Coleman Alexander Young
(May 24, 1918 – November 29, 1997) served as
mayor of Detroit in the
U.S. state of Michigan from 1974 to
Young was Detroit's first black mayor.
born in Tuscaloosa,
Alabama to Coleman Young, a dry cleaner, and Ida Reese
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
activism. He later worked for the United States Postal Service
During the second World War
served in the 477th Medium-Bomber
(Tuskegee Airmen) of the United States Army Air Forces
as a bombardier
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.
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
in the UAW
. In 1948 Young supported Progressive
candidate Henry A. Wallace
, which he later viewed as a major
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
Young promptly disbanded the STRESS unit, integrated
the police department and increased patrols in high crime
neighborhoods utilizing a community
approach. Young's effect on integrating the Detroit Police Department
successful with the percentage of black police officers rising from
19% in the early 1970s to 63% by 2000. 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.
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
. 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.
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.
also negotiated with General
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
. During Young's last two administration's there was
increasing opposition among neighborhood activists to these large
ticket projects. This opposition typically manifest 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.
Young fathered a child (Joel Loving, who has recently taken the
name Coleman Young himself) with Annivory Calvert
. 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
Young found himself the subject of continued FBI scrutiny amid
allegations of contract kickbacks.
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
called Young "one of the greatest mayors our country has
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
Young often offended 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
Detroit faced a white flight to the suburbs that began in the 1950s
and accelerated after the 1967 Detroit race riots and the
subsequent racial preference 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.
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.
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.
Coleman Young was known for his blunt statements, frequently using
- "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
- Coleman Young to Detroit journalists via
closed-circuit television from Hawaii: "Aloha,
- "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
- "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."
- "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
- "We don't need no Goddamn Greenpeace!" (In response to
activists suspended from the smoke stacks 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
Death and Legacy
- , Time Magazine, January 14, 1974 New Men for Detroit and Atlanta
- "Do Whites Have Rights": White Detroit Policemen
and "Reverse Discrimination" Protest in the 1970s
- Law Enforcement Management and Administrative
Statistics, 2000: Data for Individual State and Local Agencies with
100 or More Officers
- Fieger flirts with mayoral bid.
- 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
- Michigan Daily, December 1, 1997. Coleman Young Dead at 79, Detroit Mourns Loss
of a Pioneer.
- The New York Times, February 19, 2008 Civic Angels Curb Detroit 'Devil's Night'
- Time, October 27, 1961 Decline in Detroit
- Wayne University Center for Urban Studies, October 2005
- Wayne University Center for Urban Studies, October 2005
- McGraw, Bill et al. (1991). The Quotations Of Mayor Coleman A.
Young. Wayne State University Press.
- Coleman A. Young memorial at Find a Grave.