Guest Column: Detroit Breakdown

Notes from some East Side kids back in the day (orignally posted 6/6/11)
by Rose Wright


Editor’s Preface: Detroit is in the commentary sphere lately with one Frosty Wooldridge, a former resident of the Motor City, opening up with a fairly one-sided lament. You can read the October 2009 piece here, and the introductory sentence gives you the flavor:

For 15 years, from the mid 1970s to 1990, I worked in Detroit, Michigan. I watched it descend into the abyss of crime, debauchery, gun play, drugs, school truancy, car-jacking, gangs and human depravity.

Frosty’s article has a long life, and showed up in my inbox with a comment from my favorite ‘anti-liberal’ Ukrainian forwarder of horror file items a couple of days ago. Here’s what Ron, also a former Detroit resident, had to say:

Yep!

I saw it too, except that it started in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I saw the Mack Avenue, St. Jean area of Detroit’s East Side begin the fall when the welfare people began moving into the neighborhood. In a heartbeat, homes that had been kept up with neat lawns and livable dwellings went into decline. These former homes of DPs, retirees, and auto workers were trashed and the lawns became unkept, bare dirt while the crime rate soared. On the street newspaper displays went into locked boxes and telephone booths had to have shielded cables to the receivers, not to mention the gangs in the hallways of Foch Junior High School between classes. I knew newspaper delivery boys, some of them at knife-point, who were robbed of their collections on the streets when I was a carrier for the Detroit News. My bicycle was stolen from in front of the corner soda shop at Mack Avenue and Beniteau while I was inside having a Coke. Thank you LBJ and the Great Society for another gift of the Democrats and liberal Republicans.

This guy came in in the middle of the decline.

Ron

Then I responded with my own observations [1] and forwarded the response to a lady friend, Rose, who as an immigrant to Detroit from Germany following World War 2, would share some of the same experiences of the city and its demise. These are Rose’s comments:

Yes!

Indeed I remember Ron amidst the wave of ‘new blood’ that came from Macomb County Taxpayers… which we/LPM joined in SUCCESSFULLY recalling TWO state senators, pinch me! Wonderful times…

I was raised in Detroit’s inner-city in the 50s, back then a richly ethnic Italian/Polish/ German neighborhood of high-work-ethic hard-working  people with great values.

I remember Detroit’s Golden Years- its crowded downtown streets, working in its fabulous soaring buildings back when it seemed an exciting place to live, a ‘glam’ city — touting both the nation’s first expressway (the John C Lodge, and also first enclosed ‘mall’ in the entire country — Northland.

I was thrilled when relatives took me to see the new Metro airport. I even remember the (ding-ding!) street cars and my sadness when they became defunct.

We attended our local Catholic elementary school, then downtown’s Cass Tech High (where straight A’s were still required to get in, then Wayne State, etc. We never worried about crime or our safety until the late 60s, where one night Therese and her boyfriend were assaulted/robbed/(boyfriend repeatedly SHOT) by a large gang of blacks right in front of our house after returning from a date. Horrible night that introduced fear into my life for the first time. We walked one mile to catch the bus to school and work, a mile of solid ‘jungle’…. Detroit’s gangs started on the East side, apparently right in our neighborhood.

Though its slow decline began soon after the 1964 Civil Rights Act which sparked years-long urban riots across the nation—including the 1967 Detroit riots, 1972 is the year all old native Detroiters forever associate with the ultimate destruction of our city.  In that year, Coleman A Young, its four-term rabidly racist mayor, took office, hellbent on chasing all remnants of white oppression out of the city across the 8-Mile dividing line.

By the way, I wasn’t just an immigrant; I was a Displaced Person (DP), one of 300,000+ from Europe who lost their homes/businesses/bank accounts all material possessions during the war and eventually allowed into America by  a special Act of Congress in the early 50s…. all of whom quickly assimilated, learned English fast, became solid Americans looking to GIVE and not take.

My parents arrived here with five kids and an old sewing  machine; they felt grateful for everything and entitled to nothing. We DPs came strictly for opportunity—not handouts (indeed, there were no handouts at that time anyway, certainly not for DPs .. private Catholic/Lutheran charities helped the needy but not many of us even took charity.  Only the hardiest pioneers dared come here to start from absolute nothing; we relied purely on ourselves.

I’m proud to have been from strong industrious self-sufficent big-hearted parents, endlessly generous to the yet ‘less-fortunate’ (though imagining anyone less fortunate than we SunFLOWerwere was a real stretch 🙂 We refugees were the true ‘huddled masses’ welcomed here by the Beautiful Lady in the Harbor…. she will always symbolize America for me (ah, where’s my hanky?  I really love that gal)

Hi Ron!

Say hi to anyone who might still remember me
🙂 Rose
(original Metro Detroit LP Supper Club Chair)


[1] Brian to Ron

I didn’t arrive in Detroit area [St. Clair Shores, initially] until 1969 after the greater part of the destruction had occurred. Recommend Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she maintains the cities did not die, “they were murdered (though she would say not by conscious intent) by the city planners.”

I agree with Jacobs that the cities like Detroit were killed by centralized-government forces, but I believe now that those forces work in obedience to a far more intentional program driven by the <central controlling entity> centered in the ‘money power,’ i.e. the Western Oligarchy. Which gains because poor and disadvantaged people are much easier to control.


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