The Fall of the Motor City

Reprinted from

Eminem is the best thing to come out of Detroit in the last twenty years. That, and the Clint Eastwood Chrysler commercial.

Detroit filed for bankruptcy yesterday.

No surprise there. Kind of like Whitney Houston dying. You can only dance on death’s door for so long before the door opens and lets you in.

It was a bunch of French Canadians who first saw Detroit’s immense promise. Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac joined with 51 others and founded a place they called Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit, which provided a wonderful gateway to the Great Lakes and the Great White North, better known as Canada.

The British beat the French in the French and Indian War (where George Washington became known as a fearless warrior) and they seized the city that they now called Detroit (the French are so long-winded).

In 1805, a fire burned down the entire settlement, save two structures. During the War of 1812, the Americans quickly surrendered the City, but they got it back after the British sued for peace.

For most of the 19th century, Detroit was the Capitol of Michigan, and during the American Civil War, it was a key destination in the Underground Railroad, as blacks fled to Canada to avoid slave owners from the South.

We all know about Henry Ford and how he built Motor City, but Detroit also became a key hub during Prohibition.   There were a lot of thirsty Catholics in Michigan and Chicago, and the Motor City was the place that transported a bunch of hooch.

Perhaps because blacks became so used to going to Detroit to escape slavery, they kept coming to Michigan’s biggest city in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. They were more warmly welcomed when they kept going to Canada.

Things got so bad that Detroit was the sight of a massive race riot a whole year before Martin Luther King was shot. It was called the Twelfth Street Riot, and George Romney (who was then the Governor) and Lyndon Johnson had to call in both the National Guard and the Army to put it down. At the end, 43 people were murdered, and 2000 buildings were destroyed.

By 1974, so many whites had fled the city limits, Coleman Young was able to win his first of five elections. He was the first African American to become the mayor of such a large city.

But Young’s tenure marked the beginning of the end of Detroit as a big city. It once was the fourth largest city in the United States. Now, it is 18th.

Detroit is 82.7 percent black. It is only 10 percent white. It has the highest crime rate among the 25 largest cities. For the fourth year in a row, it has won the distinction as the most violent city in America. Politically, it is also the most liberal city in America.

60% of all murders in Detroit are drug related. 70% of those murders go unsolved.

Detroit’s geographical limits are far too large for its population. Detroit wears the clothes of a two hundred pound man, but racked by the cancer of violence and despair, it has shriveled to a miniscule 100 pounds.

Ironically, the sports teams in Detroit are pretty good. The Tigers are fantastic, having won the World Series last year. The Red Wings always contend for the Stanley Cup. The Pistons are always competitive.

The Lions? Well, let’s move on.

Detroit used to be the most segregated city in America, but because just about everybody is leaving the city these days, it is now only number 4.

No matter what your race, nobody wants to live in a Mad Max world.

Detroit is going broke because it doesn’t have a tax base anymore. It doesn’t have a tax base anymore because its population is 10 percent white.

Its population is 10 percent white because it has the highest crime rate in America.

Either that or because white people are racist and don’t want to live in a city that they have no functional control over. Take your pick.

The white governor of Michigan finally pulled the plug on Detroit.

That is either because Rick Snyder has had enough of the ridiculous bullshit that comes from one of the most corrupt cities in the country or because he is a racist.

Take your pick.

People have been trying to fix Detroit for years. Republicans had their convention there in 1980 because they wanted to lend their support. Casinos have been built. Revitalization projects have come and gone.

None of it has seemed to matter.

There is a great temptation to blame the auto industry for this great fall, but the auto industry is actually doing pretty well.

What is not doing well is Detroit.

Renaissance is a key word in the Detroit lexicon. It’s a French word that means rebirth. You can’t have rebirth though, until you have death.

Well, Detroit is finally fiscally dead. Maybe now it can find a way to rebirth.

Editor’s Note: John Feehery worked for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republicans in Congress. Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at