Keith Richburg has written a masterful reflection on the way in which Detroit’s downfall was set in motion at the very height of its glory days. Here’s a snippet of the piece, which ought to be read by all the people who’ve spent the past few days expressing their ill-informed opinions that welfare, unions, Obama, the Democrats, government bailouts, or the city’s black residents themselves are the root cause of Detroit’s insolvency:
Writers often speak of Detroit’s “glory days” as the 1940s and ’50s, when the city came to symbolize America’s manufacturing prowess and Detroit’s population peaked at nearly 2 million people, making it the fourth-largest city in the United States behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But it was also a deeply divided city, with Southern white and Southern black transplants in an uneasy, combustible mix.
There were race riots in the ’40s, when whites didn’t want to work on assembly lines next to blacks. And new black residents were “redlined” into certain neighborhoods. The police force was all white and like an occupying army in black neighborhoods. My father would always point out to me the restaurants along Grand River Avenue or Woodward that would not serve blacks when he arrived in the city.
Of course the city did explode, in riots in 1967, and that was when Detroit’s downfall — its current path to insolvency — was set in agonizing slow motion. The white families in my neighborhood, my friends, all fled to the safety of the suburbs. My street, and my neighborhood, went from mixed to all black in an instant. Many of the black newcomers who came couldn’t get mortgages, so most ended up as renters, not homeowners.
Detroit was not a living city when I was born there in the 1970s; for those with means, it was a place to visit for a specific purpose: a hockey or baseball game, a dinner at a favorite Greektown restaurant, or the Detroit Jazz Festival. You went to Detroit and then you left; you didn’t drive around, you didn’t see the sights, and you didn’t linger after you saw the game, ate the meal, or listened to the music.
Go read Richburg’s whole excellent piece — “Detroit’s demise was decades in the making" — over at the Washington Post.