By Brian Gilmore
We must save Detroit.
Detroit is part of all of us. It is where the American Industrial Age took shape.
Henry Ford created the automobile in 1896 in his garage in Detroit. Ford established the Ford Motor Co., and in 1908 he introduced the company’s legendary product: the Model T. The company would sell more than 15 million Model T’s from 1910 to 1927.
Ford workers actually earned a decent wage and, soon, the 40-hour workweek was established there. It helped bring about a middle class life for thousands of families. Detroit is also home to General Motors and Chrysler. Along with Ford, they are still known today throughout the world as “The Big Three.” Because of the auto industry in Detroit, jobs spread all over Michigan and Midwest.
But Detroit is much more than cars and factories. It is a cultural mecca.
In 1932-33, the painter Diego Rivera drew a 27-panel mural called “Detroit Industry.” It celebrates the great workers of Ford and is housed in the Detroit Institute for the Arts today. In 1959, high school dropout turned songwriter Berry Gordy Jr. created in Detroit Motown Records, the famous label that brought us Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and Smokey Robinson.
Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” is from Detroit and still lives there.
Then there is the city’s rich immigrant heritage, as people from Poland to Greece and Lebanon came to Detroit for a better life and a fair wage.
But great art and diversity couldn’t save the city from the bottom line of capitalism and the toxicity of racism. By the 1940s, auto industry jobs were already being outsourced. By the 1970s, auto companies started to demand givebacks from the unions, and today, a starting job in a Detroit car factory is no longer a ticket to the middle class.
Racism also helped topple Detroit. Black migration into the city in the early 20th century was met with fierce resistance from whites. Racial segregation was perpetuated, and today the city is more than 80 percent black while many of the suburban towns around Detroit are 90 percent white. In 2011, Detroit’s poverty rate was reported at 37.6 percent, more than twice the national poverty rate.
Median household income
According to the Census Bureau, median household income in Detroit in 2010 was just $28,357, about half of the U.S. median. The same year, every teacher in Detroit’s overburdened public school system received a layoff notice in an attempt to fix the broken educational system. Population in the city is down 25 percent since 2000.
Has Detroit suffered from mismanagement? Sure, but mostly Detroit has been ignored and allowed to die. Detroit-based writer, Airea “Dee” Matthews says some people are against helping the city rebound because they feel the city is full of expendables: black people and poor people. We must resist this callousness.
When the automakers, banks, and other financial institutions were down, we gave them our support. Now it is the people of Detroit who need our support.
Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by MCT Information Services.