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Coleman Young

Coleman A. Young
Coleman A. Young
66th Mayor of Detroit, Michigan
In office
January 1, 1974 – January 3, 1994
Preceded by Roman Gribbs
Succeeded by Dennis Archer
Member of the Michigan State Senate
In office
Personal details
Born (1918-05-24)May 24, 1918
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Died November 29, 1997(1997-11-29) (aged 79)
Detroit, Michigan
Resting place

Elmwood Cemetery

Detroit, Michigan
Political party Democratic
Profession Politician
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Service/branch Army Air Force
Years of service 1942–1946

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.

Although Young had emerged from the far left element in Detroit, he moved to the right after his election as mayor. He called an ideological truce and gained widespread support from the city's business leaders.[1][2] The new mayor was energetic in the construction of the Joe Louis Arena, and upgrading the city's mediocre mass transit system. Highly controversial was his assistance to General Motors to build its new "Poletown" plant at the site of the former Dodge Main plant, which involved evicting many long-time residents. It has been argued that he pulled money out of the neighborhood to rehabilitate the downtown business district, because "there were no other options."[3]

Young's tenure as mayor has been blamed in part for the city's ills, especially the exodus of middle class taxpayers to the suburbs, the emergence of powerful drug-dealing gangs, and the rising crime rate.[4] 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."[5]

In 1981, he received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[6]


  • Pre-Mayoral career 1
  • Five terms as Mayor 2
    • 1973 Campaign 2.1
    • Mayor 2.2
  • Personal life 3
  • Assessment 4
    • Corruption 4.1
    • Crime 4.2
    • Economic Conditions 4.3
    • Police Department 4.4
  • Quotes 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Further reading 7
    • Primary sources 7.1
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Pre-Mayoral career

Young was born in World War II Young served in the 477th Medium-Bomber Group (Tuskegee Airmen) of the United States Army Air Forces as a bombardier and navigator. As a lieutenant in the 477th, he played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in which 162 African-American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base near Seymour, Indiana in 1945.

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.[7] 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.[8]

In 1952, Young stunned observers when he appeared before the

Political offices
Preceded by
Roman Gribbs
Mayor of Detroit
Succeeded by
Dennis Archer
  • Harp, Andrea S. April 17, 2001. "Coleman A. Young: Social and Political Powerbroker". The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Wayne State University. (Accessed June 20, 2007)
  • Metro Times. December 3, 1997. "Coleman A. Young (1918–1997)" Recollection and remembrance on the longtime mayor. (Accessed June 20, 2007)
  • The Coleman A. Young Foundation. "Coleman A. Young". (Accessed June 20, 2007)

External links

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  2. ^ rich 1999, p. 139.
  3. ^ rich 1999, p. 185-6, 202.
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  7. ^ Rich 1999, pp. 70–72.
  8. ^ a b c d
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  10. ^ Alexander 2005, p. kindle locations 258–264.
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  12. ^ Alexander 2005, p. Kindle locations 264–268.
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  27. ^ Largest cities in the United States by population by decade
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  30. ^ Young 1994, p. 179.
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  32. ^ Alexander & 1994 Kindle Locations 222–225.
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  35. ^ Alexander 2005.
  36. ^ Alexander 2005, p. Kindle Locations 243–248.
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See also

  • 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) Publisher: Wayne State University Press; (2008)
  • Young, Coleman. Hard Stuff, autobiography; published by 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

Primary sources

  • 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 ed. 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

Further reading


On trying to enroll at [36] On mortality: “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.”[35] suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road."Superfly! And I don’t give a damn if they are black or white, or if they wear Eight Mile Road "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 [34] 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."[33]: "Aloha, Mother Fuckers!"Hawaii 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 Bible "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 [32]

Coleman Young was known for his blunt statements, frequently using profanity:


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.[31] However, arson, murder, and crime, in general, remain serious problems in Detroit.

Police Department

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, totally 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.[30]

Young himself explained the impact of the riots in his autobiography:

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.[29]

Detroit civil rights leader Arthur L. Johnson in his memoir, Race and Remembrance blames the racist policy of redlining by the banking and insurance industries for much of Detroit's problems. He cites a series of investigative articles in 1988 by the Detroit Free Press entitled "The Race for Money" which documented the discriminatory practices of the major banks in metropolitan Detroit. "The Free Press series showed that black Detroiters were much less likely to qualify for a home mortgage than suburban whites in the same income bracket... The unfair lending practices of the major banks also made it more difficult for blacks to secure business, home improvement and auto loans. In effect, banks were punishing blacks who wanted to make Detroit their home..."[28]

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.[26] 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.[27]

Economic Conditions

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.[25]

Though there were no civil disturbances as serious as the Detroit 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.


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.[21] 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.[22][23][24]



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."[20]

Young was a Prince Hall Freemason.[18] 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."[19]

Young was twice married and divorced. He has one son.[8] His son, Coleman A. Young II, is currently 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.

Personal life

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 & 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.[17]

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.

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.[16] 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.[8]

Young, 1981


The unit's operations were suspended in 1972 by order of the Mayor preceding Young, Roman Gribbs. In November 1973, Young narrowly defeated former Police Commissioner John F. Nichols, who was fired by Gribbs because he refused to resign while campaigning for Mayor. Nichols would later be elected as Oakland County Sheriff.

Young's 1973 Mayoral campaign addressed the role of the violence inflicted upon an increasingly black city—the black population in Detroit was slightly less than fifty percent in 1972—by a disproportionately white police department.[15] 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 residents and arresting hundreds more without cause during its two-and-a-half-year existence.[8]

1973 Campaign

Five terms as Mayor

Young built his political base on the East Side in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1960, he was elected as a delegate to help draft a new state constitution for Michigan. In 1964, he won election to the Michigan State Senate, where 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."[14]

According to historians Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Ronald Radosh, Coleman Young was "a secret CPUSA [Communist Party USA] member."[13]

[12] 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.”[11]

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