what these niggers did to the city,' as if they were guiltless.''
De Lisle spoke about the death of a city; but to Arthur Johnson and the rest of Detroit's black intelligentsia, something is being born in Detroit.
''Detroit has helped nurture a new black mentality,'' he said, pounding his desk for emphasis. ''More than any other city, blacks here make an issue of where you live. If you're with us, you'll find a place in the city.''
Whites often say, in their own defense, that many middle-class blacks also leave the city at the first opportunity. I mentioned this to Johnson, but he waved it away. ''The majority of the black middle class is here,'' he said. ''We are engaged in the most determined, feverish effort to save Detroit. Why? Because Detroit is special. It's the first major city in the United States to have taken on the symbols of a black city. It has elected a strong, powerful black mayor, powerful in both his personality and his office. Detroit, more than anywhere else, has gathered power and put it in black hands.''