Interview with Mayor Coleman Young

Interview with Mayor Coleman Young (April 4, 1988)
Duration: 00:28:50

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Themes: Leadership | Urban Challenges | Poverty, Progress, and the Rise of African-American Businesses and Professionals |

Guests: Coleman Young
Host : Ed Gordon
Producer : Tony Mottley

Summary: In this installment of Detroit Black Journal, host Ed Gordon interviews the Mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young. The two first discuss the controversy surrounding the renovation of the Detroit Airport, in which, during construction, bodies were disinterred from a nearby cemetery and moved. Issues dealing with this interment had to do with Southwestern Airlines' desire to lengthen a runway and also dealt with the problem of revenue versus expense for the city, as well as possible ramifications for taxpayers.

Moving on from this issue, Gordon brings up the topic of the upcoming presidential election, citing the mayor's statement that he couldn't support Jesse Jackson wholeheartedly because he doesn't believe the nation is ready for a black president. He asks Young to discuss this issue and his viewpoints on Michael Dukakis, questioning why Young couldn't just state that he believed that Dukakis would make a better president and leave it at that. They discuss how the possible presidential candidates approach the problem of improving conditions for blacks that had been worsened, in Young's opinion, during Reagan's term. Following this, the show is opened to questions from callers.
Some of the questions brought up by callers and discussed include how casino gambling will affect Detroit and how Young can contribute to help solve problems facing the youth of Detroit, mainly those having to do with the job market and getting a good education. Young also presents his plans for establishing a more equitable distribution of wealth and what he thinks should result from companies going overseas. The next caller broaches the issue of city expansion, development, and renewal projects, including the possibility of a downtown shopping center along Monroe Block and a people mover rail system.

The next big issue that is discussed is the drug problem in the city, especially the new "crack down" policy that the mayor has implemented, which some people are very happy with and others are particularly opposed to. Young stresses the desperate need that the city has for rehabilitation facilities, especially because most of the city's crime is committed by people who are somehow in contact with drugs, and getting them help is extremely important. Another caller asks about the Brewster Douglass Projects, and what the mayor's plans are for improving that area. He discusses how he has attempted to provide new or renovated units for habitation. The last caller asks him what his future political plans are, and he says that he plans to run for reelection. Gordon asks whether he will "groom a successor" for if he chooses to step down at some time, and Young replies that it is not so much about "grooming" a successor, but about preparing the younger generation for what to expect and how to approach politics if they do decide to go into that field.

By the 1980s the program's format, style, and content shifted with the times and with the producers. Ed Gordon, host from 1984-1988, moved DBJ to an interview format. Gordon's tenacious interviewing style emerged as a tough yet friendly relationship with his interviewees. From 1960 to 2000, Detroit's black community grew from 29% to 82% of the city's total population, becoming a political powerhouse that city, state, and national leaders had to court. As a result, many well known political figures frequently made appearances on DBJ.

A local favorite was the late Coleman A. Young, Detroit's Mayor for twenty years, who appeared on the show numerous times to discuss his efforts to shape Detroit, confront critics, and fight for racial justice. Young's dynamic manner made for several lively appearances, particularly in his early years as mayor in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Nation and Detroit in the 1980s

By the 1980s major civil rights battles had been fought and won in the courts, yet tensions still remained as black Americans sought full incorporation into the economic, social, and political realms of society. The 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, a case directly relating to affirmative action, reflected the complexity of attitudes surrounding legislation seeking to rectify past racial injustices. In 1980 Ronald Regan defeated Jimmy Carter in the Presidential election and ushered in a new conservative agenda, which had an adverse effect on the majority of black Americans, particularly the poor. Additionally, in 1981, the entire country experienced the effects of an economic recession. As Regan's first term came to an end in 1984, Jesses Jackson announced his campaign for the presidency. Jackson's concept of a “rainbow coalition” focused on rallying the voices of individual marginalized groups into one collective voice. While Jackson waged a good fight and managed to earn one-eighth of the democratic convention delegates, the nomination went to Walter Mondale. Candidate Mondale broke new ground when he made Geraldine Ferraro his running mate and the first woman on a major party's presidential ticket. Jesse Jackson made his second run for the presidency in 1988, which also ended in defeat.

The North American Free Trade Agreement also changed the economic landscape in the country. In Detroit, a large portion of the businesses, which provided the financial mainstay for the city, had either moved their companies abroad or relocated to the suburbs. Urban life in Detroit during this period was extremely challenging, especially for the city's youth. Drugs infiltrated the inner city, the school system was in a shambles and unemployment plagued the city. The effects of urban sprawl were apparent and whites left the city in record numbers in hopes of separating themselves from problems facing the city.

Bonfiglio, Olga. "Addressing Urban Sprawl." America 187. no. 14 (Nov. 4 2002): 12, 14-15.