Black People In Detroit Are Losing Their Industry, Too

Diego Rivera Detroit Mural/Ashley Street/Wikimedia/CC-2.0


Detroit was once a booming city that attracted Blacks who migrated from the South during the Great Migration. The promise of jobs and less racial tension brought waves of Blacks to what some would describe as “the land of milk and honey.”

Detroit is known as the automotive city. Automotive companies were based in the city and created a booming industry for most of the 1900s. The Big Three automotive manufacturers – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – employed a significant number of the Detroit population.

Though Detroit was mostly white, and mostly white people lived in the suburbs, the black-middle class was burgeoning thanks to the booming auto industry. Detroit used to boast the nation’s most affluent Black population and the largest percentage of Black homeowners.

The auto industry began to falter, and that shift greatly affected the black middle class. Many people were laid off or took payouts. The high foreclosure rate, early retirement and lost jobs lead to the decline of Detroit, now known as a dying city.

Race riots and closing small businesses hurt Detroit’s economy as well. The social climate and discrimination in housing kept some Blacks from achieving dreams of living in the suburbs. Drugs and violence soon overran the city.

White people moved out of Detroit en masse during the riots, while Blacks were left to deal with the fallout. In the 1990s, there was renewed optimism with the election of Coleman Young, the city’s first black mayor. However, the optimism didn’t last long. Soon, Blacks moved out of Detroit to neighboring cities and townships.

Currently the unemployment rate is touching 30 percent. As The Big Three dodges bankruptcy, Detroit is a shell of its former self. As the coal industry disappears, and we talk about how it affects those living in coal country, what about how the decline of the auto industry affects those living in Detroit, particularly Black people?

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