Dearborn Boycott 1986

Dearborn Boycott 1986 (1986)

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Themes: Urban Challenges | Leadership | Education and Families |

Guests: Joe Madison, Howard Simon, Arthur Featherstone
Host : Ed Gordon
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: The controversy and less than enthusiastic support for the boycott among some blacks prompted this Detroit Black Journal program, which poses the question of whether the traditional tactics the Civil Rights Movement used in the 1950s and 1960s were still effective tactics in the 1980s.

Host Ed Gordon moderates a panel discussion that includes Joe Madison, national director of voter education for the NAACP, Howard Simon, executive director of the Detroit chapter of the ACLU, and Arthur Featherstone, a longtime civil rights activist and an aide to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.

The program is significant, not only for the issue being addressed (the Dearborn parks ordinance) but also because the panel members were all prominent activists in the Detroit civil rights scene in the 1980s. Featherstone's background, in particular, is mentioned; he had been a Freedom Rider in the 1960s and was a college roommate of the murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

The panel members find some fault with the organization of the Dearborn protests, in particular that early efforts to negotiate a resolution of the problem had led to confusion about the boycott. But all agree that the traditional tactics - litigation, economic boycotts, and direct action demonstrations - remain effective.

Simon argues that economic boycott is not only a strong tool for change, but also sometimes a necessity - regardless of its effectiveness - to maintain dignity in the face of racism. He says he considers the park ordinance "a silly anachronism" and "racist nonsense" that will eventually be rejected by the courts. "The broader issue," he says, "is how are these two communities going to work together to deal with the real problems that we have, which is not really a seat on a park bench?"

And Madison points out that while many young black people had continued to shop in Dearborn, students at several Detroit high schools had cancelled events they had scheduled at Dearborn locations to support the boycott, even though they had to forfeit hundreds of dollars in deposits.

"I've been to Murray-Wright, Redford, Cody, other high schools around this city," Madison says, "and we have auditoriums full of young people who are saying to us, 'Let us know what you want us to do. We're not going out there.' . . . I'm not disheartened at all."

The program provides a significant example of the continuing effort of community activists to keep the civil rights struggle alive and vital, and offers insight into the ongoing debate over the tactics of social change.