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Coleman A. Young

Coleman A. Young, Detroit, 1981

In office
January 1974 – December 1993
Preceded by Roman Gribbs
Succeeded by Dennis Archer

Born May 24, 1918 (1918-05-24)
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Died November 29, 1997 (1997-11-30)
Detroit, Michigan
Political party Democratic

Coleman Alexander Young (May 24, 1918 – November 29, 1997) served as mayor of Detroit in the U.S. state of Michigan from 1974 to 1993. Young was Detroit's first black mayor.


Pre-Mayoral career

Young was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Coleman Young, a dry cleaner, and Ida Reese Jones. His family moved to Detroit in 1923, where he graduated from Eastern High School. He worked for Ford Motor Company, which soon blacklisted him for involvement in labor and civil rights activism. He later worked for the United States Postal Service, where with his brother George started the Postal Workers union. George later went on to become Postmaster for this same facility, which handles over ten million pieces of mail each year. During the second World War, 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.

Young's involvement in progressive and dissident organizations including the Progressive Party, the AFL-CIO, and the National Negro Labor Council made him powerful enemies, including the FBI and HUAC, where he refused to testify. He protested segregation in the Army and racial discrimination in the UAW. In 1948 Young supported Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, which he later viewed as a major mistake.

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.

Five terms as Mayor

Young's 1973 Mayoral campaign addressed the role of the violence inflicted upon a predominantly black city by a disproportionately white police department. Young pledged the elimination of one particularly troubled police unit, STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets.) This one police unit had killed eight black citizens in its first four months of operation. In November 1973, Young narrowly defeated Police Commissioner John F. Nichols (who would later serve as Oakland County Sheriff) to become Detroit's first black mayor. Young promptly disbanded the STRESS unit, integrated the police department and increased patrols in high crime neighborhoods utilizing a community policing approach.[1] Young's effect on integrating the Detroit Police Department was successful with the percentage of black police officers rising from 19% in the early 1970s[2] to 63% by 2000.[3] Young, however, had little effect on stopping police brutality in the long run as the Detroit Police Department has gained notoriety for the alleged reckless use of deadly force.[4]

Young won re-election by very wide margins in November 1977, November 1981, November 1985 and November 1989, for a total of 20 years as mayor.

Young's administration was controversial, and he found himself the subject of continued FBI scrutiny amid allegations of contract kickbacks. He was criticized for his confrontational style toward suburban interests and the apparent diversion of city resources to downtown Detroit from other neighborhoods. Young was generally popular with the inhabitants of the city proper, while generally disliked by those of the suburbs because of his outrageous remarks that insinuated he did not like white people.

Young was a tireless advocate for federal funding for Detroit construction projects, and his administration saw the completion of the Renaissance Center, Detroit People Mover, Joe Louis Arena, and several other Detroit landmarks. He also negotiated with General Motors to build its new "Poletown" plant at the site of the former Dodge Main plant. This was very controversial, as the new plant was larger than the old one and the deal involved many evictions via eminent domain. During Young's last two administration's there was increasing opposition among neighborhood activists to these large ticket projects. This opposition typically manifested itself in rigorous budget debate rather than in serious electoral challenges against Young. During this period City Council President Maryann Mahaffey became an outspoken advocate for neighborhood development with the involvement and leadership of community based organizations. Most of the time Young prevailed over this opposition.[5]

Personal life

Young fathered a child, whose mother, Annivory Calvert, gave him the alias, Joel Loving, at birth, for security reasons. Young set up a private Roman Catholic Baptismal Ceremony when his son was 2 months and gave the child his name on sequestered Roman Catholic Baptismal records. Young went to court when his son was age 13 and had his birth certificate changed to match the baptismal record.

His son, Coleman A. Young II, is currently a State Representative in Michigan's 4th State Representative district; the same district where Young lived as Mayor and served as State Senator. Though he first publicly denied the child as his, he later admitted the paternity, after DNA tests linked Young to him following a paternity lawsuit filed by Calvert.

Young died from emphysema in 1997, for he was known to have been a very heavy smoker. Upon learning of Young's death former President Jimmy Carter called Young "one of the greatest mayors our country has known." [6]


 Young himself expressed his belief the reform of the Police Department as one of his greatest accomplishments.  He implemented effective affirmative action programs that lead to successful integration, created a network of Neighborhood City Halls and Police Mini Stations.  Young used the relationship established by community policing to mobilize massive civilian patrols to address the 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 virtually stopping all seasonal arson.[7] 

Young offended some white people, with his brashness, comments on race, self-assurance and intentionally provocative comments. Rumors and accusations of corruption and incompetence dogged his administration, and ultimately contributed to a lack of political support as well as a reluctance on the part of businesses to relocate inside of the City of Detroit. His combative nature fueled the deep divide that separated the City of Detroit from the suburbs, and contributed to the opposing governments of suburbs such as Dearborn (under Orville L. Hubbard).

Detroit faced a white flight to the suburbs that began in the 1950s and accelerated after the 1967 Detroit race riots and the subsequent affirmative action policies of the Coleman mayoral administration. It was common for Young's opponents to blame him for these developments, but it is speculated that other factors such as white resistance to court ordered desegregation, deteriorating housing stock as well as aging industrial plants and a declining automotive industry leading to a loss of economic opportunities inside the city contributed to the phenomenon. By the end of Young's term in office Detroit had a population of just under 1,000,000 from a pre-war high of over 2,000,000.[8]

Young has been widely credited with keeping well organized street gangs out of Detroit, thus postponing the introduction of crack cocaine into the city of Detroit for several years. Crime rates in Detroit peaked under Mayor Young at more than 2,700 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 1994.[9]

Economic conditions in Detroit generally trended towards the neutral over the sum of Mayor Young's political tenure, with the unemployment rate trending from approximately 9% in 1971 to approximately 11% in 1993, when Mayor Young retired. However, most economic metrics (unemployment, median income rates, and city gross domestic product) initially dropped precipitously under Young, reaching their "low points" in the late 80's and/or early 90's, with the unemployment rate in particular peaking at approximately 20% in 1982.[9]


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

"I'm smiling all the time. That doesn't mean a goddamned thing except I think people who go around solemn-faced and quoting the Bible 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 Hawaii: "Aloha, Motherfuckers!"[10]
"Racism is like high blood pressure—the person who has it doesn’t know he has it until he drops over with a goddamned 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 Eight Mile Road! And I don’t give a damn if they are black or white, or if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road."[11]
"You can't look forward and backward at the same time."
"We need to dream big dreams, propose grandiose means if we are to recapture the excitement, the vibrancy, and pride we once had."
"We don't need no Goddamn Greenpeace!" (In response to activists suspended from the smoke stacks of a new incinerator that was about to be put into operation.)
"There is no brilliant single stroke that is going to transform the water into wine or straw into gold."
"I've learned over a period of years there are setbacks when you come up against the immovable object; sometimes the object doesn't move."

Death and Legacy

See also


  1. ^ , Time Magazine, January 14, 1974 New Men for Detroit and Atlanta
  2. ^ "Do Whites Have Rights": White Detroit Policemen and "Reverse Discrimination" Protest in the 1970s
  3. ^ Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics, 2000: Data for Individual State and Local Agencies with 100 or More Officers
  4. ^ Fieger flirts with mayoral bid.
  5. ^ The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 594, No. 1, 125-142 (2004)Race and Representation in Detroit’s Community Development Coalitions
  6. ^ Michigan Daily, December 1, 1997.Coleman Young Dead at 79, Detroit Mourns Loss of a Pioneer.
  7. ^ The New York Times, February 19, 2008 Civic Angels Curb Detroit 'Devil's Night' Fires
  8. ^ Time, October 27, 1961 Decline in Detroit
  9. ^ a b Wayne University Center for Urban Studies, October 2005
  10. ^ Desiree Cooper (1997-12-03). "Rapper deifies cusser". Retrieved 2008-02-28. "And when addressing a party of Detroit journalists (for whom he held a healthy contempt) via closed-circuit television from Hawaii, Young opened his remarks with a robust: "Aloha, motherfuckers."" 
  11. ^ McGraw, Bill et al. (1991). The Quotations Of Mayor Coleman A. Young. Wayne State University Press.
  12. ^ Coleman A. Young memorial at Find a Grave.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Roman Gribbs
Mayor of Detroit
Succeeded by
Dennis Archer


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