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Young, Coleman 1918–

Coleman Young 1918

Mayor of Detroit

At a Glance

Lobbied for Equal Treatment

Won First Mayoral Election

Helped City Rejuvenate

Sources

The feisty and colorful Coleman Alexander Young is now serving an unprecedented fifth term as mayor of the city of Detroit. Not one to shy from unpleasant tasks, Young presides over an urban area beset with problems, from rampant crime to high unemployment to ever-dwindling population. He is an outspoken and opinionated man whose strongly-worded views have earned him both passionate supporters and bitter enemies, both in his city and nationwide. Opinions aside, however, few would argue with a Detroit Free Press editorial in which Young was characterized as a successful mayor and a consummate politician who has put whats good for Detroitor, more exactly, what Coleman Young thinks is good for Detroitabove all else.

During 1990 both Detroit and its mayor were targets of highly critical feature stories in the New York Times and on national television. Much has been written about Detroits sagging economy and brutal crime statistics, its white flight to the suburbs and its general air of despair. Young does not see his city in that light. Under his administration, the city has managed to balance its budget despite a dramatic cutback in federal and state aid. A number of its neighborhoods have undergone renovation, and at least one new automobile manufacturing plant has opened within the city limits. As Frank Washington put it in Newsweek, any other incumbent mayor could ride comfortably into re-election on [Youngs] record.

Young defended his agenda in the Detroit Free Press: Today, the big debate is whether the countrys heading into another damned depressionthe truth of the matter is, Detroit never came out of depression. Since Ive been mayor, our unemployment level has been twice the national average. That is why we need to take radical steps to preserve this citybut this city is worth preserving. It has all the natural assets that it needs to make it: its geographical location, the strength of character of its people. You pool all these people who have a heritage of struggle and you have a powerful force. This city will not be overcome.

Coleman Young is certainly a Detroiter with a heritage of struggle. He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and spent most of his early years in Huntsville, where his family was sometimes terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan.

At a Glance

Full name, Coleman Alexander Young; born May 24, 1918, in Tuscaloosa, AL; son of Coleman (a dry cleaning shop owner) and Ida Reese (Jones) Young; married and divorced twice. Education: High school graduate.

Assembly line worker at Ford Motor Company, c. 193940, and United States Postal Service, c. 1940-42 and c. 194750; insurance salesman, c. 195764. Member of Michigan State Senate, 196473, became Democratic floor leader and Michigan representative on the Democratic National Committee. Mayor of Detroit, 1974. Military service: Army Air Corps, c. 194246; became second lieutenant and bombadiernavigator.

Addresses: OfficeDetroit City County Building, Detroit, MI 48226.

Like many black Americans, Youngs father eventually moved the family north, to Detroit, in search of a more congenial environment and better economic opportunity. Youngs family settled in the Black Bottom section of Detroit in the late 1920s, and his father opened a small dry cleaning business. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Young remembered that his old neighborhood was a cohesive community, a mixture of working-[and] middleclass people. In many ways it was more secure and comfortable than todays communities.

Young is almost silent on his private life, his early years included. An aide, Joyce Garrett, told the Detroit Free Press that the mayor had a difficult childhood that accounts for his solitary character today. The mayor never grew up in what we would call a normal, middleclass family situation, Garrett said; that has made quite a difference in that he doesnt care about home, really. Despite excellent grades in public school, Young was denied financial aid to the University of Michigan due to his race. Unable to attend college, he was forced to go to work to help support his four brothers and sisters. In the late 1930s he enrolled in an apprentice electrician program at the Ford Motor Company. He finished first in the program but was passed over for the only available electrician job in favor of a white candidate.

Lobbied for Equal Treatment

In the early 1940s Young took a job on the Ford Assembly line and became an underground union organizer and civil rights activist. Within his first few months on the job he became the target for racial slurs by company goons, leading eventually to a fistfight that caused him to be fired. He continued his union activities when he earned a position with the post office, and by the time he was drafted to the Second World War he was well known in Detroit for demanding equal employment and fair treatment for blacks in the automobile industry. During the war Young served with the Tuskegee Airmen, an elite black flying unit. He became a second lieutenant and flew missions as a bombardier-navigator. Near the end of the war he was one of several black officers who were arrested and jailed for demanding service at a segregated officers club. The incident generated a great deal of publicity, and the Army eventually integrated the club.

Young returned to Detroit after the war and drifted from job to job for nearly a decade. His principal interest during the 1950s was union organizing, and he also campaigned for the Progressive Party. During that decade he also founded the National Negro Labor Council, an organization devoted to civil rights in the workplace. Youngs projects on behalf of black workers brought him to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who investigated him for possible Communist ties. Called to testify in Washington, D.C., Young refused to answer questions about his Negro Labor Council, and he disbanded the organization rather than turn its membership list over to the United States Attorney General. The adverse publicity made it quite difficult for Young to find and keep a job in Detroit, but it did not quell his spirit or dampen his enthusiasm for the cause of civil rights.

Toward the end of the 1950s Young began to have some success as an insurance salesman, and he became active in the Democratic party. In 1960 he was elected a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention. Gradually Young gained popularity in Detroit, and in 1964 he won a seat in the state senate. He quickly proved to be a strong legislator in Lansing, fighting for open housing legislation and for busing to integrate public schools. His liberal views and pro-labor stance won him many supporters in the Democratic party, and he received a wide base of support in Detroit from the black clergy and the unions.

Won First Mayoral Election

Young declared his candidacy for mayor in 1973 and mounted a vigorous campaign for the office. He finished second in a nonpartisan primary election and faced stiff competition from John F. Nichols, a white police commissioner. While Nichols ran on a standard law-and-order platform, Young maintained that blacks were being treated with undue brutality by the citys policemen. He promised that his administration would maintain order without repressive tactics, bringing better racial relations to a region under strain. The election was decided by a mere 17,000 votes. Young won, taking 92 percent of the black vote. Nichols carried more than 91 percent of the white vote.

We are going to turn this city around, Young promised in his inaugural address. The new mayor called for a coalition of business and labor to preserve the industries remaining in Detroit and attract new ones. He also set about reforming the police department, adding more black officers and promoting those already in the ranks. He saw to it that all police officersindeed, all of Detroits civil servantswere required to live within the city limits, and he opened neighborhood mini-stations in high crime areas. William Beckham, formerly youngs deputy mayor, told the Detroit Free Press that the early years of the Young administration were marked by a sense of struggle against a common enemy. When Coleman took office, he was fighting [to reform] the Police Department, fighting federal cutbacks and the recessionreal big enemies, Beckham said. This is still a strong administration because of its foundations. But it has lots of pitfalls based on its longevity.

Young has won every election since 1973 by a wide margin. He is the only mayor in the history of Detroit to serve five consecutive termsindeed, some reporters note that he is mayor for life. A close ally and political adviser to president Jimmy Carter, Young turned down a cabinet position in Washington, D.C. in order to remain in Detroit. Needless to say, the salty mayor has been a vocal critic of the Reagan and Bush administrations, with their massive cutbacks in federal aid to urban areas. Nor has the federal government remained sanguine about Coleman Young. His administration has been investigated on more than six different charges, including improprieties in the awarding of city contracts and illegal personal use of city funds by the police department. Young himself has never been personally implicated in the scandals, however, and his popularity has been undiminishedsome might even say enhancedby the publicity.

Helped City Rejuvenate

Mayor Young can point to a number of improvements in Detroit since he took office. Expansion of riverfront attractions has brought convention and tourist traffic to the city, and favorable tax abatements have attracted new businesses, including two major automobile plants. Young would like to see more diversification in the regions employment profile, noting that the automobile industry is prone to cyclical layoffs. Even his most vocal critics admit that Young is a tireless worker for his city who has the areas best interests at heart. As Patricia Edmonds put it in the Detroit Free press, There is little Young likes more than talking deals for his city.

A number of daunting problems remain for Detroit, chief among them its dwindling population. Middle-class flight to the suburbs continues, robbing the citys coffers of essential tax revenue. Some critics argue that Young has contributed to this phenomenon by promoting the idea that suburban dwellers are hostile or indifferent to the citys woes. Indeed, in recent years Young has endured a barrage of disapproval in the press for his management stylewhich is described as autocratichis blunt language, and his concentration on cosmetic improvements while citys core decays. Young makes no apologies for his methods or his style. Im not seeking to stay in office by being a Teflon goddam mayor, taking positions to enhance my popularity, he told Newsweek.

Young told the Detroit Free Press that he considered retirement in 1985 but hasnt since. He feels that he has a great deal of unfinished business to attend to in Detroit, and that he can indeed turn the city around. He characterized his years at the top as very positive, adding: What I set out to do has been done and is taking place. On the other hand, he said, Its been in crisis constantly. And sure it wears me out. But when you get into a fight with a damned bear, you dont get tired until the bear gets tired. If you do, its your a. You cant afford to quit, can you?

Sources

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 17, 1974.

Detroit Free Press, April 5, 1987; April 7, 1987; January 3, 1988.

Ebony, February 1974.

Newsweek, July 31, 1989.

Time, February 24, 1983.

U.S. News and World Report, September 25, 1989.

Mark Kram

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"Young, Coleman 1918–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Young, Coleman 1918–1997

Coleman Young 19181997

Former mayor of Detroit

At a Glance

Sources

The feisty and combative Coleman Young served an unprecedented five terms as mayor of the city of Detroit. Not one to shy from unpleasant tasks, Young presided over an urban area beset with problems such as rampant crime, high unemployment, and a dwindling population. He was an outspoken and opinionated man whose strongly-worded views earned him both passionate supporters and staunch enemies, both in Detroit and nationwide. Few would argue with a Detroit Free Press editorial in which Young was characterized as a successful mayor and a consummate politician who has put whats good for Detroitor, more exactly, what Coleman Young thinks is good for Detroitabove all else.

Much has been written about Detroits economic troubles, white flight to the suburbs, and its general air of desperation. However, Young refused to view his city in an unfavorable light. Under his twenty years in office, Detroit managed to rebuild part of its downtown waterfront, renovate several of its neighborhoods, and construct two new automobile manufacturing plants. As Frank Washington remarked in Newsweek, any other incumbent mayor could ride comfortably into re-election on [Youngs] record.

Young was certainly a man who lived a life of struggle. He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and spent most of his early years in Huntsville, where his family was sometimes terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan. In 1923, Youngs father moved the family north to Detroit in search of better economic opportunities. Youngs family settled in the Black Bottom section of Detroit in the late 1920s, and his father opened a small dry cleaning business. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Young remembered that his old neighborhood was a cohesive community, a mixture of working- [and] middle-class people. In many ways it was more secure and comfortable than todays communities.

Young was an intelligent student who received excellent grades in high school. Upon graduating from Eastern High School in 1935, he planned to attend the University of Michigan. However, due to his race, he was denied financial aid. Unable to attend college, he was forced to find employment in the automobile industry to help support his four brothers and sisters. In the late 1930s, he enrolled in an apprentice electrician program

At a Glance

Full name, Coleman Alexander Young; born May 24, 1918, in Tuscaloosa, AL; son of Coleman (a dry cleaning shop owner) and Ida Reese (Jones) Young; married and divorced twice; children: Coleman III. Education: High school graduate. Died November 30, 1997 in Detroit, Ml.

Career: Assembly line worker at Ford Motor Co., c. 193940, and U.S. Postal Service, c. 194042 and c. 194750; insurance salesman, c. 195764. Member of Michigan State Senate, 196473, became Democratic floor leader and Michigan representative on the Democratic National Committee. Mayor of Detroit, 197493. Military service: Army Air Corps, c. 194246; became second It. and bombardier-navigator.

at the Ford Motor Company. He finished first in the program, but was passed over for the only available electrician job in favor of a white candidate.

In the early 1940s, Young took a job on the Ford Assembly line and became an underground union organizer and civil rights activist. Within his first few months on the job he became the target of racial slurs by company goons, which led to a fistfight that cost Young his job. He continued his union activities while obtaining a job with the post office. Young soon became well-known within Detroit for his attempts to secure equal employment opportunities and fair treatment for African Americans in the automobile industry. He was drafted into the Army in 1942 and served with the Tuskegee Airmen, an elite African American flying unit, during World War II. He soon rose to the rank of second lieutenant and flew missions as a bombardier-navigator. Near the end of World War II, he was one of several African American officers who were arrested and jailed for demanding service at a segregated officers club. The incident generated a great deal of publicity, and the Army eventually integrated the club.

Young returned to Detroit after the war and drifted from job to job for nearly a decade. He married Marion McClellan in 1947, but divorced in 1954. In 1948 he campaigned for the Progressive Party, which led to his dismissal from the Congress of Industrial Workers. During the 1950s, Youngs principal interest involved union organizing. He became a co-founder of the National Negro Labor Council, an organization devoted to civil rights in the workplace. Youngs projects on behalf of African American workers brought him to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who investigated him as a possible Communist. Called to testify before the committee in 1952, Young refused to answer questions about the Negro Labor Council, and he disbanded the organization rather than turn its membership list over to the United States Attorney General. The adverse publicity made it quite difficult for Young to find and keep a job in Detroit, but it did not destroy his spirit or dampen his enthusiasm for the cause of civil rights.

Toward the end of the 1950s, Young began to have some success as an insurance salesman, and he became active in the Democratic party. In 1960, he was elected as a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention. Young gradually gained popularity in Detroit and, in 1964, he won a seat in the state senate. He quickly proved to be a strong legislator in Lansing, fighting for open housing legislation and for busing to integrate public schools. His liberal views and pro-labor stance won him many supporters in the Democratic party, and he received a wide base of support in Detroit from the black clergy and the unions. In 1968, Young was elected as the first African American member of the Democratic National Committee.

Young declared his candidacy for mayor of Detroit in 1973 and mounted a vigorous campaign. He finished second in a nonpartisan primary election and faced stiff competition from John F. Nichols, a white police commissioner. While Nichols ran on a standard law-and-order platform, Young maintained that African Americans were being treated with undue brutality by the citys police department. He promised that his administration would maintain order without repressive tactics and promote better racial relations between city and suburbs. Young won by a mere 17,000 votes in an election decided along racial lines. Young captured nearly 92 percent of the African American vote, while Nichols received more than 91 percent of the white vote.

We are going to turn this city around, Young promised in his inaugural address. The new mayor called for a coalition of business and labor leaders both to attract new businesses and preserve those remaining in Detroit. He also began reforming the police department, adding more African American officers and promoting those already in the ranks. He required all Detroit police officers and other civil servants to live within the city limits, and he opened neighborhood mini-stations in high crime areas.

In 1976, Young was a strong supporter of Jimmy Carters presidential campaign. With Carters election victory, Detroit received millions of dollars in federal funds. Young also remained active in the Democratic party. He was selected as the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1977 and served until 1981. In 1980, he led the National Democratic Conference of Mayors and became chairman of the Democratic Convention Platform Committee.

During his tenure in office, Young sought to build alliances with business leaders in an attempt to rebuild Detroit and attract new jobs. Many of his efforts were focused on reviving Detroits crumbling downtown. In 1977, the Renaissance Center office tower-hotel complex opened on the riverfront. In order to prevent the Detroit Red Wings hockey club from leaving the city, Young secured city bonds to build the downtown Joe Louis Arena, which opened in 1980. Other projects downtown soon followed including the Millender Center apartment-hotel and retail complex, which opened in 1985, and the People Mover, a controversial downtown monorail system that opened to the public in 1987. Young also spearheaded development in other parts of Detroit. Among projects approved by Young were the General Motors Poletown plant, the Chrysler Jefferson plant, and the Detroit trash incinerator.

Young and his administration were often the subject of controversy. In 1989, a former city employee charged that Young fathered her son. Although Young initially denied the charges, a blood test confirmed that Young was the father. He later agreed to pay child support and set up a trust fund for his son. In 1991, Young was forced to hire a new police chief after Chief William Hart was indicted by a federal grand jury for stealing over $2 million from a police department fund. Following the beating death of motorist Malice Green by two white police officers in 1992, Young dramatically increased tensions by calling the death murder on national television. He later apologized for the remarks.

During his twenty years as mayor of Detroit, Young easily won each election by a landslide. In 1993, he announced that he would not seek a sixth term as mayor. Advancing age and years of battling emphysema had taken their toll. During the 1993 mayoral campaign, Young endorsed attorney Sharon McPhail over her challenger, judge Dennis Archer. Archer won the election and was sworn in as mayor of Detroit in January of 1994.

Following his departure from political office, Young served as an adjunct professor at Wayne State University and wrote his autobiography Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Coleman Young in 1994. He also joined a group of investors who were seeking to build a casino in Detroit. In July of 1997, Young was hospitalized for pneumonia. He battled emphysema and heart ailments for several months, but eventually lapsed into a coma. On November 30, 1997, Young died of respiratory failure.

A controversial, tenacious, and colorful figure, Coleman Young was a man who inspired both deep devotion and bitter hatred. For many African Americans, Young was the embodiment of a strong leader who was willing to take on the white establishment and serve as a voice for the powerless. As Youngs successor, Mayor Dennis Archer, remarked in The Los Angeles Times, The people of this city have lost a great leader. His bold and forthright advocacy for the people of Detroit, and especially for those who knew the deep pain of discrimination and the stabbing injustice of the denial of opportunity, will always mark Coleman Alexander Young as one of the greatest mayors of urban America.

Sources

Books

Hawkins, Walter L. African American Biographies, McFarland & Co., 1992, pp. 46465.

Periodicals

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 17, 1974.

Detroit Free Press, April 5, 1987; January 3, 1988; November 30, 1997.

Ebony, February 1974.

Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1997.

The New York Times, November 1997.

Newsweek, July 31, 1989.

Time, February 24, 1983.

U.S. News and World Report, September 25, 1989.

Mark Kram and David G. Oblender

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"Young, Coleman 1918–1997." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Young, Coleman 1918–1997." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-coleman-1918-1997

"Young, Coleman 1918–1997." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-coleman-1918-1997