The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford
    Book Description:

    In the 1920s, Henry Ford hired thousands of African American men for his open-shop system of auto manufacturing. This move was a rejection of the notion that better jobs were for white men only. InThe Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford, Beth Tompkins Bates explains how black Detroiters, newly arrived from the South, seized the economic opportunities offered by Ford in the hope of gaining greater economic security. As these workers came to realize that Ford's anti-union "American Plan" did not allow them full access to the American Dream, their loyalty eroded, and they sought empowerment by pursuing a broad activist agenda. This, in turn, led them to play a pivotal role in the United Auto Workers' challenge to Ford's interests.In order to fully understand this complex shift, Bates traces allegiances among Detroit's African American community as reflected in its opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, challenges to unfair housing practices, and demands for increased and effective political participation. This groundbreaking history demonstrates how by World War II Henry Ford and his company had helped kindle the civil rights movement in Detroit without intending to do so.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0157-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Business, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. 1-14)

    This is a story about detroit, a city whose name evoked the promise of America as the land of opportunity in the early years of the twentieth century. Henry Ford promoted that image with the progressive industrial policies and maverick business practices he put into place at the Ford Motor Company (fmc). The unfolding narrative is anchored to Henry Ford and his desire to revolutionize the world through the production and sales of his Model T, affectionately known as the Tin Lizzie. Ford succeeded—perhaps beyond even his expectations—in transforming how Americans in the twentieth century worked and played....

  6. CHAPTER ONE With the Wind at Their Backs MIGRATION TO DETROIT
    (pp. 15-38)

    Early in the twentieth century, the social, economic, and political landscape of Detroit was dramatically transformed as the automotive industry turned this medium-sized city, known for its peace and beauty, into a whirlwind of activity. The siren of new Detroit was “motion … the motion of … life and energy and unceasing prosperity.” People were drawn to the city, it was said, because it was known as “a land flowing with milk and honey and opportunity.”¹ What had been a moderately diversified manufacturing center in 1900 was, by 1920, the urban area most committed to manufacturing in the nation, driven...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Henry Ford Ushers in a New Era for Black Workers
    (pp. 39-68)

    Rumor had it that “workin’ in Mr. Ford’s place” in Detroit was the route to inclusion for African Americans in the modern industrial American economy. Henry Ford’s promise of a Five Dollar Day was not tainted with discrimination; blacks were paid a wage equal to that of whites. During the late teens, “the nameFordbecame synonymous with northern opportunity,” recalled LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), inspiring hundreds of black southerners to travel North with their sights set on a job at the Ford Motor Company (fmc).¹ During the first years of the Great Migration, few blacks landed jobs at the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Politics of Inclusion and the Construction of a New Detroit
    (pp. 69-91)

    Once they were employed, African Americans put down roots in Black Bottom, the highly congested neighborhood that increasingly became one of the few areas where blacks were allowed to live. Segregated living may have narrowed the range of possibilities but not the determination to explore other ways to expand opportunities. Loyalty to Henry Ford remained high, and the black community, buoyed by the expectations Ford had raised, found ways to make its voice heard politically. Ford workers proudly displayed their employee badges, symbolizing the distance they had traveled since leaving the South, even as some expressed their politics by joining...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Drawing the Color Line in Housing, 1915–1930
    (pp. 92-114)

    The city that the town fathers once hoped would be a model for clean and decent living—a master plan for municipal reform in an industrial setting—began to split open at the seams in the early twenties. Although Detroit had escaped the large-scale riots that had broken out in other cities, such as in East Saint Louis in 1917 or Washington, D.C., and Chicago in 1919, racial tolerance on the streets of Detroit reached a low by 1925 as white mobs vented their rage over the black “invasion” of “their” neighborhoods.¹ Detroit police shot fifty-five blacks between January and...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Politics of Unemployment in Depression-Era Detroit, 1927–1931
    (pp. 115-143)

    The ossian sweet case made a hero out of Frank Murphy within the black community by reinforcing African Americans’ push for inclusion and broadening their political horizons. At the same time allegiance to Henry Ford, the other anchor of black Detroit’s American plan for full participation, remained high in 1926 and 1927 as competition within the auto industry put Ford jobs at risk. By the time of the Great Depression, however, the balance shifted as black Detroiters threw their allegiance strongly behind the political campaigns of Frank Murphy, Ford’s nemesis.

    The Great Depression exposed the fault lines in Henry Ford’s...

    (pp. 144-171)

    By the end of 1931, Henry Ford’s image was tarnished. Murphy’s reelection as mayor of Detroit was not just a win for the forces of a new order, but also a loss for Henry Ford. More was required to clean up Ford’s image in terms of his responsibilities toward unemployed Ford workers than the $5 million dollar loan to the city that he underwrote. A few days after Murphy’s reelection in November 1931, Henry Ford took over the village of Inkster, adjacent to Dearborn. Ford’s rescue of Inkster was in many respects a brilliant move, for he gained much needed...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Behind the Mask of Civility BLACK POLITICS IN DETROIT, 1932–1935
    (pp. 172-198)

    As the depression deepened, political and material circumstances inspired black Detroiters to look in new directions for a way out of their second-class status. On one level, the black community appeared to be much the same as it had been in the late twenties. African American men lucky enough to have a job at the Ford Motor Company (fmc) continued to make an extra effort at the Rouge, grateful for the chance to work amid widespread unemployment. The largesse distributed by Ford to black Detroit and African Americans within Inkster Village was welcomed.

    At a deeper level, a strong current...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Charting a New Course for Black Workers
    (pp. 199-222)

    As accommodationist politics began to fade and the protest politics of a new crowd took center stage, the Detroit Civic Rights Committee (crc) broadened its agenda. What began as an effort to challenge the exclusion of African Americans from municipal jobs expanded into a larger crusade for jobs in the private sector as well. To take its challenge to the next level, the crc, utilizing its diverse network, helped launch in 1935 a local chapter of the National Negro Congress (nnc), which strengthened its demands for private sector jobs for African Americans.

    Under Snow F. Grigsby’s guidance, the crc charted...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Black Workers Change Tactics, 1937–1941
    (pp. 223-250)

    The second national convention of the National Negro Congress (nnc), held in Philadelphia in October 1937, followed closely in Detroit by those listening to a live radio broadcast, emphasized the role black self-reliance must play in gaining an equal place in America.¹ As A. Philip Randolph, president of the nnc, said, “The task of realizing full citizenship for the Negro people is largely in the hands of the Negro people themselves.”² The nnc’s message seemed tailor-made for the Detroit local, reinforcing the self-reliance promoted and practiced by the Civic Rights Committee (crc) and the nnc local. With little support from...

    (pp. 251-256)

    Henry ford transformed the United States and the world by revolutionizing the way we make things. But the man so responsible for reconstructing industrial production also transformed human relations. As he observed, “Power and machinery, money and goods, are useful only as they set us free to live. They are but means to an end.” He hoped the success of the fmc would demonstrate the soundness of his approach, which “looks toward making this world a better place in which to live.”¹ When Ford invited African American men to work for the fmc, he looked to them as good strike...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 257-308)
    (pp. 309-334)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 335-343)