From the 1940s to the 1960s, there was the rapid growth of over 200 community associations that were mandatory for homebuyers, but which, as you might expect, banned people of color. The NAACP reported that 80 percent of Detroit property “outside of downtown is subject to racial pacts,” which white residents enforced through these associations. In 1945, after a black middle-class couple bought a house in one of these all-white neighborhoods, their white neighbors “took legal action to uphold the racial pact.” The Wayne County Circuit Court has ruled that the couple, Orsel and Minnie McGhee, are pact-banned from owning property in the neighborhood. (“However,” the NAACP report notes, “in a case brought by [Legal Defense and Educational Fund], the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1947 that racist restrictive covenants violated the equal protection clause. “)
In the past, Detroit had many important black neighborhoods, such as Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. In the 1950s, when Albert Cobo was mayor of the city, these neighborhoods have been destroyed. Under the guise of renewal and progress, Cobo built highways that crossed them and he pushed policies that favored white landowners. Cobo even went so far as to dismantle a streetcar system that many blacks used to get to and from work. The same period saw White Detroiters use physical violence to reinforce the racial divide.
Back then Brightmoor, the part of Detroit where my family now lives, still functioned as a community of low-cost homes where families could live in modest comfort. In the decades that followed, it would become one of the city’s most devastated areas. In the 1990s, the Detroit News, one conservative newspaper, describes Brightmoor as a place where “dozens of drug dealers conspicuously stroll around street corners and past abandoned houses, brazenly announcing their presence, waving and shouting at passing motorists, ‘I get it.’
What happened in Brightmoor, like what happened in Detroit, was a consequence of the tension created by Cobo’s vision and the racial violence that had existed for decades. In his State of the State address in 1964, a year after becoming Michigan governor, George Romney, who was a controversial figure in the Republican Party and the Mormon Church for his defense of civil rights, said, “The most pressing rights issue of man in Michigan is racial discrimination in housing. , public premises, education, administration of justice and employment. “