Detroit . . . the Paris of America!

    – National sentiment (circa 1907)

    You wanted him [Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick], Detroit, you got him … this guy is Coleman Young times 10. Detroit will never change. Ever.

    – JohnSB,, Aug 29, 2007

In today’s column, I’m going to take a diversion from my usual offerings of national and international concern to visit my birthplace, Detroit, Mich., where I currently reside in a neighboring suburb.

In case you haven’t heard, “America’s first hip-hop mayor” Kwame Kilpatrick, is currently embroiled in a very embarrassing public court proceeding that took more than four years to come to trial. The mayor is being sued by former bodyguard Harold Nelthrope and former Deputy Police Chief and Head of Internal Affairs Gary Brown for retaliation, loss of career and other charges under a whistle blowers statute.

Although the case just began Aug. 27, there is already much skullduggery and salacious charges of a wild party at the mayor’s [‘Manoogian’] mansion (a “party” that even Republican Attorney General Mike Cox said never happened).

  • Shortly thereafter two exotic dancers who were at that “party” ended up murdered (one tracked down and killed in Atlanta, Ga.), the other dancer, Tamara Green, (a.k.a. “Strawberry”) a college student and a working mother of three children, was beaten half to death by the mayor’s wife at “the party.” Medical records of this incident were mysteriously taken from the hospital. Shortly thereafter she was killed April 30, 2003 in a drive-by shooting in front of her home at Roselawn and Outer Dr. (literally around the block from where I grew up!)

  • The mayor’s chief of staff and concubine, Christine Beatty, accused of unlawfully firing Deputy Police Chief Oliver, justifies her actions due to a mysterious, “unsigned note” she received that led her to advise the mayor to fire Officer Brown just as he was uncovering embarrassing allegations about the mayor’s numerous dalliances, infamies, etc. Under oath, Mayor Kilpatrick testified that Deputy Police Chief Brown “didn’t follow the chain of command.”

On a positive note I had a moment of nostalgia. I remembered a Detroit of a long bygone era that I would now like to recite to you dear reader in quasi-poetical verse titled – “I Remember Detroit”:

  • I remember 20 years ago talking to a little old white lady at the bus stop and she telling me in vivid, exquisite detail how she remembered Detroit prior to 1910, during an era when Detroit was called, “The Paris of America,” so gorgeous was this French-named city that sat so regally on the banks of the Detroit River.

  • I remember 57 years ago in 1950 my mother telling me how as a young woman from the deep south (Arkansas) that as soon as she and her sister graduated from high school, that they headed for “the promised land” of Detroit in hopes of securing a brighter future for their lives. (Then, Detroit had about 2 million people; now, in 2007, about 850,000).

  • I remember reading of a time over 65 years ago as Hitler’s Nazi menace was spreading across Europe in blitzkrieg, like a plague from hell – Poland and France had fallen and Great Britain stood at the brink. In desperation President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called upon the Big 3 – GM, Ford and Chrysler to retool, to essentially become our “wartime Consigliere” to borrow a phase from the movie, “Godfather II”, and stem the tide of Hitler’s genocidal madness. Detroit heroically answered that fateful call and our great city was affectionately christened, “The arsenal of democracy.”

  • I remember 40 years ago when I was 5 during the hot, hot summer of 1967 and the infamous riot in that fateful month of July – chaos reigned in the streets; everything was on fire, looters running wild, soldiers marching down the streets with assault rifles in full riot gear, snipers on the rooftops of our local high school (Southeastern). “Mother, what’s a ‘sniper’?” “Boy, shut up and stop asking me so many questions?” as she sat glued to the TV set watching the daily news coverage of our once beautiful city – that “Paris of America” now in flames and descending precipitously into mayhem, destruction and death. I didn’t know it then but a measure of my own childhood innocence went up in flames that day … a measure of innocence I have desperately tried in vain to recover these 40 years later.

  • I remember after the riots of 1967 that a phenomenon sociologist called “white flight” occurred. Not only did white folks go in droves out of Detroit, but their businesses … gone, their tax dollars … gone, their expertise … gone, their wisdom on how to keep Detroit “the Paris of America” … ALL GONE!

  • I remember 34 years ago in 1973 when Detroit got its first black mayor – the irascible Coleman A. Young. He was big, bold, proud and loud. Mayor Young threw down the gauntlet – he gave white folks the middle finger, told them to get the hell out of town, and put his cronies in positions of power they weren’t trained for turning the “Paris of America” into his personal ATM bank card. (Regrettably, he wouldn’t be the last black mayor to do this treachery against his own people).

  • I remember watching Fox News on July 30 and hearing former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich eloquently, but grimly citing recent educational statistics that chronicled only 22 percent of entering high school freshman actually graduate from the Detroit Public Schools [DPS]. “And if you’re an African-American male, you have 73 percent unemployment in your 20s if you drop out of school and a 60 percent chance of going to jail,” Gingrich said. These statistics affected me on personal level for I too attended DPS. I even graduated from the same magnet high school attended by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Chief of Staff Christine Beatty (Cass Tech).

  • I remember one good leader, Mayor Dennis Archer, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Although a liberal Democrat, he is a black man of great intelligence, affable character and competent leadership. He gave a yeoman’s effort during his two terms in office to right the ship of Detroit that Mayor Young so cavalierly scuttled, but alas, there was no buffer to compete with the 88+ percent black population making Detroit the most singular racial big city in America to this day.

“Ellis, what do you mean by ‘buffer’?” What I mean dear reader in conclusion is that in order for a city to become great it must first become good. You cannot have too many negative elements (whether that be people, cultural habits, societal predilections, welfare recipients, non-taxpayers, unchecked pathology, or youth caught up in the three Ps: Parole – Probation – Prison), without countervailing forces of positive elements (honest people, taxpayers, enlightened leadership, strong churches, effective schools, dynamic businesses, public punishment of lawbreakers and most important, a moral, intelligent, politically diverse citizenry [not just liberal Democrats]).

If the negative elements outweigh the positive elements, to the degree that it does will be the degree that city descends into the abyss of pathology, promiscuity, ignorance and crime. In other words, a first-class city needs good people to shame the bad people for their bad acts. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but nature is inevitable.

Until Detroit makes her transition from praising pathology, promiscuity, ignorance, crime and reelecting “gangsta” leadership, I prefer to remember a Detroit of a bygone era where the best of all races even in the midst of de jure and de facto, Jim Crow racial discrimination, had “a say” in keeping the Detroit the Paris of America. How? By making themselves the Paris of themselves.

I remember Detroit …

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