Little Known Black History Fact: Coleman Young

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  • Coleman Young was the first black mayor of Detroit. Young served the city of Detroit for 20 years. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native was born in 1918, moving to Detroit’s Black Bottom ghetto in the 1920’s. He served as a Tuskegee Airman in WWII before becoming an activist with the United Auto Workers. Active in politics, Young was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1964. Ten years later, his inauguration ceremony was held as Detroit’s first black mayor.

    When Young was elected, the city was already in financial ruin with a high crime rate and bad home ownership rates. Detroit had also overcome a string of race riots in 1967. According to Young, 1.6 million whites lived in Detroit at the end of World War II and that only 200,000 were left by 1990. He inherited an abrasive police system where tactics were used like the decoy police unit that had killed 22 black residents and arrested hundreds without just cause.

    It was Young’s mission to bridge a gap between the Detroit economy and business development in the downtown and surrounding areas. He is credited for helping Detroit stay financially afloat in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He was responsible for the 73-story Renaissance Center overlooking the Detroit River to help boost the economy. He tapped 50 corporate investors (including Ford Motor Company) to build the $350 million dollar complex. Among his continued efforts was a five-year economic plan, which was unsupported by the Republican Administration under President Gerald Ford.

    Young served as the Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1977 to 1981 and the chairman of the Democratic Convention Platform Committee in 1980. He was a huge supporter of the Carter administration.

    In 1991, Young penned “The Quotations of Mayor A. Coleman Young,” then his autobiography ”Hard Stuff” in 1994.

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