Monday, February 27, 2006

Another story about old Detroit

Writer's Note: This comment came from Hal Furlong, a reader of the Dallas Morning News, concerning my column "What about Detroit?" in last Sunday's (Feb. 26) Metro section/Collin County.

There are many times that I am tempted to respond to articles in the "News,"
and want to write in, but rarely does the temptation rise above the threshold of action to actually write. I have on one other occasion written to the Dallas Morning News, and that has been many years ago. But your article struck a familiar chord with me regarding my own history in Detroit similar to yours, but occurring 26 years before.
I'll try to be as brief as possible but there are many things that happened that have begged for attention.
I was born in Detroit in 1930. My father was from Texas and my mother from Detroit. It was a struggle during the depression and the tough years of the 1930s to make a living and take care of themselves and the three of us kids. Dad delivered milk and mom taught piano at the Detroit Conservatory that, by the way, is across the street from the Detroit Public Library mentioned in your article.
In 1940, my grandfather gave us a two-story brick home, one of a number of properties that he owned, and we moved up a significant notch in the living standard. Prior to that dad and mom worked hard to improve our situation.
Moving frequently but always improving the houses we lived in. The brick home we received as a gift was a half block from Woodward Ave. and just across Woodward Ave. from an upscale neighborhood called Virginia Park.
As it turns out it was about two blocks in the other direction, away from Woodward Ave., from the "color line." There was a distinct color line at that time in Detroit.
When World War II began in 1941, the defense industry, which had already begun to support the "Lend-Lease" agreement with Britain, went into full swing. There were jobs for everyone. Both mom and dad got jobs at Vicker's, a military equipment manufacturer, and began making good wages.
Things at least from a financial perspective were looking good. There were the
occasional confrontations between blacks and whites, both for my parents and for us kids. But things took an ugly turn in, I believe late 1942 or early 1943, when it happened.
I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time and had a paper route. It was Sunday morning, and seemed quiet. I had to cross Woodward Ave. going south, to pick up my papers blocks away from home. It was early still and perhaps 6 or 7 in the morning. By the time I returned to the house after delivering the papers about 10 a.m., the news was out. There was a full riot in Detroit that was mainly located in central Detroit along Woodward Ave., and at the same time near the Belle Isle bridge.
Cars were being turned over and burned on Woodward Ave. People on streetcars were being attacked and there were reports of snipers shooting people waiting for streetcars. There were reports of homes and businesses being looted and burned. The city of Detroit went into a complete shutdown.
A curfew was declared and the state troops were called in. However, it was difficult to receive the kind of support needed during World War II. They called in elements of the Texas 35th Division and placed the city under marshal law. Sandbagged, .30-caliber machine gun emplacements were located at each corner of the Detroit Public Library and the Detroit Museum of Art.
The streets were patrolled by fully armed military in half-tracks every 15 minutes. They used John R Street, half a block from my house, which became the black-white dividing line. We used to go down to John R Street to watch them go by. (The city remained under marshal law for, I believe, six months). John R, which was an asphalt street, was somewhat torn up after the constant use by the half-track vehicles. Later you could drive down Woodward Ave. and spot the burned spots where cars were turned over and burned.
I don't know how many people lost their lives during the riots, since most news was censored due the war, but I am sure there were many. Also the fact that news was censored has reduced the occurrence of historical references to the riot.
I can assure you that white flight began as well after this 1940s era riot. People were leaving as soon as they were financially capable. At the time, there was a technique known as "block busting." Since you couldn't sell your house if you were close to the black-white line, speculators were then buying into white neighborhoods and selling to upward mobile blacks for significant profits.
We sold out to a black family, which by the way made our neighbors very unhappy with us, moved to Greenville, Texas and never looked back. That was by far the best move we ever made.
I have been back to the area of Detroit on several occasions, but usually avoid the city proper. I have relatives on mother's side that live on Harsen's Island in Lake St. Clair. But in 1990, my curiosity got the better of me and I drove down to my old neighborhood. Detroit, in general, looks liked a bombed out city. Our old two-story brick home was still there, but suffering greatly from neglect, as was the neighborhood.
People keep moving out to the suburbs and the center appears to continue to decay. There are many cities in the U.S. that have similar problems, but most have addressed the need to fight the decay. I don't live in Detroit, so I'm not familiar with their attempts at renewal, but I'm not encouraged by what I saw 16 years ago. Also, I have not heard good things about Detroit since.
As you noted in your article, African-American History should also include this Detroit 1940s chapter as well.
Currently my mother is living with me and is 103 years old and healthy for her age. At every opportunity, she likes say even now, that the best thing we ever did was move to Texas.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Response to thoughts about Detroit and 1967

Writer’s Note: The following is the text of an e-mail from a total stranger concerning the submitted piece published today (Feb. 26) in the Dallas Morning News’ Collin County Opinions section, which you find that was blogged here earlier this week.
“Good Morning, Mr. Bloom,
I don’t usually make a habit of writing to DMS columnists, but your piece in this morning’s DMN Collin County Opinions was superb. Perhaps it’s a result of getting older (47) and succumbing to the inevitable waves of nostalgia, but certainly the summers of ‘67 and ‘68 were fundamental in the formation of my own outlook on the world. Vietnam, Walter Cronkite announcing the day’s body counts on the CBS Evening News, the assassinations of MLK, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, the riots in Detroit and LA … I mean, which do you select for the ‘ay that changed everything?’
You’ll see that I mentioned those times in Detroit during a piece I wrote after taking my nephew to Detroit to pay our respects to Rosa Parks. Never one for “spiritual” moments, even as a preacher’s kid, but if ever there was one, that was it. Thanks for sharing your own experience with us this morning. It was much appreciated!”

My nephew Michael and I traveled to Detroit just the other day. He’s 22 years old, in his first year at Loyola Law, and a New Orleans hurricane evacuee. Katrina’s wrath brought pain and suffering to all of us; yet one of those hidden blessings has been the opportunity to spend more time with the only son of my beloved sister, Kim, may she rest in peace.
Our journey north to pay our respects to Rosa Parks was transcendent. I can remember well traveling with my own family to see other relatives in Detroit during the summer of 1968. My nephew was as shaken as I to see the vast areas of the city that remain devastated by the historic riots of 1967. We discussed Vietnam, and the debate that raged over America’s involvement at the time. I described the twinge of fear we felt as my parents, sisters and I picked our way amongst the fire-ravaged blocks to the relatively unscathed street where our relatives lived.
You see, back then black families did not have the option of stopping at the nearest Courtyard or Hampton Inn for the night. Travels had to be planned based on a network of friends and family who could provide safety and shelter from Point A to Point B. Somewhat like the Underground Railroad that had transported so many to “freedom” in the North, I mused.
We both felt the deep respect, admiration and love for this tiny woman, Rosa Parks. It was everywhere around us as we waited our turn to file past a legend’s remains. My heart swelled as we chatted with what I would call “old church ladies” both in front and behind us. It was so obvious that as they looked at us - an African American business owner, and Michael, an African-American law student - in some way our success made the sacrifices they and many others made “back in the day” worthwhile. We, and many others surrounding us, exemplified the freedom Rosa Parks gave all Americans on that December day back in 1955.
Four days after our return to the trials (no pun intended) and tribulations of every day life, I continue to see example after example of what to me represents a major shift in the American psyche. Others of my age have described the same internal tug they felt; the overwhelming urge to “go to Mother Rosa, and take a young person with you.”
Call it evolution, call it intelligent design, call it fate, call it destiny, call it the hand of a higher power … I’m personally convinced that Rosa Parks was sent here for a purpose and, whether she knew it, planned it or simply found herself in the wrong place at the right time; this diminutive and gracious lady took a seat for justice and the basic dignity of all human beings. Faced with such humility and grace, our nation could not help but recoil in disgust at the fundamental evil that reigned under the guise of post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws.
When a private citizen is celebrated and mourned country-wide, is the first female non-military, non-governmental citizen to lie in state in our nation’s Capitol (legislated by both houses , almost overnight it seems!) and whose funeral services take seven hours to complete, you’d have to be pretty narrow minded to ignore the implications of that citizen’s legacy.
What most effectively “made the case” for my nephew and I? When a friend and business colleague from the Detroit area described the thousands of Americans who came out to line the streets of nighttime Detroit (not the friendliest environs in broad daylight). From Greater Grace Temple to Woodlawn Cemetery, my friend Gary noted that as the funeral procession passed by, the crowds spontaneously broke out in a wailing cry of “Rosa … Rosa.”
To this day, he can’t say whether it was the moaning of grieving souls, or the unbidden praise of a grateful people acknowledging one of their greatest queens. He just said it was eerie. It made my nephew and I very glad we were there to bear witness to what could be, once again, the birth of a new nation.
My father, a Methodist minister, always gave people pause when he named 1960’s singer-songwriter Bob Dylan as a modern day prophet. For me, personally, it was less a matter of whether that was an accurate statement, than an issue involving my seeming inability to make out a single word of Bob’s lyrics! One of Dad’s personal favorites (later to become a mantra for the political, economic and cultural upheaval of the 60’s) was, “... for the times, they are a’changing.”
I think both old Dad and Bob Dylan had it right.
All the best to you and yours this Thanksgiving.

Ivan Bullock
Plano, Texas

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The historical date that changed everything

In everyone’s life, there is a single date – one vivid unforgettable day – that changes a person’s life. It’s not really that wedding day, or the birth of a child or even the assign of a loved one. All those are important and significant, but not historical.
I write of moments in history that alter your view of life, your actions toward your fellow man and your entire outlook on the world in which you live.
For most people alive today, that date would be Sept. 11, 2001 … for obvious reasons. That ground has been plowed a million times since that Tuesday morning and we all know how much the United States seems different since that point forward.
For your grandparents, it would have been Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval fleet and planes at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was our official entry in the biggest armed conflict Earth has ever seen, and perhaps the last time definitive lines between good and evil (among nations) were drawn clearly for the average person.
Could be it was Sunday, July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and you then realized that mankind was not as bound to these mortal coils as once believed.
For me, it was a different Sunday - July 23, 1967 - when my childhood notions of my home were forever changed for the worse. In the early hours of that date, a police raid on a blind pig (after-hours speakeasy) turned confrontational. Things on that hot summer night escalated and quickly became lethal.
Within hours, two forces collided, based on racial lines, and the city of Detroit essentially was destroyed. By late afternoon and early evening, as disenfranchised people went on a riotous rampage, flames that were engulfing stores, homes and cars could be seen from many other neighborhoods, including mine … from my front lawn.
Places which I had known riding alone on Detroit city buses, or speeding past on my bicycle, became war zones, complete with troops in full battle gear, tanks and armament previously only seen on the news in Vietnam. I stood on one of the main thoroughfares and watched federalized Michigan National Guard troops occupy my city, to quell what Gov. George Romney termed “a state of insurrection,” and somehow I knew, my life would never be the same.
It wasn’t safe anymore to take those bicycle rides, even within my neighborhood, or to the Jewish Community Center for swimming lessons, or on the bus to the Detroit Public Library for research or to the Institute of Arts to see priceless works of genius. One would be looking over their shoulder around almost every corner – regardless of skin color. It simply wasn’t the same place to which almost everyone had seen. The Motown sound went from the Supremes, Temptations and Four Tops to the sounds of emergency service sirens wailing in the night.
When the smoke literally cleared, 43 people had died and 1,179 more were injured. There had been 7,000 arrests and more than 1,400 buildings were burned beyond salvage. The financial cost was $45 million (astronomical for that era) and indescribable in terms of the emotional damage. Only the achievements of a baseball team, the 1968 Detroit Tigers’ drive to a World Series victory, prevent reigniting of the tensions from the prior year.
It lasted for about a week, but the affects remain to this day. On a trip to Detroit two years ago (for one of the few times since I migrated to Texas), I could still see visible scars from that 1967 moment in history. When the sports world turned its recent attention to the 40th Super Bowl, held in Detroit, nary a word was spoken about that terrible week. However, all the lauded urban renovation, or “renaissance” as it could be laughingly described, was for a reason. Detroit lost half of its population from 1967 to 2000, falling from 1.8 million residents to less than 950,000.
No one discussing Black History Month ever examines that dark moment in our nation’s history, choosing instead to focus on other milestones. So much of how our nation’s population pattern changes can be traced to that moment in time. White flight began in earnest after 1967, first toward to northern Detroit suburbs and then southward toward seemingly friendlier confines, such as Texas.
But it is, and was, part of our American history. During a time when our society acknowledges and attempts to educate itself about African-American history, I wish this chapter, sad as it was, would be fully included.
For at least one American, it is a date that changed everything.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Who Said What? - Part 5

Another day, another way to play …
Who said what?
In a time when high-ranking government officials were either becoming targets, or finding their own targets (two or four-legged kind), there was plenty said, and not all of it good.
So I ask you, “Who said what?”
As always, answers below.

1) “We can’t lock members up in a cubbyhole here in Washington and never let them see what’s going on around the country and around the world.”
2) “I think these civil rights leaders are nothing more than racists. And they’re keeping constituency, they’re keeping their neighborhoods and their African-American brothers enslaved, if you will, by continuing to let them think that they’re - or forced to think that they’re victims - that the whole system is against them.”
3) “Barack Obama is the Donovan McNabb of the Senate. He’s overrated, and he’s going to get a free pass by the media.”
4) “I erred when I said that Sherrod Brown is black. I’m confusing him with somebody with a similar name in the Democratic Party somewhere. But we have corrected this, and … I’m not gonna apologize, ‘cause I don’t think it’s an insult to be black. But I did err. He is not black. He’s one of these white European descendents in Ohio.”
5) “Muslims are the only people who make feminists seem laid-back.”
6) “I would guess it didn’t exactly represent a profile in courage for the vice president to wander over there to the F-word network for a sit down with Brit Hume. I mean, that’s a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain’t it?”
7) “I had a bit of the feeling that the press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them - they didn’t like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of the New York Times.”
8) “We’re just two Jews who don’t know a thing about hunting.”

And here are the answers:
1) Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), newly-elected House Majority Leader on Fox News Sunday, Feb. 5.
2) GOP strategist Mary Matalin on Hannity and Colmes, Fox News Channel, Feb. 8
3) caller to Rush Limbaugh, Feb. 7 EIB network broadcast, with Limbaugh repeating the line in agreement
4) Rush Limbaugh, Feb. 14 EIB broadcast, speaking about Paul Hackett’s decision to drop out of Ohio U.S. Senate race
5) Conservative Ann Coulter in her Feb. 8 syndicated column
6) Newsman Jack Cafferty, CNN’s The Situation Room, Feb. 15
7) Vice President Dick Cheney, on Fox News Channel, Feb. 15
8) Al Franken speaking to guest Joe Conasen, The Al Franken Show, Air America Radio, Feb. 15

Friday, February 10, 2006

The kind of commercial you'll NEVER see

Newest commercial not to be seen during Super Bowl, Grammys or anywhere else, other than in one's mind:

(Announceer voiceover with scenes from New Orleans/post-Katrina on screen)

Michael Brown, you're the disgraced former head of FEMA; everyone is blaming you for what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck last August.

Now you've been officially hung out to dry when the White House would not even extend executive privilege to you to testify before a Senate committee about communications you had with the White House.

No one is coming to your defense, which ... today ... is that Homeland Security dropped the ball after you told them days ahead of what they've admitted to in public. No one is coming to yuor defense - Democrat OR Republican or quarter horse for that matter.

What do you have to say for yourself now that your career in over?

"I'm going to Dizzy World!"

Fade to black.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Who Said What 4

Ah, February, the month of love, peace and happiness and one of my favorite Chambers Brothers tune.
Let us again go to Round 4 of “Who Said What?” and see if you can guess where these pearls of wisdom came from?
1) “The Democrats will eat that up because, while they can’t trust George W. Bush, they can trust Osama bin Laden.”
2) “The bin Laden videotape that came out right before the election last year, well, 2004, could’ve been a John Kerry speech; you know, 75 percent of it.”
3) “Well, bin Laden and the Democrats sound similar, would you not agree?”
4) “The most dangerous place you can be is between a liberal woman and her morning-after pill. That’s a more dangerous place to be than between (Sen.) Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a television camera. When a liberal woman gets pregnant, you do not want to be anywhere near her morning-after pill. I think these babes ought to first prove that they’ve had sex with a man.”
5) “We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice (John Paul) Stevens’ creme brulee. That’s just a joke, for you in the media.”
6) “You buy what you build. That only makes sense.”
7) “Abramoff personally did not give any of his own money to Democrats, but he’s charged with giving them other people’s money. That’s what Dean’s hiding behind. He’s quite a guy, isn’t he? Ridiculous? I think so. But as always, I could be wrong.”
8) “The Bush administration has made too many mistakes. I’m praying it all works out, but they’ve made too many mistakes. But he’s not a hypocrite, Bush. He told you exactly what he was going to do, and he did it.”
9) “But it doesn’t take a brilliant genius to know two fundamental things: A woman can do better at getting women’s votes against a woman than a man can, and a black can do better at getting black votes than a white can. Duh.”
10) “If you want to punish the Palestinian people for practicing democracy, then the American administration should punish Americans for choosing President Bush. Please remember that you were the one who created the Palestinians’ crisis.”

And the answers are …
1) Rush Limbaugh, Jan. 23 broadcast, EIB network
2) Rush, same broadcast
3) Oops, Rush AGAIN from the same Jan. 23 show. He was hot THAT day.
4) Limbaugh from his Feb. 2 radio show
5) uber conservative author Ann Coulter, speaking Jan. 26 at Philander Smith College
6) Ford employee Rufus McWilliams, concerning a ban of non-Ford cars and trucks from the parking lot of its Dearborn (Mich.) Truck Plant, Jan. 26
7) Bill O’Reilly, The Radio Factor, Jan. 25
8) O’Reilly, same show
9) Consultant Dick Morris on O’Reilly’s The Radio Factor, Jan. 26
10) Khaled Mashaal, Hamas leader, Jan. 27

Hope you did well this time around.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl; commercial reviews

Let’s first dispense with the formalities of the 40th Super Bowl, a poorly played game that Pittsburgh won (actually, it was a game Seattle lost by failing to convert scoring opportunities).
Here is my review of the package of Super Bowl commercials, also, for the most part, disappointing and nondescript.
The first best commercials were:
5) FedEx “prehistoric.” I laughed, which was rare during the breaks.
4) Hummer “little monster.” Clever interaction between classic Japanese cinematic monsters. So that’s why we have all those gas guzzling tanks on the road?
3) Budweiser “card section.” Well done. You could see the punch line but it was a pleasure getting there.
2) (tie) Budweiser “young Clydesdale colt,” and “streaker.” The streaker was the funniest commercial on the night.
and 1) ABC’s own promotion, “Addicted to Lost.” It was the cleverist spot, with the best use of editing, best use of rock music, best use of enticement to the viewer.
Hands down the individual winner.
Career and Budweiser had the best grouping of commercials. Budweiser was far better than its partner, Bud Light, whose commercials were mostly crude and rude. In fact, I hope people think there’s as much “crude” in ANWR as was shown on screen Sunday night.
I like Career Builder because … monkeys ARE funny.
Bud Light lacked wit and Cedric the Entertainer. His presence was notably absent.
Other notable things were the return of old familiar faces (Leonard Nimoy for … Aleve? and Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver for Mastercard) and the fact that there is better rock music in these commercials than can be programmed on any classic rock station.
And just HOW many razor blades does it take to shave a guy? FIVE?
The Diet Pepsi/P Diddy spot was far too hip for old guy me.
Of the movie previews, I thought “Mission Impossible 3,” “V for Vendetta” and the Pixar film, “Cars” looked promising. But Paul Newman doing animated stuff? Is that NOT another sign that the apocalypse is approaching?