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Detroit


  • Originally published 08/20/2013

    $5 campaign aims to turn crumbling Model T assembly line into shrine

    Less than seven weeks from now, Oct. 7 will mark the 100th anniversary of the moving automobile assembly line at the historic Highland Park complex, where Henry Ford first paid workers $5 a day to build Model T cars.But as with far too much of metro Detroit’s automotive heritage, the Ford Highland Park property has sat largely dormant and ignored for decades, sorely in need of restoration and renovation so it can be properly celebrated as a shrine of American ingenuity.Today, the Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) is launching an online crowd funding campaign, dubbed Five Dollars a Day, hoping to raise the final $125,000 needed to buy two historic structures on the site, the four-story Administration Building which fronts Woodward, and an adjacent 8,000-square-foot executive garage....

  • Originally published 08/09/2013

    Nathaniel Popkin looks back at Tom Sugrue's "Origins of the Urban Crisis"

    Nathaniel Popkin is the author of Song of the City: An Intimate History of the American Urban Landscape.Perhaps no book has better clarified the story of 20th century urban decline than the 1996 Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton Press) by Penn historian Tom Sugrue. That book, which won the Bancroft Prize in 1998 and cemented Sugrue’s place among the top urban historians, illuminated the ways in which racism, federal policy, and corporate disinvestment combined to send Detroit—and dozens of other industrial cities—into freefall. Sugrue, who grew up in Detroit and lives in Mount Airy, is a careful observer of both his cities.

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    NPR Podcast: Historian Kevin Boyle On The Dangers Of Seeing Detroit As A Metaphor

    "On The Media," National Public Radio's weekly show, took on the way journalists and other commentators have used Detroit's bankruptcy to draw a larger picture of what is wrong with the country -- often with an ideological bent that suits their own purposes.  "Pundits and pontificators have seized on the moment to lay blame on their favorite targets and reductively declare that what ails Detroit is a microcosm of what ails America," said co-host Bob Garfield, who interviewed Northwestern University history professor Kevin Boyle on the most recent show.Boyle, who grew up on Detroit's East Side and attended the University of Detroit and received his master's degree and Ph.D from the University of Michigan, is the author of "Arc of Justice," the award-winning 2004 book about the Ossian Sweet case and Detroit in the 1920s, when, as he wrote, Detroit experienced explosive growth and the whole city seemed to function as one, huge, automobile-producing machine....

  • Originally published 08/05/2013

    GM had version of OnStar in 1966

    It has been nearly two decades since General Motors introduced OnStar. Since then, it has served as electronic emergency nurse, computerized auto theft detective and binary butler for millions of motorists. Sure, it’s had its problems – as when G.M. decided to make the switch to digital in 2008 and told all the analog customers their equipment would no longer work. But for the most part, it has been a functional system. It must be; OnStar has already cycled through nearly a dozen hardware and software updates over the years.But the idea isn’t even 20 years new. Bet you thought it was, but it isn’t. It existed, floating in the ether, somewhere between press release and reality, for at least 30 years before G.M. released OnStar for real in 1996. According to an old press release from 1966, it was called Driver Aid, Information and Routing system, and was promoted by G.M. as a revolutionary concert of existing technology....

  • Originally published 07/30/2013

    Detroit-area plant where Rosie the Riveter worked facing demolition

    YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, MICH.—The Detroit-area factory where Rosie the Riveter showed that a woman could do a “man’s work” by building Second World War-era bombers, making her an enduring symbol of American female empowerment, will be demolished if money can’t be found to save it.The Willow Run Bomber Plant, a 135-hectare former Ford Motor Co. factory west of Detroit that churned out nearly 9,000 B-24 Liberator bombers during the Second World War, is slated to be torn down unless a group can raise $3.5 million by Thursday to convert at least some of the structure into a new, expanded home for the nearby Yankee Air Museum.“The younger generation needs to know what people went through and be able to go and see what they did and how they did it for our country,” Larry Doe, a 70-year-old Ypsilanti Township resident who has given to the cause, said recently before joining other donors for a trip on a B-17....

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Detroit files bankruptcy (2013), Michigan defaults (1842)

    The massive bankruptcy of Detroit last week could put bondholders in jeopardy of not getting all their money back.It isn’t the first time that the holders of bonds issued in Michigan have had problems: Something similar happened 170 years ago.In the aftermath of the real-estate bubble of the mid-1830s and the bust that followed, Michigan became one of nine states to repudiate at least part of their debts....

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Tom Sugrue, Kevin Boyle, and Daniel Okrent on the Decline and Fall of Their Hometown, Detroit

    In 1945, Detroit was the American Dream.During World War II, the Detroit region was the center of American wartime production. The Willow Run factory near Ypsilanti, a few miles outside of Detroit proper, produced nearly half of the some 18,500 B-24 Liberator bombers built during the war. Ninety-one percent of all G.I. helmets were produced in Detroit. The city was home to the nation's first tank plant; a quarter of the nearly 90,000 tanks produced by the United States during the war were built in Detroit.That was the Detroit Tom Sugrue's parents and grandparents knew. But it was a city largely built on quicksand, reliant on the postwar auto industry for continued growth and which dealt with the large wartime influx of African American workers with discriminatory housing policies and at times brutal violence.The good times wouldn't last.

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Auto troubles, race at root of Detroit collapse

    Blue-collar workers poured into the cavernous auto plants of Detroit for generations, confident that a sturdy back and strong work ethic would bring them a house, a car and economic security. It was a place where the American dream came true.It came true in cities across the industrial heartland, from Chicago's meatpacking plants to the fire-belching steel mills of Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It came true for decades, as manufacturing brought prosperity to big cities in states around the Great Lakes and those who called them home. Detroit was the affluent capital, a city with its own emblematic musical sound and a storied union movement that drew Democratic presidential candidates to Cadillac Square every four years to kick off campaigns at Labor Day rallies.The good times would not last forever. As the nation's economy began to shift from the business of making things, that line of work met the force of foreign competition. Good-paying assembly line jobs dried up as factories that made the cars and supplied the steel closed their doors. The survivors of the decline, especially whites, fled the cities to pursue new dreams in the suburbs....

  • Originally published 07/21/2013

    Toronto Globe & Mail interviews Tom Sugrue on Detroit

    Once the dynamic heart of automotive America, the city of Detroit took the humbling step of filing for bankruptcy on Thursday – the largest U.S. municipality ever to do so. On Friday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder defended his decision to authorize the bankruptcy filing....The Globe’s Joanna Slater spoke with Thomas Sugrue, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, an award-winning social history of the once-proud city, about its long decline....What are the most important factors that contributed to Detroit’s current mess?

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    African-American history books were tossed by mistake, official says

    The emergency manager appointed to oversee the Highland Park School District’s finances denied Tuesday that a large collection of black history books, tapes, film strips and other materials were deliberately discarded into Dumpsters last week from the district’s high school library.Emergency manager Donald Weatherspoon, said workers on the second floor of the library mistakenly threw them out. He said the district was able to recover them in time.It’s unclear, though, how much was really recovered. Residents said they found about 1,000 pieces of material on their own Thursday evening....

  • Originally published 05/01/2013

    Detroit wall dividing whites and blacks in 1940s remains, spurs art, jobs and object lessons

    DETROIT — When Eva Nelson-McClendon first moved to Detroit’s Birwood Street in 1959, she didn’t know much about the wall across the street. At 6 feet tall and a foot thick, it wasn’t so imposing, running as it did between houses on her street and one over. Then she started to hear the talk.Neighbors told her the wall was built two decades earlier with a simple aim: to separate homes planned for middle-class whites from blacks who had already built small houses or owned land with plans to build.“That was the division line,” Nelson-McClendon, now, 79, says from the kitchen of her tidy, one-story home on the city’s northwest side. “Blacks lived on this side, whites was living on the other side. ... That was the way it was.”That’s not the way it is anymore. But the wall remains, a physical embodiment of racial attitudes that the country long ago started trying to move beyond....

  • Originally published 02/15/2013

    Nazi graffiti prompts look at Detroit plant

    "Arbeit macht frei" means "labor makes one free" in German. These words became a symbol of Jewish oppression under the Third Reich, as the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz bore this legend. In February, this slogan appeared in graffiti across the walkway of Detroit's derelict Packard plant on East Grand. It ignited a firestorm of debate. Jewish groups and Holocaust survivor collectives pushed for its removal, saying it was an offensive, ugly reminder of past suffering, reports the Detroit Free Press. Packard has a long history of notoriety in Detroit.The walkway where the sign appeared connects two sides of what was Packard's 35-acre industrial complex. The plant opened in 1903 and became the luxury auto leader in the '20s, outselling Cadillac and all competitors combined, says a Detroit Free Press special report....

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