Detroit De´troit Motown
When we moved to and lived in Detroit during the late 60s, early 70s, the population was over 1 and 1/2 million. That’s a lot of people. Not as much as its heyday in the 1950s when it reached almost 2 million, but still. Today it sits at a little over 500,000 people.
Yesterday it was announced that the city had declared bankruptcy. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think it’s good.
A few weeks ago I watched the documentary “Detroitopia.” I thought that meant hope, that the rumors of a city reborn and saved were going to come true. That those who knew that a city could have vibrancy in its bones again, that it could be reborn, that the Fox Theatre would once again sport long-white limousines out front—that those people could be wrong was as bogus as “selling Wolf Tickets at Circus Park.” The documentary wasn’t what I thought it would be.
Detroit was the city that belonged to Bob Talbert and music and Fast-Fannie’s-Fried Chicken. The Detroit Free Press. The city hummed and jumped. But the real city came to life underground and well after midnight. It was on BST (Black Standard Time). Three o’clock in the morning you went to a Blues Joint and drank and smoked and ate. Watts Club Mozambique. Jazz. Billie and Diana. The Mad Hatter. There were pig roasts in alleys and turnip greens sold on street corners. The best food in the country was found in shrimp and chicken shacks—breaded fried snails in paper bags with hot sauce—in neighborhoods where kids still played in the streets and people sat outside in their driveways drinking beer, blasting music, shouting across the lawn at their neighbors. We went to Hamtramck to watch the fights between old men falling off porches and landing in bushes.
In 1974 Coleman Young made history by becoming the first African-American Mayor of the city. (He would again make history by being elected a record five times.)
During the day and early evenings we registered blacks to vote, walked in on Black Panthers, and had cops point guns at our heads in the parking lot of a McDonald’s. It was good and we didn’t know it was good. When you live in a time you don’t know it can go away.
By the 1980s it was clear that something was happening. The wind began to change direction and the scent it carried was strange, unidentifiable. People and businesses started moving “out.” Downtown the big department stores that were left began closing. Our office moved from the top floor of an 18-story bank building downtown to Troy, Michigan. The new building was long and flat and had two stories.