A Review of Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points (1991) by Wilma Henrickson

I like to consider myself a proud Detroiter and I believed I was aware of what my city was made of. After reading “Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points” I quickly realized that my knowledge of Detroit was just on the surface. There are more events that took place that made this city what it is than I could have ever imagined. Events that I could have never before believed would have took place in a city like Detroit. Events such as the racism, corruption, and violence that erupted in the early 19th century to the late 20th century.

Growing up I assumed that because Detroit was in the North, that there weren’t slaves here and that tensions among black and white residents was, I guess, peaceful. I had no idea of the anger that was felt by white Detroiters during that time was so strong that blacks were still beaten and given unequal opportunities. I have always lived and went to school with some caucasian kids when I was growing up and never thought anything of it. It really surprised me that here in 1869, for a black kid to go to a public school in my neighborhood, he had to go to the Michigan Supreme court just because that was school happened to be majority white. I knew that situations like this did occur but i never associated it with Detroit. I read about how extreme whites disapproved the racial integration of neighborhoods that I see are majority black today. Only being born in 1996, the current demographics of most Detroit neighborhoods does not allude to a previously all white population.

It was also very interesting to see how corruption played a role in shaping today’s Detroit. I was aware of the scandals behind Kwame Kilpatrick and assumed that was “the big fault” that set Detroit back. I had always blamed anything that seemed wrong with the city on him. However, after reading Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points I learned that corruption has been a big part of Detroit for centuries. Back in 1930, Mayor Charles Bowes was recalled for “tolerating lawlessness” and again in 1940, Detroit Mayor Richard Reading was sentenced to 6 years in prison for his role in corruption. This completely changed my view of who was really behind today’s Detroit. I started off thinking Detroit was originally a great place and Kwame Kilpatrick ruined it, but now I see that scandals have been a part of Detroit’s history for over 50 before he was even in office. Today Detroit has 7 districts, each with its own representative in council, and 2 At-large. This change was a result of 26 of the 36 alderman Detroit originally had being arrested on corruption charges in 1918 and the change to 9 council members at large that happened in 1918. This shows me that Detroit continues to improve itself and ensure that the people come first by changing things that may be comfortable in order to better serve their residents.  

This book gave a lot of background into the actually neighborhoods of Detroit and the houses. It was unreal reading about events and riots and took place in the city streets that I go to today. Seeing the buildings that once stood there and story that went with it made me feel closer to any history book I have ever read before. For example, the first high school in Detroit was at corner of Cass and Hancock avenue in midtown. Today that building serves as the Wayne state’s anthropology building. To be in that building or even near it, forces me to imagine how life was like being able to go to high school there. It's amazing to see the building while knowing the history and imaging how it was looked at, talked about, and used over 100 years ago! It puts you inside the story of the city and makes you think of how buildings that we see everyday will be wrote about and talked about in another 100 years.

 

Some of the most interesting things I learned from reading “Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points” were about the great migration waves into Detroit. The city of detroit was shaped by the people who have lived here in its beginning years. In early Detroit, long narrow “ribbon farms” lined the entire edge of Detroit and were spread through the city. I learned that many of the streets we have around the city today are named after the owner of the ribbon farm that once resided there. For example, Edward Brush’s ribbon farm is now Brush st. and the location where Antoine Beaubien’s farm was is now Beaubien St. From now on, whenever I go downtown to visit these streets, I can’t help but try to imagine what it looked like as farm land. The wave of different people and their different cultures also changed Detroit. As more people came from Europe, Detroit began to switch in trends to those more like European culture. Such as bringing about the gilded age, dressing in European styles, European type architecture, and even hiring more caucasian horseman, shop employees, and hotel staff rather than people of color. Some of these architectural effects are still visible in some of the oldest structures throughout our city. The architect left behind by this era may be my favorite thing about Detroit and makes me never want leave. From the carving that line the tops of skyscrapers to the small stone work done along the foundation of 100 year old homes. I am blown away at  the eye for detail that is evident in the work from that time.

From reading this book i got unforgettable insight into events that took place in the lives of Detroiters since its founding. I was able to see the impacts that journalist reported, responses by the mayor, and even eyewitness accounts to events that shaped today’s Detroit. I now feel more a part of my city then I ever have after living here my entire life. I realized that my love for Detroit came from the little knowledge I had before. I now know that there is so much more happening here and so much more to love. I saw the struggles Detroit went through and how the city, with the good people that are here, overcame everything that was thrown its way. The people who didn’t fall victim to the temptation of bribery or corruption and allow it to ruin this city. Overcoming years of malfeasance and crookedness, Detroit still become one of the strongest and largest cities in the country. I fell in love with my city all over again after reading Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points. This book will give credit to why Detroit is referred to as “the comeback city.”