Detroit Area Segregation (part 2 of 12)

This is the second in a series of twelve blog posts on the segregation that shaped my hometown of Inkster, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. These posts are excerpts from my book:

Racial gerrymandering is part of the story of the area, such as the twisting, turning boundaries of the school district that maintained an almost-entirely white student body at Roosevelt High School located in mostly-black Inkster. In 1960, the newly-forming City of Dearborn Heights attempted to continue this tradition with the new school in Inkster, Robichaud. Dearborn Heights succeeded in taking away from Inkster that part of it which abutted Dearborn, the two-and-a-half mile long and one-to-two-block wide corridor between Beech Daly and Gulley Roads that formed the eastern border of what was then the Village of Inkster, and where Robichaud and Roosevelt were located. That area was also Inkster’s industrial tax base. The Pepsi plant was there, as was the nation’s first manufacturer of armored passenger cars, and there were other factories. It was also the location of large homes that were zoned R1A, the highest level of property tax.

A particularly contorted feat of gerrymandering was accomplished with the formation of the City of Dearborn Heights. It is composed of what looks like two distant islands, one to the north of Inkster and another all the way to the south of Inkster’s border, connected by the very long, skinny isthmus of land taken from Inkster, in an all-white area of the town. The lands that formed Dearborn Heights had no natural geographic connection. Their only connection was that they were the remaining unincorporated portions of Dearborn Township, and they were white communities that acted as a buffer between Inkster and the City of Dearborn and other outlying white communities.

Detroit Area Segregation (part 1 of 12)

This is the first in a series of twelve blog posts on the segregation that shaped my hometown of Inkster, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. These posts are excerpts from my book:

I remember the day we moved from Dearborn to Inkster, and the feeling that we were leaving the city for the suburbs. Inkster looked beautiful to my eight-year-old eyes, with lots of trees and open fields, and none of the big, smelly factories that occupied much of Dearborn (Ford and many other manufacturers are headquartered in Dearborn, the hometown of Henry Ford).

It would be some time before I understood it was the lack of factories that made Inkster so poor.

From the early days of the Ford Motor Company, black workers were pushed into living in Inkster. This was accomplished through a combination of barring them from living in
Dearborn, while providing access to housing, a company commissary, and other services for them in Inkster, in a seeming show of generosity by their employers. But housing them outside of Dearborn meant they would be separated from the industrial tax base and their community would not receive the high tax revenues paid by the factories in Dearborn. Those revenues provided well-funded coffers and schools for the residents of
Dearborn who held the same jobs in the same factories as their coworkers from Inkster. Residents of Inkster undoubtedly worked just as hard as their next-door neighbors in Dearborn, yet they reaped far fewer benefits. This century-old feat of social engineering sleight-of-hand resulted in Dearborn and Inkster remaining racially segregated and
disparately funded even today. (There is a small section of Inkster with more white residents, north of Avondale Road, accounting for Inkster’s 20% white population [2010 U.S. Census].)

Malcolm X Home on Demolition List

Malcolm X Home
The home of Malcolm X at 4336 Williams Street in Inkster, Michigan is on the city’s demolition list. This house, this very important part of Inkster history and American history, must be preserved. This was not only Malcolm X and his brother Wilfred’s home, it was the first place Malcolm lived right after he was released from prison. So this was his home during a very important and formative time in his life. This is where he lived when he first became a minister, at Temple Number One in Detroit.
Inkster is a vital part of the story of Malcolm X. Malcolm worked as a furniture salesman at the Cut Rate Department Store in Inkster, and he mentions Inkster in a speech on the same day as an attempted assassination on him, when his house in New York was firebombed. That was the last speech he gave outside of New York, before he was assassinated just one week later. So Inkster was one of the first things and final things on his mind from the beginning right up to the end of his life as a minister.
Malcolm’s home in Lansing, Michigan’s capital, is designated a Michigan Historic Site, and the same should be done here. It will be very expensive to restore this house, but I am sure funds can be found from the many organizations who would have a great interest in preserving this important place. In the meantime, the immediate need is to make absolutely sure it is preserved and not demolished. I have already talked to Mayor Byron Nolen about this, and he is supportive of the idea, but realistic about the challenges. I recommend all of you also talk to the mayor’s office immediately, and do everything you can to prevent the demolition of this revered place in our shared history, and world history.
Please read more about my hometown of Inkster and its contributions to all our lives, here: America’s Most Violent and Inspiring Town
and check out these blogs: