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  • Detroit Fifty Years After the Kerner Report:What Has Changed, What Has Not, and Why?

Immediately after the Detroit violence of July 1967, President Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission and ordered it to determine what had happened, why, and what could be done to prevent urban riots. This analysis focuses on racial change in metropolitan Detroit. Progress has been made in racially integrating the suburban ring closed to African Americans at the time of the violence. Evidence indicates social integration in that interracial marriage is more common and blacks are more represented in prestigious occupations. However, on key economic measures, African Americans are now further behind whites than they were in 1967. This can be attributed to fundamental changes in employment and the failure of the educational system to provide the training needed for jobs in the new economy.

Keywords

Kerner Commission, racial segregation, Detroit, racial gaps, civil rights movement

No city has played a larger role in the struggle for civil rights than Detroit. As soon as President Thomas Jefferson appointed the first federal judge for the Michigan territory in the early nineteenth century, litigation began about whether slaves held in the British era could be kept in bondage. Shortly after Judge Augustus Woodward arrived in 1805, he ruled that a Michigan slave who had lived in Canada and then returned to Detroit was a free person (Miles 2017, 177-83). When Michigan became a state, it enacted Black Code legislation that required African Americans to post $500 and demonstrate their freedom before entering the state, a law that was not enforced. When the public schools were established in the state, they were restricted to white children, but Detroit activists challenged this in the courts as early as 1840. Detroit is the nation's only city where the federal military has been deployed on the streets four times to prevent whites and blacks from killing each other, twice in both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the use of restrictive covenants in property deeds based on litigation initiated by the McGhee family who sought to remain in their home on Detroit's Seabalt Street.1 Key organizational and [End Page 206] financial support for the August 1963 March on Washington came largely from the Detroit's United Auto Workers Union. Both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X gave their most famous orations in Detroit, King's "I Have a Dream" speech in June 1963 and Malcolm X's "Message to the Masses" that November. It is no surprise that the Kerner report came about in response to events in Detroit.

THE BEGINNING OF THE DETROIT VIOLENCE

Early on Sunday morning, July 23, 1967, Detroit police entered an illegal after-hours drinking place know as a "blind pig" at the corner of Twelfth Street and Clairmount expecting to find a few patrons who could then easily be arrested for violating liquor laws, booked, and quickly released. Instead, they found eighty-two people celebrating the return of a soldier from Vietnam. The arrestees were held on Twelfth Street until police located enough vans to take them away. A crowd quickly gathered and taunted the officers. Looting started shortly thereafter. By late that Sunday, Michigan Governor George Romney ordered 1,200 Michigan National Guardsmen—later increased to eight thousand—to the streets of Detroit.

After the violence escalated on Monday, President Lyndon Johnson dispatched federal paratroopers, who arrived on the streets just after midnight Tuesday morning—the first time since the Detroit riot of 1943 that federal troops had been marshaled to put down urban racial violence (Zelizer 2016, xv). By Wednesday, July 26, the violence had ended but forty-three Detroit residents were dead—thirty-three blacks and ten whites (Kerner Report 1968, 84-103; McGraw 2017b, 2017c; Fine 1989, chapter 7). A month earlier, similar rioting in Newark resulted in twenty-three deaths. The previous summer, National Guardsmen had been called to African American neighborhoods in Chicago and Cleveland to curtail racial violence. A pattern of summer urban riots appeared to be emerging.

On July 28, 1967—just two days after the Detroit violence ended—President Johnson issued Executive Order 11365, establishing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, with Illinois Governor Otto Kerner as chair and Mayor John Lindsay of New York as vice chair (hence the more familiar Kerner Commission and Kerner report). Johnson asked the commissioners to determine what happened, why it happened, and what could be done to prevent it from occurring again. Moving with alacrity, the commission released its final report on February 29, 1968—one of the most provocative, far-reaching, and unexpected reports ever issued by a federal commission.

Commissioners devoted exceptional attention to Detroit for a variety of reasons. The largest of the World War II racial riots occurred in Detroit in June 1943 and culminated in the deaths of thirty-four residents (Capeci and Wilkerson 1991; Baime 2014, 245-48). By the 1960s, it was becoming obvious that the invasion of the "crabgrass frontier" (Jackson 1985)—that is, the development of suburban rings—provoked a tremendous migration of whites away from neighborhoods in older cities. This created increasingly African American cities surrounded by white suburbs. Democrats depended on both urban and suburban votes to sustain their national power. They realized the possibility for racial violence but hoped that federal investments might improve older cities and keep their voters in the Democrat column. In Detroit, they found an opportunity in 1961 when the city elected Jerry Cavanaugh its mayor, a seemingly talented young liberal who resembled Jack Kennedy. In the Kennedy and Johnson years, generous federal funds flowed to Motown with the expectation that it would become the model city for racial harmony and economic prosperity (Fine 1989, chap. 4; McGraw 2017a).

The Kerner Commission stressed the denial of equal treatment as the fundamental cause of urban violence. African Americans were targeted for abuse by the police, denied opportunities for education, and unable to compete fairly in the labor market because of discrimination. Underlying these racial inequities was the denial of opportunities in the housing market. Racial residential segregation, imposed largely by discriminatory practices and abetted consistently by federal and local government policies, allowed police to target African Americans, kept blacks out of areas where the new jobs were emerging and ensured that black children went to inferior and less well-financed [End Page 207] schools. The Kerner commissioners viewed residential segregation as a linchpin maintaining the racial dominance of whites.

This essay describes what has happened in metropolitan Detroit regarding the key issues raised by the Kerner report:

How far have we come?

What worked and what did not work?

What are the implications for the twenty-first century?

RESIDENTIAL SEGREGATION AND THE INTEGRATION OF DETROIT'S SUBURBS

The most frequently cited conclusion of the Kerner Commission report was the statement that, if current trends continued, the nation would within two decades be riven by race, whites in suburbs and smaller cities and blacks concentrated in large central cities (Kerner Report 1968, 407). The commissioners were likely thinking about metropolitan Detroit when they drafted that warning. The Detroit suburban ring in 1970 was home to 2.7 million residents and included ten African American suburban enclaves. Beyond those segregated areas, African Americans made up only 0.5 percent of the suburban population.2 The most influential book on racial residential segregation is Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton's American Apartheid (1993). That title appropriately describes metropolitan Detroit at the time of the violence.

Detroit was not racially segregated until after World War I. A few prosperous African Americans lived where they wished, but a larger number of low-income blacks lived east of downtown alongside immigrants from Eastern Europe (Katzman 1973). After the massive inmigration of Southerners to fill defense industry jobs during World War I, a pervasive system of Jim Crow segregation emerged for the first time (Zunz 1982). Many whites feared that if blacks came to their neighborhoods, property values would plummet, women and daughters would be at risk of violence, and school quality would decline. Detroit's real estate practices and restrictive covenants created an American apartheid residential pattern across the city. The most famous civil rights trial of the 1920s concerned Dr. Ossian Sweet—an African American physician who had purchased a home on the East Side. When hostile crowds attacked it in 1925 and the police did not protect it, Sweet and his brother defended the residence. A shot came from the home and one person in the crowd died. Sweet and his companions were immediately arrested and charged with murder. The NAACP recognized the importance of up-holding the principal that a homeowner has the right to defend his property against mayhem. With the help of Clarence Darrow, Sweet was eventually exonerated, but his victory was Pyrrhic. African Americans were reminded that moving into a white neighborhood was possible but dangerous (Boyle 2004; Vine 2004; Boyd 2017, 109-11).

During the 1920s, restrictive covenants were written into the deeds of most new housing in the city and federal agencies, in the next decade, introduced redlining, isolating whites from blacks. By World War II, most of Detroit's 172,000 blacks lived in an East Side ghetto along Hastings Street, a West Side ghetto, and a small pocket in northwest Detroit separated from white neighbors by a quarter-mile six-foot wall built for the purpose of maintaining segregation (Rothstein 2017, 58; Schwartz 2017). Real estate broker guidelines stated that it was unethical to introduce a minority family to a white neighborhood. The first racial riot of World War II broke out in Detroit in February 1942. The federal government had erected housing for defense workers on a segregated basis and designated the Sojourner Truth Homes in northern Detroit for African Americans. Those homes, however, were close to white neighborhoods, whose residents fiercely opposed the housing and used force to keep African Americans [End Page 208] out. After a six-week standoff, the federal and state governments mobilized police forces to allow blacks to enter their homes (Thomas 1992, 143-48; Jenkins 1991, 408-17).

Thomas Sugrue explains the battles for racial dominance in Detroit neighborhoods after World War II (1996). Because the defense industries paid high wages, Detroit's blacks, by national standards, were affluent. In Detroit, unlike in many other cities, African Americans had the resources to purchase homes commensurate with their prosperous economic status. During the war, workers were forced to save because durable goods and new homes were unavailable, setting the stage for racial contention throughout the city. With the ending of restrictive covenants, blacks bought homes in white neighborhoods. In a few locations, such as Sherwood Forest, Palmer Woods, Boston Edison, and Indian Village, integration occurred, and those neighborhoods remain peacefully integrated (Rodwan 2017). These were the exceptions. More frequently, whites fought diligently to preserve the racial purity of their neighborhoods. More than two hundred acts of violence were recorded against blacks moving into white Detroit neighborhoods after World War II. In 1958, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission concluded that almost all blacks who attempted to move into Detroit's white suburbs had been harassed or threatened (Rothstein 2017, 146).

By the mid-1950s, whites realized an attractive alternative to defending their neighborhoods from racial invasion. After World War II, the federal government developed housing policies to stimulate the economy, enabling moderate- and low-income households to purchase new homes for small down payments and modest monthly fees using government-insured loans. Veterans could do so for even smaller cash outlays. These programs, however, ended up maximizing segregation. In no other metropolis were suburban officials and residents as diligent and thorough when it came to blatantly telling African Americans that they were not welcome in the crabgrass frontier. Orville Hubbard, mayor of Dearborn for thirty years, became a well-known national symbol of suburban resistance to African Americans, thwarting government attempts to build defense-worker housing in Dearborn during World War II and preventing Metropolitan Life from constructing a large development because he feared they would be "soft" on segregation (Good 1989; Freund 2007, chap. 7). For decades, he kept Dearborn "lily white" but had no objection to blacks who were live-in servants. The Grosse Pointes became nationally known for their effective and highly organized point system. Anyone seeking to live in those five prosperous suburbs was required to apply to the Grosse Pointe Brokers Association, to be evaluated, and to have a certain minimum ranking on a point system. A detective investigated the candidate, after which a secret committee from the Brokers Association assigned points (Thomas 1966). Asians, blacks, and Mexicans were excluded without consideration.

Just a month before the July 1967 violence, Carado Bailey, a black Vietnam veteran and his white wife moved into the suburb of Warren. For three nights, hostile crowds surrounded the home. On the fourth night, the police sealed the area. The white press barely covered the incident. The African American media did, however, and the black community consensus was that the Warren police, rather than controlling the hostile white protestors, abetted them (Killeen 2018; Fine 1989, chap. 4).

August Comte is credited with the phrase "demography is destiny." Figures 1 through 4 illustrate the population trends that influenced the Kerner Commission and report what has unfolded more recently. Figure 1 describes the rapid growth of metropolitan Detroit as it became known, in then President Franklin Roosevelt's words in a 1940 speech, as the "Arsenal of Democracy." The area's overall population reached a high in 1980 but since then has stagnated. Its white population had peaked in 1970 but declined as a consequence of much lower birth rates and out-migration until, by 2016, it was one million smaller than at the time of the violence. The black population peaked about 2000, then declined, and is now about 5 percent smaller.

Figure 2 reports population trends for the city of Detroit, a municipality that has annexed no new area since 1926. Its peak census count was tallied in 1950, when, with just fewer than [End Page 209]

Figure 1. Population of the Three-County Detroit Metro Area (in Thousands) Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 1.

Population of the Three-County Detroit Metro Area (in Thousands)

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Figure 2. Population of the City of Detroit (in Thousands) Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 2.

Population of the City of Detroit (in Thousands)

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

two million residents, it was the nation's fourth largest city. Only New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia were larger. The government's housing policies and the National Defense Highway system encouraged an out-migration of whites and, by 2016, the city's white population was only 3 percent what it had been in 1950. The black population, meanwhile, grew rapidly until 1970 and then slowly peaked in the mid-1990s. After that, black out-migration accelerated [End Page 210] and, by 2016, the number of black city residents had dropped by a quarter million.

Figure 3. Population of the Three-County Detroit Suburban Ring (in Thousands) Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 3.

Population of the Three-County Detroit Suburban Ring (in Thousands)

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Figure 3 graphs the suburban population's rapid growth from 1950 to 1980 and subsequent slow growth or stagnation. Most significant in terms of the Kerner Commission warning is the opening of Detroit's suburbs to African Americans. The suburban black population had seen some growth before 1990 but it was concentrated in ten segregated suburban pockets. Since 1990, it has grown rapidly. Indeed, the total suburban population would now be declining rather rapidly were it not for the inmigration of African Americans, primarily from the city of Detroit.

Anthony Downs drafted the component of the Kerner report describing the future of cities (Gillon 2018, 217). Five years later, he published Opening the Suburbs, a widely cited and influential volume that reiterated many ideas of the Kerner report (Downs 1973). Ending the barriers that kept blacks out of suburbs, he ar-gued, would facilitate their economic and social mobility. Figure 4 shows the proportion of the metropolitan population living in the suburbs. At the outset of World War II, that was one in three residents. By the time of the Kerner report, it was two in three. The proportion continues to rise, albeit slowly. The pattern of sub-urbanization differs greatly by race, however. By 1970, 75 percent of whites were in the suburbs. By 2010, 98 percent were. At the time of the Detroit violence, about one metropolitan black in eight lived in a suburban African American enclave. This changed little until 1990. Then the suburbs opened, and African Americans moved from the city to the ring in substantial numbers just as whites did in earlier decades. By 2016, 44 percent of metropolitan African Americans were suburban residents. Detroit's suburban ring now has a larger black population—420,000—than the black population of all but four central cities: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit.

Traditional Measures of Racial Residential Segregation

For six decades, demographers have assessed racial segregation using the index of dissimilarity. This measures whether blacks and whites are living in the same neighborhoods, but it does not assess social contacts. Figure 5 displays indexes measuring the segregation of whites from blacks from 1940 to the present for the entire three-county metropolis for the city of Detroit and for its suburban ring. A score of [End Page 211]

Figure 4. Percent of the Metro Detroit Population Living in Suburban Ring Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 4.

Percent of the Metro Detroit Population Living in Suburban Ring

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Figure 5. Residential Segregation of Whites from Blacks, Index of Dissimilarity Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 5.

Residential Segregation of Whites from Blacks, Index of Dissimilarity

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

100 would indicate that every neighborhood was either exclusively white or exclusively black—that is, total apartheid. These data refer to blacks and whites from 1940 to 1970 and non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks since then. The most recent data for census tracts were gathered by the Census Bureau in the 2012 to 2016 interval. Census tracts are generally considered neighborhoods in urban research.

Residential segregation peaked in 1970, when [End Page 212] the score for the Detroit metropolitan area was 89. That is, either 89 percent of whites or 89 percent of blacks would have to move from one neighborhood to another to bring about an even residential distribution of the races. Segregation in the metropolis declined moderately after 1970. The city was most segregated in 1940 and has slowly become more integrated. As blacks moved into formerly white neighborhoods following the demise of restrictive covenants, the city's segregation score dropped. The long-term trend toward more integration continued and the score fell to 60 in 2016.

Figure 6. Average Percentage Black Residents in Census Tract of Typical White Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 6.

Average Percentage Black Residents in Census Tract of Typical White

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Segregation in the suburban ring peaked in 1970 with a score of 92, but then declined, especially after 1990, as middle-class blacks migrated to the suburbs. By 2016, the suburban segregation score declined to 57. Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton describe scores of lower than 60 as indicating moderate segregation (1993). Detroit's suburban ring has gone from hyper to moderate segregation in the decades since the Kerner report. The segregation score for the entire metropolitan area is higher than the score for either the city or the suburban ring because of the substantial racial differences in the composition of these different areas.

Figure 6 reports the average percentage of black residents living in the census tract of the typical white and suggests that segregation has by no means disappeared. Indeed, the segregation score for the entire metropolitan area remains high. Since the 1970s, African Americans have made up one-quarter of the metropolitan population. Whites who remained in the city saw sharp rises in the proportion of black neighbors, but the suburbs have also changed. In 1970, the typical suburban white lived in a neighborhood where only 1 percent of the residents were black. Forty-six years later, that number was 8 percent.

Figure 7 shows the average percentage white in the neighborhood of the typical black for the city of Detroit and the suburban ring. In the city in 1940, African Americans resided in census tracts where, on average, 40 percent of the residents were white. This changed rapidly as whites moved away from the city, and in 2010, African Americans in Detroit lived in neighborhoods where, on average, only 5 percent of the residents were white.

The suburbanization of African Americans in recent decades produced a large city-suburban difference on this index of racial mixing at the neighborhood level. In the city, blacks have few white neighbors, but the 44 percent [End Page 213] of metropolitan blacks who live in the suburban ring are typically residents of neighborhoods where half the residents are white (for an analysis of neighborhood changes in other cities with 1967 era violence, see Casey and Hardy 2018).

Figure 7. Average Percentage White Residents in Census Tract of Typical Black Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 7.

Average Percentage White Residents in Census Tract of Typical Black

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

The Suburban Migration of Middle-Class African Americans

The exodus of whites from Detroit occurred on a selective basis: the most prosperous moved to the suburbs first, followed later by those with middle or lower incomes. The same economic selectivity characterizes African American sub-urbanization. Figures 8 and 9 sort white and black households into six economic groups from impoverished to comfortable (household incomes five or more times the poverty line). The poverty line, in 2017, was $24,900 for a family of four, so an income of $125,000 qualified a family of four for the comfortable status. Figures 8 and 9 show the percentage of households in each economic category living in the suburbs rather than in the city. Data are shown for 1980 and 2016.

By 1980, virtually all economically successful white households were in the suburbs. Among whites below the poverty line, however, more than one in four lived in the city. A generation later, in 2016, almost all whites—98 percent—lived in the ring regardless of their economic well-being. In 1980, the American apartheid system closed suburbs to African Americans, so most blacks lived in the city regardless of income. That changed over time. By 2016, most middle-income and economically comfortable African Americans had suburban addresses. This out-migration will likely continue as Detroit blacks seek to live in places that are perceived to have more effective schools, to be safer, and to have better city services and much lower property tax rates (Williams 2015).

The relatively low segregation score for the Detroit suburban ring in 2016 is surprising given the long history of extreme racial hostility. Just after the 1967 violence, suburban Dear-born Mayor Hubbard called the participants "mad dogs" and offered advice to his constituents: "learn to shoot, shoot straight and learn to be a dead shot." He then had his suburb fund courses for housewives in how to use shotguns, handguns, and rifles (Serrin 1969). Following passage of the Fair Housing Act, Dearborn voters approved an ordinance that limited use of their parks to city residents (Barrow 1986) and Grosse Pointe Park proposed building a wall at [End Page 214]

Figure 8. Percent of Detroit Metropolitan-Area Whites Living in Suburban Ring Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018). Note: Impoverished: incomes below the poverty line. Near poor: incomes 100 to 199 percent of poverty line. Lower middle class: incomes 200 to 299 percent of poverty line. Middle class: incomes 300 to 399 percent of poverty line. Upper middle class: incomes 400 to 499 percent of poverty line. Comfortable: at least five times the poverty line.
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Figure 8.

Percent of Detroit Metropolitan-Area Whites Living in Suburban Ring

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Note: Impoverished: incomes below the poverty line. Near poor: incomes 100 to 199 percent of poverty line. Lower middle class: incomes 200 to 299 percent of poverty line. Middle class: incomes 300 to 399 percent of poverty line. Upper middle class: incomes 400 to 499 percent of poverty line. Comfortable: at least five times the poverty line.

Figure 9. Percent of Detroit Metropolitan-Area Blacks Living in Suburban Ring Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018). Note: Impoverished: incomes below the poverty line. Near poor: incomes 100 to 199 percent of poverty line. Lower middle class: incomes 200 to 299 percent of poverty line. Middle class: incomes 300 to 399 percent of poverty line. Upper middle class: incomes 400 to 499 percent of poverty line. Comfortable: at least five times the poverty line.
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Figure 9.

Percent of Detroit Metropolitan-Area Blacks Living in Suburban Ring

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Note: Impoverished: incomes below the poverty line. Near poor: incomes 100 to 199 percent of poverty line. Lower middle class: incomes 200 to 299 percent of poverty line. Middle class: incomes 300 to 399 percent of poverty line. Upper middle class: incomes 400 to 499 percent of poverty line. Comfortable: at least five times the poverty line.

their border with Detroit, ostensibly for flood control (Wilkinson 1986).

It is important to determine whether suburbs with substantial African American populations at present are residentially integrated or are pockets of largely black neighborhoods surrounded by exclusively white neighborhoods. I calculated segregation scores for those thirteen suburbs of Detroit with fifty thousand or more residents where in 2016 at least 5 percent of the residents were black (see table 1). Two suburbs notorious for their strenuous efforts to bar blacks—Dearborn and the Grosse Pointes—were included.

The strategies that kept blacks out were highly effective, as shown in the population figures for 1970: Dearborn had more than 100,000 residents but only 13 African Americans; [End Page 215]

Table 1. Racial Change in Large Detroit Suburbs 1970 to 2016 and Racial Residential Segregation Scores for 2016
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Table 1.

Racial Change in Large Detroit Suburbs 1970 to 2016 and Racial Residential Segregation Scores for 2016

[End Page 216] Farmington Hills' 62,000 residents was also home to 84 blacks; in Warren only 129 of the 178,000 residents were African American. That changed. Dearborn now has almost 4,000 black residents, Farmington Hills has 15,000, and Warren has 23,000. Southfield, a prosperous suburb contiguous to Detroit, underwent the change some demographers predicted would happen with African American suburbanization. Its black population rose to 51,000 and African Americans now make up 70 percent of the total residents.

The suburban white population has been declining since the 1970s due to both the aging of the population and declining economic opportunities. The black population has grown, however. This demographic shift had the unexpected consequences of promoting the residential integration that Kerner commissioners advocated. The indexes of black-white residential segregation shown in table 1 for Detroit suburbs for 2016 are revealing. All of them are relatively low, indeed, very low in the Detroit context where, for decades segregation scores of 85 to 90 were the norm (Massey and Denton 1989). Southfield, which has the largest African American population, is relatively integrated, having a segregation score of 28, a score that Massey and Denton would consider low. Warren, which lies in the heart of Macomb Country where the Reagan Democrats propelled Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, has a score of 37. Farmington Hills' score is 22. Even Dear-born and the Grosse Pointes have scores under 50. Table 1 reports that, by 2016, whether African Americans made up a large proportion of a suburb's population, as in Pontiac and Southfield, or a small percent as in Dearborn and Sterling Heights, the suburbs are not highly racially segregated.

Given the history of racial exclusion and hostility, could the suburbs now be only moderately segregated? Could there be so much racial change in one generation? Are the moderate and low segregation scores misleading? Perhaps within these suburbs, many block or block groups are exclusively African American but scattered within the larger census tracts. If so, using smaller geographic units such as block groups will produce much higher segregation scores.3 Block groups in the Detroit ring average 1,300 residents. For the entirety of Oak-land County, the segregation score computed from census tract data for 2012 to 2016 was 64; when computed from the smaller block groups, it was 68. For Macomb County, the census tract index of segregation was 48; the block group index was 57. Apparently no "Dalmatian" pattern of segregation is found within these suburban counties.

Are Detroit's suburbs becoming racially integrated? Does that mean that the eighty-one thousand school-age African American children who live in the ring attend integrated schools? That is a more challenging question to answer because the boundaries of Michigan school districts seldom correspond to municipal boundaries. The three-county Detroit metropolis includes eighty-two public school districts. I considered the twelve largest suburban districts as well as Grosse Pointe and their enrollment data by race from the Common Core of School Data for the 2015-2016 academic year (National Center for Education Statistics 2018). The index of dissimilarity was used to assess racial segregation with individual public schools as units. The findings are shown in table 2.

Since 1990, middle-class blacks have moved into Detroit's traditionally white suburbs and now live in what most would define as racially integrated neighborhoods. Many of them, it appears, enroll their children in racially integrated public schools, quite unlike the situation in the city, where the schools enroll very few white students. In the large suburban school districts considered here, the segregation scores range from a low of 12 in the Farmington and Troy districts to a high of 45 in Dearborn.

This does not mean that all suburban school districts are thoroughly integrated. Many of the smaller school districts enroll few African Americans, and the indexes reported here do not measure possible segregation within individual schools. Race is still a salient issue in suburban schools and two suburban school districts: East Detroit and Southfield lost many [End Page 217] white students due to Michigan's freedom of school choice law that permits students to enroll in public schools outside their district. It is important to stress that some progress has been made in reducing school segregation in the metropolis: middle-class African American parents now have school integration options for their children that they did not in 1967. Forty-eight percent of metropolitan Detroit's school-age black children now reside in the suburbs, where the schools are more racially mixed and diverse than in the city. Integration trends in suburban Detroit are components of a similar change across the state. In 2000, 58 percent of the state's African American stu-dents attended schools that were at least 90 percent black; by 2015, 40 percent did (Chambers and MacDonald 2017).

Table 2. Large Suburban Detroit School Districts: Enrollment by Race in 2015 and Racial Segregation Scores
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Table 2.

Large Suburban Detroit School Districts: Enrollment by Race in 2015 and Racial Segregation Scores

What Explains Suburban Residential Integration?

What worked to open the suburbs and thwart the Kerner Commission's chocolate city, vanilla suburbs prediction? The racial attitudes of whites liberalized. Along with colleagues, I conducted studies of the causes of residential segregation in metropolitan Detroit three times. The last, unfortunately, was fourteen years ago. Nevertheless, the proportion of a random selection of whites who said they would try to move out if a single black family moved into their neighborhood declined from 24 percent in 1976 to 8 percent in 2004. The proportion of whites who said that if they were searching for a new home and found an attractive, affordable one in a neighborhood where one-third of the residents were black they would consider buying it increased from 50 percent in 1976 to 79 percent in the most recent study (Farley 2011). This may be linked to a changing white perception of black migration. In the 1960s, Chicago Alderman Lawler gave a succinct definition for integration, namely, that short span between the time the first Negro moved in and the time the last white moved out. That describes what happened in many Detroit neighborhoods. But suburban residents may now realize that such change is seldom occurring in their suburbs and that the African Americans who purchase [End Page 218] or rent homes in their neighborhoods will be their economic and social peers. The Census Bureau's annual surveys support this claim since they report that the characteristics of African Americans and whites in the larger suburbs are roughly comparable. In Sterling Heights, the per capita income of adult blacks was 92 percent of that of whites, in Westland 90 percent, and in Warren 85 percent.

Second, the attitudes of African Americans also changed. Our studies found that Detroitarea blacks strongly preferred racially integrated neighborhoods, but many were reluctant to pioneer in a white neighborhood. In 1992, 31 percent said they would be willing to pioneer if they found an attractive, affordable home in an all-white neighborhood. By 2004, that had increased to 40 percent (Farley, Couper, and Krysan 2006, 37). In the wake of the rapid suburbanization of African Americans, many more suburban neighborhoods have large enough black populations to make them appealing, perhaps, to those who are hesitant to pioneer. In 2016, the number of census tracts in the Detroit suburbs numbered 860. Fifty-four percent of them had populations at least 5 percent African American, presumably signaling to blacks that they could move there and not face the violence that Dr. Sweet did in 1925.

Third, the Kerner report hastened passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. A federal law to ban racial discrimination in the housing market had been introduced in early 1967 but languished because many in Congress believed that the government should not tell property owners whom to sell to or rent to (Loessberg and Koskinen 2018). The Kerner Commission issued its clarion call for integration on February 29, 1968. The congressional log jam ended on March 11 when the measure was reported out of committee (Mathias and Morris 1999; Zasloff 2016). Debate about the effectiveness of this law aside, I believe it had an impact by changing standard operating procedures in the real estate industry. Brokers gradually came to appreciate that they could be punished for blatant racial discrimination. Fair housing groups spread across the country and filed suit when they saw violations. Studies of discrimination in the Detroit and twenty-seven other real estate markets were conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1977, 1989, 2000, and 2012. They confirm not the disappearance but instead a consistent and substantial decline in racial discrimination by brokers involving the rental or sale of advertised properties. The 2012 analysis in Detroit used paired testers to measure thirty-nine possible types of discrimination against blacks who sought to rent advertised units. The racial difference was not significant on thirty-three of the thirty-nine dimensions (Turner et al. 2013, appendix F).4

Finally, market forces greatly abetted the suburban migration of African Americans. After the 1970s, the demand for housing in the suburbs fell sharply; that is, the white population of the ring fell by two hundred thousand from 1970 to 2016. This led suburban officials and real estate brokers to appreciate the influx of new residents from the city who had the funds to purchase or rent suburban homes, apartments, and condos. That inmigration helped to stave off the many problems resulting from falling populations and declining tax bases including the painful process of laying off police and fire officers and closing schools. In many suburbs, African Americans are replacing whites, thereby reducing segregation.

The gradual trend toward less segregation seems likely to continue. The Kerner Commission report played some role in popularizing the norm that racial discrimination in the housing market is wrong and illegal. And the now increasing white population of the city of Detroit may lead to more racially mixed neighborhoods in the city. However, at this point there are few policies or programs to hasten the residential integration trend. [End Page 219]

EVIDENCE OF NO RACIAL PROGRESS: THE INCREASING ECONOMIC GAP THAT SEPARATES WHITES FROM BLACKS

Kerner commissioners focused on employment and emphasized that African Americans, especially men, were much more likely to be unemployed than whites and that blacks who held jobs were concentrated in low-paying occupations. The commissioners accurately predicted that, in the short run, most job creation would be in the largely white suburban rings and the chronically unemployed would continue to be concentrated in central cities. Observing Detroit, they commented about the loss of more than one hundred thousand auto industry jobs in the city in the years before the violence (Kerner Report 1968, 406). To minimize the chances for future "hot summers," the commissioners called for the creation of one million new jobs in the public sector and one million in the private sector within the next three years, jobs that would pay at least the minimum or prevailing wage (421-30).

When it comes to key economic indicators, all standard measures show that blacks fell further behind whites following the 1967 violence. Whites in the Detroit area, as a group, were better off economically than blacks at the time of the Kerner report but blacks lost much more income and wealth than whites as industrial jobs disappeared.

As table 3 reveals, these decades since 1970 have been challenging for metropolitan Detroit. The median income of Detroit-area white households, in constant dollars, dropped by $10,200 (17 percent) from 1970 to 2016. But for black households, the decline was $15,500 (32 percent). The racial gap in median household income had been $25,300 (in 2016 dollars) when the Kerner commissioners penned the report. It grew to $30,600. Black households have less and less to spend relative to whites.

The economic status of adults is assessed by the median earnings of adults who reported earnings. In 1970, African American men reported earnings 75 percent those of white men; by 2016, it was down to 56 percent as much. The Detroit Urban League for decades struggled to eradicate Jim Crow practices that kept blacks out of many occupations. By the 1960s, African American women in Detroit could work at an array of jobs other than domestic service. Indeed, they were more likely to be employed than white women and their median earnings were 89 percent those of white women. This changed as white women joined the labor force, completed college in large numbers, and moved into prestigious occupations, leading to a much larger racial gap in the earnings of women. The racial gap in earnings remains smaller among women than among men, however.

The decline in income and earnings helps explain the substantial rise in poverty. Both whites and blacks in metropolitan Detroit were much more likely to be impoverished in 2016 than when the violence occurred. In 1970, 6 percent of white children and 28 percent of black children lived in impoverished households. Forty-six years later, the numbers rose to 14 percent for whites and 41 percent for blacks. The racial gap in poverty rate grew larger, although the rate of poverty rate increase was greater among whites.

As Susan Gooden and Samuel Myers show in their introductory essay to this issue, changes in Detroit differ from national trends (2018). Black families across the nation have certainly not narrowed the economic gap that distinguishes them from white families, but neither has the gap grown much larger, as it has in metropolitan Detroit.

Economic Changes Since the Kerner Report

Detroit-area residents have lower incomes now than fifty years ago and the poverty rate is higher. Why? The lucid answer to this question, given by William Julius Wilson, is the disappearance of work (1996). Wilson describes inner-city minority neighborhoods, but his observations also apply to most residents of metropolitan Detroit. Henry Ford perfected the modern assembly line in 1914, thereby supplying the nation with low-priced, reliable vehicles. Because of a booming vehicle industry, Detroit was the nation's fastest growing metropolis in the early decades of the last century. Detroit prospered economically and demographically through the World War II years. For a quarter-century afterward, consumer demand for new cars and a powerful labor movement maintained Detroit's status. For example, in [End Page 220] 1970 the per capita income of adults in metropolitan Detroit was 21 percent above the national average and considerably greater than in metropolitan Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco. Detroit's African American community at the time of the violence was, on economic indicators, the most prosperous African American community in the nation.

Table 3. Indicators of the Economic Status of Whites and African Americans in Metropolitan Detroit: 1970 and 2016
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Table 3.

Indicators of the Economic Status of Whites and African Americans in Metropolitan Detroit: 1970 and 2016

In 1972, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations (OPEC) embargoed the sale of oil to Western nations. The price of gasoline skyrocketed, and consumers switched to buying small, fuel-efficient cars. Detroit's Big Three were not prepared to profitably assemble the efficient cars consumers sought. They came under great pressure to reduce costs, but while trying to do so, lost market shares to European and Asian manufacturers. The result was a dramatic reduction in Detroit-area employment. The 1967 Census of Manufacturers counted 2,900 manufacturing firms in the city of Detroit and 210,000 employees. The most recent census, in 2012, enumerated just 382 firms and 18,000 employees.

The Kerner Commission remarked on the rapid growth of suburban manufacturing jobs, but that trend ended shortly after the report got to bookstores. The 1967 Censuses of Manufacturing counted 375,000 men and women working at production in the suburban ring. By 2012, that number was down to 160,000.

Blue-collar jobs in manufacturing industries in metropolitan Detroit declined sharply; from 591,000 in 1970 to 191,000 in 2016, a 68 percent decrease. The average earnings of these workers, in constant dollars, dropped 25 percent for a variety of reasons, including the declining clout of unions. Earnings have fallen substantially even for those blue-collar occupations that have grown rapidly. The number of truck drivers in metropolitan Detroit increased by 81 percent in this period but their average annual earnings fell 33 percent in constant dollars. [End Page 221]

Figure 10. Economic Status of Blacks in Metropolitan Detroit, 1970 to 2016 Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018). Note: Comfortable: household income 500 percent or more of the poverty threshold. Middle class: 200 to 499 percent of the poverty threshold. Near poor: 100 to 199 percent of the poverty threshold. Poor: 50 to 99 percent of the poverty threshold. Very poor: less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.
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Figure 10.

Economic Status of Blacks in Metropolitan Detroit, 1970 to 2016

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Note: Comfortable: household income 500 percent or more of the poverty threshold. Middle class: 200 to 499 percent of the poverty threshold. Near poor: 100 to 199 percent of the poverty threshold. Poor: 50 to 99 percent of the poverty threshold. Very poor: less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.

Estimates from the federal statistical system show that total employment in metropolitan Detroit grew slowly after 1970 and peaked at about 2.1 million jobs at the end of the twenti-eth century. The number of jobs declined slowly at first but then sharply in the 2008 recession. Since then, a post-recession rise put total employment in early 2018 at about 10 percent below what it had been twenty years earlier (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018). However, employment has shifted substantially: assembly line jobs are far fewer than previously, and more jobs fall at the extremes of the pay scale, service workers in retail trade on the one end and highly skilled jobs in health services, finance, and technology on the other. These shifts help explain declines in earnings and population stagnation.

The vehicle industry remains the backbone of metropolitan Detroit's economy and will not disappear. The share of North American production in the greater Detroit area may increase. After emerging from bankruptcy, vehicle sales boomed. There was no labor-management bargaining while the federal government supervised the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, but a new contract was signed in late 2015. The three large producers promised to invest $21 billion dollars in new plants and equipment in the United States. Those investments are being made as the industry prepares to produce self-driving and electric vehicles, but this does not mean that assembly line jobs will grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics since the 1980s has carefully measured labor productivity in vehicle manufacturing. The rise has been a consistent 4 percent per annum (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015). Year after year, manufacturers are turning out 4 percent more vehicles than in previous years with no increase in labor.

Some employment sectors have grown, especially [End Page 222] medical services and education. The employment of many women in these sectors explains why women have fared better than men in this era of industrial restructuring and declining wages for blue-collar workers. But no new industrial sectors have emerged or are emerging in the Detroit area that would make up for the tremendous loss of jobs and earnings in vehicle manufacturing.

Figure 11. Economic Status of Whites in Metropolitan Detroit, 1970 to 2016 Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018). Note: Comfortable: household income 500 percent or more of the poverty threshold. Middle class: 200 to 499 percent of the poverty threshold. Near poor: 100 to 199 percent of the poverty threshold. Poor: 50 to 99 percent of the poverty threshold. Very poor: less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.
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Figure 11.

Economic Status of Whites in Metropolitan Detroit, 1970 to 2016

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

Note: Comfortable: household income 500 percent or more of the poverty threshold. Middle class: 200 to 499 percent of the poverty threshold. Near poor: 100 to 199 percent of the poverty threshold. Poor: 50 to 99 percent of the poverty threshold. Very poor: less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.

Figures 10 and 11 concisely illustrate the economic changes that occurred in metropolitan Detroit since the violence. Residents are classified according to their household income: very poor for those in households with incomes below one-half the poverty line, poor for those with incomes 50 to 99 percent of the poverty line, near poor for 100 to 199 percent of the poverty line, middle class for those with incomes 200 to 499 percent, and comfortable for those in households with incomes five or more times the poverty line.

Commenting on the Kerner report, William Wilson argued that the commissioners over-looked a substantial African American middle class and went on to contend that, in economic terms, the black community could be divided into a thriving economically successful group, a struggling working class, and an underclass that was falling further and further behind (1978). His observations describe trends in Detroit very accurately but apply to the white as well as the African American community.

The size of the middle class has been reduced. There are, proportionally, more poor and more comfortable people among both races. Poverty increased as high-paying jobs disappeared and programs in support of the poor became more parsimonious. As Kathryn Edin and Luke Schaefer demonstrate, the proportion whose incomes fall below one-half the poverty line increased sharply after the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act [End Page 223] of 1996 terminated traditional welfare (2016). By 2016, 4 percent of whites and 13 percent of blacks were very poor—that is, had incomes below one-half the poverty line—in metropolitan Detroit. The proportion comfortable also increased: more than one-third of whites and about one-eighth of blacks lived in economically comfortable households in 2016. Economic inequality rose among both races. In 1970, for both blacks and whites in metropolitan Detroit, the household at the 95th percentile of the income distribution reported an income fourteen times the income of the household at the 20th percent. By 2016, that grew to twenty-one times as much.

WHY ARE BLACKS FALLING FURTHER AND FURTHER BEHIND WHITES IN ECONOMIC STATUS?

What explains the growing gaps in economic status?

The Changing Labor Market

Numerous suburbs have peacefully integrated without incidents of violence. Although residential integration does not necessarily mean social integration, indications are that it is occurring. Consider the increase in interracial marriage. If we consider recently married young persons—those age twenty-five to thirty-nine—we find that in 1980, in metropolitan Detroit, only 0.7 percent of African American husbands were married to a white spouse. In 2010, the figure was 4.5 percent. Correspondingly, 2.5 percent of young married black women had a white husband in 1980. By 2010, 9.2 percent did. Not surprisingly, the mixed-race population is growing. By 2016, 4 percent of children under age ten who were identified by their parents as white by race were also identified as black. And 10 percent of children under ten identified by their parents as black were also identified as white. Interracial marriage leads to a larger mixed-race population (Livingston and Brown 2017).

Another indicator demonstrates changing racial attitudes. A white candidate for mayor, Michael Duggan, grew up in the city, moved to the suburbs, and then bought a home in the city's Palmer Woods neighborhood just a year before the 2013 contest. For him to win the primary election, voters had to write in his name. In the general election, he defeated a popular African American candidate with a spotless record, Sheriff Benny Napoleon. At the time of Duggan's election, African Americans made up 80 percent of the electorate. In 2017, Duggan ran against Coleman Young Jr., son of the famous mayor who led the city for twenty years beginning in 1974. Mayor Duggan won 72 percent of the vote (Ferretti and MacDonald 2017).

Although blacks are still underrepresented in prestigious professions, they hold more such jobs than fifty years ago. If you consider those who worked as accountants, dentists, doctors, engineers, or lawyers, you find that just 4 percent were black in 1970, when blacks made up 20 percent of the labor force. By 2016, that number had increased to 10 percent and blacks still made up 20 percent of the labor force. In 1970, only 0.7 percent of employed African Americans in metro Detroit earned more than $100,000 (constant 2016 dollars). In 2016, 3.7 percent did so. Despite the deteriorating economic status of most Detroitarea African Americans, a modest growth of those with professional jobs and substantial earnings is undeniable.

Although affirmative action has all but disappeared as a strategy, a norm of diversity is widely accepted and espoused. Boards of directors are scrutinized for diversity, advertisements for consumer products prominently show women and minorities, and it is now de rigueur for the coaching staff of sports teams to include minorities. It appears that racial discrimination in the Detroit area labor market may have declined, but I did not test any specific hypotheses about that topic and discrimination may still influence employment. Several studies using paired testers report that white applicants for jobs are more likely to be called for interviews than African Americans with identical credentials. A recent synthesis of these studies reports that such racial discrimination declined only moderately since the 1980s (Quillian et al. 2017).

Changes in the labor market explain much of the growing economic gap that separates blacks from whites. At the time of the Kerner analysis, blacks were much more likely than whites to be in the occupations and industries [End Page 224] that lost employment and saw wages decline. In 1970, just under five hundred thousand whites and about a hundred thousand African Americans were employed in manufacturing in the metropolis. Among whites in manufacturing at the time of the violence, 36 percent held white-collar jobs; the rest labored in blue-collar occupations. Among African Americans, just 8 percent held white-collar jobs and the other 92 percent blue-collar positions. From 1970 to 2016, blue-collar jobs in manufacturing declined 69 percent and white-collar jobs increased 8 percent.

Table 4. Indicators of the Housing Status of African Americans and Whites in Metropolitan Detroit
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Table 4.

Indicators of the Housing Status of African Americans and Whites in Metropolitan Detroit

Subprime Lending and Its Consequence for Economie Status and Wealth Holdings

The Kerner commissioners focused on the housing challenges of minorities, but they did not emphasize the role that home ownership played in the accumulation of wealth. The commission called for a new federal program that would pay a portion of the mortgage payments for low-income families seeking to buy a home. It is important to examine homeownership because it is the primary source of wealth for most households. Changes have been unfavorable for whites since the Kerner years but more so for African Americans in metropolitan Detroit, as shown in table 4.

At the time of the violence, more than half of African American householders in metropolitan Detroit owned their residence, reflecting the prosperity of the area. Stable black middle-class neighborhoods and a few stable racially mixed neighborhoods had emerged. The number of African Americans owning their homes in metropolitan Detroit, 53 percent, was much higher than Chicago's 26 percent, Washington's 30 percent, or Los Angeles' 38 percent. Since then, the proportion owning their home declined by 13 percentage points for Detroit-area blacks but increased by 1 percentage point for whites. If you consider the racial gap in the median value of residences in metropolitan Detroit in 1970, you find the racial gap was $41,000 (in 2016 dollars). Forty-six years later, the median value of residences owned by whites had increased little but the median value for blacks had been just about cut in half and the racial gap rose to $97,000. African Americans are falling further and further behind whites in wealth holdings.

In the 1980s, William Wilson introduced the concept of concentrated poverty (1987). These [End Page 225] are census tracts in which 40 percent or more of the residents live in impoverished households. Wilson links concentrated poverty to numerous social and economic problems. Subsequent research demonstrates that growing up in impoverished neighborhoods truncates opportunities for upward economic mobility (Chetty, Hendren, and Katz 2016; Chetty and Hendren 2017). Concentrated poverty in metropolitan Detroit was rare at the time of the 1967 violence. Only four of the area's 1,014 census tracts had poverty rates high enough to qualify for Wilson's definition. The final array of numbers in table 4 shows that almost no whites and fewer than 2 percent of blacks lived in concentrated poverty neighborhoods at the time of the violence. Economic trends shifted dramatically, and, by 2016, 4 percent of whites and 33 percent of blacks did.

While there are federal programs to assist first-time home buyers, they are modest and not well known. In brief, Congress did not respond to the Kerner Commission's call to initiate a major new program to promote home ownership for moderate-income families like the home ownership stimulation Congress enacted followed World War II. Those programs exacerbated segregation and made Detroit the nation's most prominent chocolate city, vanilla suburbs metropolis (Rothstein 2017).

More important in explaining the changes in tenure and value is the subprime crisis and how it interacted with tax policies in Michigan. Detroit homeowners were particularly challenged: declining home values, extremely high property tax rates, and sharp increases in unemployment along with declines in earnings after the recession began in 2008. As a result, many homeowners could not pay their property taxes or mortgages. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan determined that, by 2011, taxes were paid only on 53 percent of the taxable parcels in the city of Detroit (2013). As housing values sank, many owners found they owed more in unpaid property taxes and interest than their home was worth, giving them an incentive not to pay. Many homeowners found they could neither afford their high property taxes nor their mortgages, so foreclosure became extremely common. Between 2005 and 2016, 36 percent of the residential properties in the city of Detroit went into foreclosure (Kurth and MacDonald 2015).

Subprime lending and foreclosures hastened the impoverishment of many white households, but the effects were greater among blacks (Dewar, Seymour, and Drutá 2015; Deng et al. 2017). In 2000, 76 percent of the African American homeowners in metropolitan Detroit resided in the city, where subprime lending was common. Among white homeowners, only 3 percent lived in the city. As Jacob Rugh and Douglas Massey demonstrate, racial residential segregation was a powerful predictor of the foreclosure rate (2010). Analyses of subprime lending found that African Americans and Hispanics were much more likely than comparable white applicants to end up with subprime financing (Ghent, Hernandez-Murillo, and Ouyang 2014; Badger 2013; for an analysis of similar issues in Los Angeles, see De La Cruz-Viesca et al. 2018). As table 4 makes clear, most of the decline in home ownership and all the decline in the median value of owner-occupied homes in metropolitan Detroit occurred after subprime lending became common.

RACIAL DISPARITIES IN EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT

If jobs disappear, it is wise for individuals—and for their children—to gain the skills needed for the growing occupations. In metropolitan Detroit, jobs in manufacturing, transportation, and utilities declined 32 percent between 1970 and 2016 but jobs grew in other industrial sectors. Growth was particularly rapid in the medical sector and hospitals—an increase of 149 percent; in financial services, it was up 67 percent, and in education 32 percent.

Federal statistical agencies collect few data about how many adults successfully enroll in and complete training programs that allow them to get a rewarding new job after their old one disappears. High school and college completion rates are collected annually, however. These have limitations and the count of young college graduates in a metropolis is influenced by selective migration. Nevertheless, educational trends in the post-Kerner years suggest that whites have been more successful than African Americans in earning the degrees often [End Page 226] needed for career success in the growing industries.

Figure 12. Education in Metropolitan Detroit, High School Diplomas Among Those Age Twenty to Twenty-Nine Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 12.

Education in Metropolitan Detroit, High School Diplomas Among Those Age Twenty to Twenty-Nine

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

In parallel with the national trend, progress has been made in reducing racial gaps in high school graduation, at least as reported by Detroit residents. Just after the Kerner report, about 80 percent of whites in their twenties and 67 percent of blacks in their twenties reported they earned a high school diploma (see figure 12). By 2016, the proportion with high school degrees was well over 90 percent for whites and for black women; black men lagged not far behind (for the national trend toward a racial convergence in high school completion, see Gooden and Myers 2018, figure 4).

A trend emerges when data about four-year college degrees are examined. As Walter Allen and his colleagues report, only modest progress has been made across the nation in narrowing the substantial racial gap in college completion (2018). Like the national trend, the rate of college completion in the Detroit area increased much more among women than men and very much more among whites than among African Americans. Figure 13 shows the proportion of those age twenty-five to thirty-nine who reported earning a four-year college degree since the era of the Kerner report. Among white men, the change was from 21 percent to 36 percent with a college diploma but among white women, the increase was much shaper: 12 percent to 42 percent. Increases were very much greater for whites than for blacks and thus the racial gap widened substantially. The change among African American men was remarkably small. At present, among Detroit-area black men in the early years of their careers, just one in ten earned a college diploma—a lower rate than among white men five decades ago. African American women graduate from college at a higher rate than in the past, but their college completion rate is well below that of their white peers.

Racial differences in educational attainment help explain why the economic status of Detroit-area blacks declined both in absolute terms and relative to whites. In 2014, employed adult black men in metropolitan Detroit earned 56 percent as much as their white counterparts. At all educational levels, blacks reported lower earnings than similarly educated whites. However, if black men had the same education as white men but their own earnings at each level of education, they would have reported earnings [End Page 227] at 66 percent that of white men. In 2014, employed African American women earned 75 percent as much as white women. If black women had education similar to that of white women, they would have earned 84 percent as much. Racial differences in education account for a share of the racial gap in earnings.

Figure 13. Education in Metropolitan Detroit, Bachelor's Degrees Among Those Age Twenty-Five to Thirty-Nine Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples () and at Queens University's Social Explorer (, accessed May 21, 2018).
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Figure 13.

Education in Metropolitan Detroit, Bachelor's Degrees Among Those Age Twenty-Five to Thirty-Nine

Source: Author's calculations based on public use data from the Census Bureau's decennial censuses and the American Community Survey. Data accessed at University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Samples (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

The consensus that public schools in Michigan have been poorly financed and ineffective is well established. The Kerner Commission observed that spending per pupil in Detroit suburbs was 27 percent greater than in the city and that spending since World War II had risen more in the suburbs than in the city (Kerner Report 1968, 435). Two major changes were made to resolve the state's educational problems. In 1993, public schools in rural Kalkaska County ran out of funds and closed in early March. Within a short time, Michigan voters approved an encompassing proposal that decoupled the funding of public schools from the local property tax. Sales and tobacco taxes were raised, and local property taxes for school operation were eliminated. A new uniform state-wide property tax was imposed. The state collects those taxes and now distributes school funds to districts on the basis of their enrollment. Michigan annually provides about $7,600 for each pupil enrolled in every school district. This supports teachers and the day-to-day operation of schools although voters in a district may tax themselves for special programs and capital improvement (Bessette 2006). The new policy moved the state toward more equity in school funding but does not recognize that it is much costlier to educate some children than others (Courant and Loeb 1997).

Detroit's schools, in the past, enrolled the majority of the state's African American children. Those schools were viewed as so underperforming and poorly run that the state took them over in 1999. Then, in 2008, after many protested, the schools were returned to local control. Problems persisted, however, and in 2011 the state of Michigan took over again. The takeover did not improve achievement levels and generated new debts of about a half billion dollars. The state paid off those debts in 2016 and funded the creation of a new locally run school district (Gray 2016).

In the last dozen years, a powerful and well-funded movement to replace public schools with state-funded charter schools was led by Betsy DeVos, who subsequently was appointed secretary of education in the Trump administration. The rationale for charter schools had [End Page 228] a prominent and specific racial focus. Advocates argued that African American children in Detroit, Flint, Benton Harbor, and other segregated cities were forced to enroll in underper-forming public schools. Prosperous parents had the flexibility to move to suburbs with excellent schools or to enroll their children in private schools. The solution was for the state to fund privately operated schools that would, presumably, provide much better education than the failing public schools. Michigan adopted the nation's most liberal laws regarding charter schools and now provides about $7,600 per year for each student enrolling in charter schools, funds that in the past would have gone to public schools.

One change in education was positive. State-equalized support for all students ended the situation in which the funding for a student's instruction was directly linked to the tax base of the student's district. With the second experiment, Detroit and a half-dozen other districts became the national experiment to see whether loosely regulated, state-funded charter schools could boost the achievement scores and attainment of low-income black students. So far, the results are mixed at best, and many believe the charter school experiment greatly damaged Michigan's public schools by with-drawing students and financial support (Benelli 2017). Detroit's public schools enrolled 290,000 at the time of the Kerner report. In 2017, the city's new public school system enrolled 48,000, and charter or suburban public schools another 60,000 Detroit children (Citizens Research Council of Michigan 2016; Van Buren 2016).

The Police in Detroit, Urban Violence, and the Kerner Report

Forty-five years after the Kerner report, the Black Lives Matter movement emerged after a white Florida resident, George Zimmerman, was acquitted in the shooting death of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin. The movement grew and gained national prominence after the police killings of unarmed African American males—Eric Garner in New York City, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland. This suggests that little progress has been made in addressing how policing and prosecution is or is not accomplished when African Americans are involved.

The Kerner Commission would never have been established had there not been police violence against African Americans. The proximate cause of the July 1967 Newark violence was the brutal and highly visible mistreatment of black taxi driver John Smith. Sidney Fine, author of the definitive history of the Detroit violence, stressed the importance of police brutality as a cause (1989, 105-107). He described three incidents that, he believed, helped incite the violence, incidents that were well known in Detroit's black community in the summer of 1967 but ignored by most whites. In the 1960s, professional sex workers congregated on Detroit's John R Street seeking customers who completed their shifts in nearby plants. Cynthia Scott, a tall and impressive black woman, was well known in her profession. In July 1963, officers saw money in her hand, presumed she had stolen it from a customer, and put her into their cruiser. She was shot in the back and killed as she exited the vehicle (Boyd 2017, 194). The officers were known in the black community for their exceptional racial hostility. The issue quickly became a cause célèbre. Officers contended that they had shot in self-defense and were exonerated.

A vibrant and influential black media, especially the Michigan Chronicle, covered racial issues in Detroit at the time. Many in the black community claimed that the real story was different from what the police asserted and that Scott had been shot for refusing the advances of the officers. Controversy persisted throughout the summer, numerous protests demanding that the officers who killed Scott be fired and charged with murder. Detroit Representatives Diggs and Conyers, who made up half of all African Americans serving in Congress at the time, sought to bring national attention to the Scott killing but failed to secure a federal investigation (Fine 1989, 105-107).

In June 1967—just weeks before violence broke out—an African American Vietnam veteran, Danny Thomas, picnicked with his pregnant wife in Rouge Park on Detroit's West Side. He was told by a gang of hostile whites that "niggers" were not allowed in the park after dark. He departed, but shortly after, realized [End Page 229] that he had left equipment in the park. He returned to pick it up and was again confronted by the gang, who killed Thomas and injured his wife so seriously that she lost the baby. Police arrested several members of the group but released them shortly thereafter. Police officials asked the city's two major newspapers to print nothing about the murder for fear of generating a riot. One complied. The other buried the story on a back page without mentioning its racial components. The active black press, however, publicized the murder and stressed their view that the Detroit police never seriously investigated the murders of African Americans by whites, thereby automatically exonerating any whites who killed blacks.

On July 1, 1967, an African American professional sex worker, Vivian Williams, was shot and killed on Twelfth Street, three blocks from the starting point of the Detroit violence. The police issued two conflicting explanations of the killing and arrested no one. The consensus in Detroit's black community was that a white police officer tried to arrest Williams on June 29, but she pulled a knife and he backed off. Two nights later, in the opinion of many African Americans, the white police officer returned and shot her to death (Fine 1989, chap. 4).

Has the situation changed in Detroit? The consensus is that the harsh treatment of blacks in Detroit increased in the years immediately following the violence. Many intellectuals argued that disturbances in urban centers in the 1960s were rebellions. They contended that whites and municipal power structures had, for decades, oppressed blacks, respected none of their rights, and confined them to ghettos, thereby denying opportunities for education, employment, and financial security. Inevitably, the oppressed rose up and used force to end the racial domination in American cities just as people in Asian and African colonies rose up to forcefully end domination by European empires. Thus, the urban violence was like the successful decolonization movement that swept the globe in the decades after World War II.

How urban violence was defined had great implications for policy. The press and many politicians saw the racial violence of the 1960s very differently than the Kerner commissioners did. The popular view defined the violence as commodity riots. This had significant consequences for federal urban policies. The police, many argued, were weak in enforcing laws protecting property. Given an opportunity to loot and steal, many would do so. Indeed, the descriptions of the Detroit violence suggest that this happened (McGraw 2017b). On Sunday, July 23, 1967, Detroit police did not attempt to end the looting. Rather, they sought to prevent people from entering the Twelfth Street area while allowing people to leave riot neighborhoods even if they were transporting television sets, liquor, and other apparently stolen goods. During that Sunday, Detroit police were under order to use no firearms (Fine 1989, chap.7). In describing the white underclass in Detroit's Briggs neighborhood, John Hartigan recounts how blacks and whites cooperated to loot local stores in their integrated neighborhood during the violence (1999).

Patrick Gillon convincingly argues that President Johnson thoroughly disagreed with the causal explanation offered by the Kerner Commission (2018, 33). He never publicly accepted their report or thanked the commissioners. He was not alone. West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd argued that rioting should be put down with brutal force and that looters should be shot. Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen claimed that national planning went into organizing the riots and that a factory in New York produced Molotov cocktails for the participants. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond attributed the violence to communism and to the criminal instincts of the rioters. Georgia Governor Lester Maddox said that communists had started the violence and Richard Nixon asserted the Kerner commissioners blamed everybody for the riots except the actual perpetrators of the violence.

Around the country, demand was growing to strengthen polices forces so that they could promptly and sternly thwart riots before they started. Responding to such demands, Detroit Police Commissioner John Nichols used federal crime control funds to establish a STRESS unit (Stop Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets). Four-man crews with heavy armaments patrolled low-income neighborhoods to prevent crime, using whatever force they found necessary [End Page 230] (Thompson 2001, 80-81). In Detroit's African American community, this became known as a reign of terror. Detroit's blacks viewed STRESS as an all-white vigilante group run by the police but answering to no one. At this time, Detroit police used "investigative arrests," picking up an individual, holding them for up to twenty-four hours and then releasing them without charge. This was widely seen as a strategy to harass black men. Michigan law, at that time, had a no-knock provision allowing police, including the STRESS unit, to break into homes without a warrant if they had reasonable cause to think that the law had been violated in any way. Detroit police also conducted many "tip over" raids, that is, entering a place where they believed illegal activities were occurring such as after-hours drinking or gambling and destroying the property there without making an arrest (Locke 1969, 59). Within two years, STRESS officers had killed seventeen, all but two of them black men (Hinton 2016, 191-203). Abetting the action of the STRESS unit was the Supreme Court's 1968 Terry v. Ohio ruling, giving police wide latitude to "stop and frisk" even if there was little evidence of crime.5

Coleman Young, in 1973, campaigned for mayor with a promise to disband the STRESS unit. Young defeated his opponent, Police Commissioner Nichols, and terminated STRESS his first day in office. He made efforts to racially integrate the police and change their mode of operation. This proved challenging. Protests were numerous and litigation from groups representing both African American and white officers was frequent. By the end of Young's second term, some progress had been made in racially integrating the department, but the Young years witnessed a spike in the homicide rate, perhaps because of the racial conflict within the police department (for a description of the evolution of police efforts to control potential urban violence, see Gillham and Marx 2018).

Unfortunately, the integration of the police department and its demographic shift from primarily white to primarily black did not end the brutality in Detroit. Between 1994 and 2000, Detroit police officers shot forty-seven to death—including six who were unarmed. Another nineteen died in police custody. Mayor Dennis Archer was concerned about the alarming rise in the police killings of Detroit residents but realized that he could not rectify the institutionalized problems of police violence (Boyd 2017, 300). He requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the city's force. In 2003, the Justice Department charged the Detroit police with excessive use of lethal force and consistent abrogation of civil rights.6 The Department of Justice document is an extremely harsh indictment of the types of abuse carried out by the Detroit police in the post-riot era. The district federal court ordered federal oversight. In the five years after that order, the police killed seventeen—far fewer than in the pre-supervision span. After numerous consent decrees, negotiations, and fine payments, the Detroit police department was freed from federal supervision in 2014. A consent decree remains in force, however (Burns 2014).

Police brutality calls to mind the killing of unarmed blacks. Another aspect of policing in the decades after the riots, however, may contribute directly to the continued high poverty rate of African Americans in Detroit and similar cities. Heather Thompson, a Detroit native, won the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for her book Blood in the Water (2016). In this essay, I argue that the declining economic status of African Americans in metropolitan Detroit is a result, primarily, of the disappearance of blue-collar jobs and the failure to alter the educational system so that it would prepare the next generation for available employment. Thompson does not dispute that view but contends that it is seriously flawed because it omits how the criminal justice system treated African American men in the decades after the Kerner report (Thompson 2013). She observes that financially rewarding jobs in manufacturing had by the 1960s created a large, secure and home-owning black middle class in Detroit. They had economic power, lived in middle-class neigh-borhoods, were active in numerous social justice [End Page 231] movements, and were gaining considerable political influence (Castle 2018; Hamlin 2012).

Responding to the call for more and harsher policing in African American neighborhoods, Congress funded its "war on crime." President Johnson, in 1965, signed the Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which for the first time made substantial federal funds available to local police departments. They bought high power weapons and military-style vehicles in hopes of ending summers of violence. Just three months after the Kerner report, President Johnson signed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, providing more federal assistance to local police. This was a clear congressional rejection of the ideas of the Kerner Commission because that law was a turning point in the militarization of urban police. In many cities, including Detroit, the new resources were used to purchase equipment and weapons that were deployed frequently in African American neighborhoods. Shortly there-after, the federal government established its war on drugs, which was—intentionally or not—often targeted against African Americans. In Thompson's view, these strategies reinforced the stereotype that black neighborhoods were unsafe areas populated by threat-ening criminals. Furthermore, the public schools in those neighborhoods also became subject to police control. Police were not assigned to Detroit schools until 1969. After the war on crime was announced, almost every school was assigned one or more officers. Once they were, they helped define schools as unsafe and dangerous places. The police arrested youths who were then charged as adults. By 2011, Michigan had the second highest number of juveniles serving life sentences without parole—366, some as young as fourteen. Elizabeth Hinton points out that the federal government's Public Housing Security Act provided generous funds for policing and security hardware in the nations' public housing projects including the Jefferies and Douglas Homes in Detroit (2016, 296). She describes congressional debate about funding either job training or security in public housing. Congress devoted the lion's share of money to more policing rather than devoting federal funds to urban education or job training. A clear conclusion is that Congress and the federal government unambiguously rejected the Kerner Commission's calls for both promoting residential integration and improving employment and educational opportunities. Instead, they presumed that a strategy of militarizing the urban police would thwart riots.

Thompson contends the post-Kerner war on crime had disastrous consequences for the middle-class neighborhoods emerging in Detroit (2010, 2013). Those who had the resources to do so moved away, depleting the neighborhoods of potential community leaders. When the war on crime evolved into the war on drugs, it targeted the offenses of African American men, who were arrested, charged, and convicted in massive numbers. Just after the Kerner report, Michigan prisons housed 7,800 inmates. By 2011, some 42,900 were incarcerated in forty-two state prisons and numerous half-way houses. Thompson attributes some of the decline of marriage among African Americans and the rise of unemployment among men to the policy of incarcerating a substantial proportion of Detroit's black men, thereby reducing their chances for educational attainment, employment, and marriage. She also cites the implications of mass incarceration for the political power of Detroit's African Americans. Prisoners in Michigan may not vote but they are counted for purposes of reapportionment. Many of those arrested in Detroit were imprisoned in the overwhelmingly white counties of Chippewa, Ionia, and Jackson. Detroit lost representation in the state legislature and rural counties gained it based on people who could not vote. Almost all indicators of the status of black men show that they fell further and further behind white men in employment, earnings, and income. This finding is certainly consistent with Thompson's powerful arguments about the consequences of the racialized wars on crime and drugs (Bobo and Thompson 2010). A contrasting view is offered by Johannes Spreen, who served as Detroit police commissioner from 1968 to 1970. He argues that the persistent criminal behavior of Detroit residents and numerous constraints put on police when they sought to suppress crime were leading causes of the city's decline (Spreen and Holloway 2005). [End Page 232]

GROWING RACIAL GAPS: CHANGES IN HOUSEHOLD LIVING ARRANGEMENTS

The Kerner commissioners were influenced by Daniel Patrick Moynihan's controversial report about the black family (Kerner Report 1968, 252). Moynihan argued that the absence of good jobs for African American men in large cities was responsible for destabilizing the traditional two-parent family system. Because of the lack of employment for men, blacks were foregoing marriages and African American children were increasingly raised by a woman without a husband (Moynihan 1965). The Kerner commissioners described the unemployment rates of black men and also cited them as a cause of female-headed families and high rates of illegitimacy. They also cited illegitimacy and excessive childbearing as a cause of African American poverty. Indeed, the commissioners, apparently influenced by Moynihan's ideas, considered but then rejected a proposal that would have required single mothers to live in YMCA-style dormitories (Gillon 2018, 201).

Fertility rates declined sharply among both races. From 1970 to 2016, the birth rate per thousand women age fifteen to forty-four in Michigan fell by 46 percent for blacks and by 34 percent for whites. The races now have roughly similar low birth rates (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services 2017). The Kerner Commission's recommendation for reduced fertility has been accomplished.

Family living arrangements also shifted rapidly for both races, a change that contributes to persistent poverty and increasing racial gaps in economic status. In metropolitan Detroit in 1970, 72 percent of white households included a married couple; in 2016, 51 percent did. Among African Americans, the decrease was from 51 percent to 20 percent: only one in five black households included a married couple. The number of children under age eighteen living in a two-parent household also declined. In 2016, 82 percent of white children but only 29 percent of black children lived with two parents. Two-thirds of black children in the Detroit area lived in a household headed by an unmarried woman.

Children and women in husband-wife households are better off economically than those in households headed by a woman. For example, in metropolitan Detroit in 2016, white children in two-parent households had a poverty rate of 9 percent; those in households headed by a white woman had a 34 percent poverty rate. Among African American children, 20 percent of those in two-parent households were impoverished, but 52 percent of those in house-holds headed by their mother were.

Across the nation, the proportion of children born to an unmarried woman increased, while the share of children living with two parents decreased steadily (Haskins 2009). When Moynihan drafted his report in the 1960s, 4 percent of white and 26 percent of African American births were to unmarried women. By 2015, those numbers increased to 36 percent for whites and 71 percent for blacks. Many analysts present evidence that the dearth of good jobs for men who lack advanced educations or highly valued skills is an important, perhaps the primary, reason for changes in family structure (Sawhill and Haskins 2016). Others argue that young adults increasingly judge that the benefits of marriage are modest and the loss of independence it entails is important, leading them to postpone or eschew marriage (Pew Research Center 2010). Isabel Sawhill and Jonna Venator describe those causes but also present strong evidence that the massive incarceration of black men diminished the pool of desirable potential husbands (2015). Whatever the reason, the rapid change in family structure and the shift of childrearing from married couples to single parents account for some increase in poverty and growing racial gaps in economic welfare in metropolitan Detroit.

WHAT WORKED, WHAT DID NOT, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

The Kerner Commission warned that a continuation of the trends that provoked the 1967 violence would result in a greater geographic separation of the races and increasing racial economic gaps, especially in larger, older metropolises such as Detroit (1968, 407). In the fifty years since then, several dozen studies demonstrated that residential segregation is linked to racial disparities in employment, school quality and educational attainment, accrual of wealth, exposure to environmental pollutants, [End Page 233] and criminal victimization (Krysan and Crowder 2017, 27-33). Racial residential segregation has slowly declined, especially since 1990 (Farley and Frey 1994; Glaeser, Cutler, and Vigdor 1999; Logan, Stilts, and Farley 2004). To be sure, Detroit and many other metropolises remain highly segregated; soon, however, more suburban than central-city African Americans are likely to be found in the metropolitan Detroit population. Whites and blacks in numerous southern and western metropolises, particularly those that grew rapidly thanks to the inmigration of Hispanics and Asians, were by 2010 no more than moderately segregated (Logan and Stilts 2011).

Other concerns were emphasized in the Kerner report, specifically black-white differences in employment, earnings, and educational achievement. Regarding these, the Detroit area has seen anything but progress. Although Detroit-area whites are less economically secure than they were at the time of the violence, blacks are, on average, much less well off. The urban underclass has grown in metropolitan Detroit. In 1970, only 13,000 Detroit-area African Americans lived in census tracts of concentrated poverty; in 2016, 218,000 did.

The Kerner commissioners could not fore-see two fundamental and pervasive changes that have contributed to substantial increases in inequality both within and between racial groups. First were changes in the labor market as the number of highly rewarding blue-collar jobs in manufacturing declined. If the Detroit-area manufacturing firms needed as many strong backs and arms as they did before the OPEC crisis, racial gaps in economic status in Detroit would be more modest and inner-city neighborhoods that are now largely abandoned might be stable and prosperous (Wilson 1996). Although, given the change in racial attitudes, the suburban African American population would also likely be larger than at present. Changes in labor demand presented great challenges for both whites and blacks desiring to either hold on to their middle-class economic status or move up from poverty (Hanna-Attisha 2018).

Second, the Kerner commissioners did not foresee that the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 would basically shift the role of government and the views of many about whether the government should fund programs to encourage the upward mobility of those who lack economic resources or are victims of Jim Crow and sexist policies.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva popularized the concept of "racism without racists" (2017). That is, a policy may be adopted by a governmental body without the specific intent of harming a racial group, but the consequences of that policy may differ greatly by race and by economic status. In this era of neoliberal government, such policies seem common. After 1980, Congress increased funding for programs to militarize the police and to strictly enforce drug laws. Their aim may have been to reduce crime but, as Thompson and Hinton contend, those laws greatly impede the upward mobility of urban African American men.

As the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck ap-proached insolvency in 1988, the state enacted an emergency financial manager law. If a Michigan city or school district came to the cusp of bankruptcy, local governance would be suspended, and the governor would appoint an emergency manager obligated to balance the books while paying the bond holders. Perhaps this law had no racial intent. But nine of the eleven cities with a financial manager, including the city of Detroit, had a majority African American population and the three school districts with emergency managers were over-whelming black in their enrollments (Lewis 2013). In the past decade, about 80 percent of Michigan's black population lived in municipalities where their elected officials had no power; only about 4 percent of whites did. The suspension of local governance and the appointaient of an emergency financial manager in Flint played a role in the decision to balance that city's books by using polluted water (Bridge Magazine Staff 2016).

The legislature, in 2013, made Michigan a right-to-work state. Perhaps the intent was to attract employers. But an effort to reduce the power of the state's unions appears to have a differential racial consequence given that the African American middle class was more dependent than the white middle class on high-paying unionized jobs in manufacturing and civil service. [End Page 234]

Facing a financial crisis in 2003, the state of Michigan drastically increased fines for driving without a license, driving without insurance, reckless driving, or driving under the influence of alcohol. If the fines were not paid promptly, a person could not obtain or renew his or her driver's license. The fines generated much revenue for the state but had the consequence of further immiserating the poor and making it more difficult for them to get to work.

At the time of the Detroit violence, the University of Michigan undergraduate full-year tuition was $368—about $2,700 in 2016 dollars. The university's website informed in-state students enrolling in the fall of 2017 that they should expect to pay $14,800 in tuition and incur total expenses of $30,000 for a year's education (University of Michigan 2017). Presumably, the nation's universities did not raise their costs to exclude students from middle- and low-income families, but their strategy may have accomplished exactly that.

A quick reading of the Kerner report leads to the observation that the commissioners considered an enrichment strategy as a possible way to end the urban violence. Presumably, federal programs could have financed an extensive rebuilding of ghettos including new schools, social service centers, parks, shopping centers, and amenities. The commissioners rejected the "Enrichment Strategy," also known as "Gilding the Ghetto," because, in their view, disadvantaged blacks could never achieve equality of opportunity with whites if nearly complete residential segregation were in place (Kerner Report 1968, 404). A more thorough reading, however, reveals that throughout the report are calls for numerous federal programs to improve inner-city schools and neighborhoods. Chapter 17, "Recommendations for National Action," is a long list of proposed federal government programs to assist the underclass living in ghettos, such as job training, improving schools including higher salaries to attract skilled teachers, making capital available for business formation, programs to foster better school-community relations, removal of abandoned properties, and new programs to make higher education affordable. Some of these calls were, to a degree, heeded in the 1970s. President Nixon, during his 1972 reelection campaign, proudly announced and then enacted a national program of federal revenue sharing that sent funds, with few strings, to all local governments. Presumably they could and were used to address the ghetto conditions the Kerner Commission found troubling. President Ford implemented the Community Development Block Grant program that specifically provided funds to private nonprofits that served low-income areas by providing social services and fostering economic development. During Ford's term, the Earned Income Tax Credit became law, sending a federal cash supplement to the working poor. Albeit modest, they are overlooked consequences of the Kerner report.

What about the future? In his inaugural address, President Reagan repeated the phrase "Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem." A neoliberal philosophy has influenced governmental decisions for almost four decades, a philosophy that differs greatly from the more liberal policies adopted from the Roosevelt through Ford administrations. When Reagan came to office, revenue sharing was terminated and, though the Community Block Development Grant program survives, it is a shadow of its former self. It seems unlikely that governmental funds will be available to either promote residential integration or to fund the numerous urban improvements the Kerner Commission advocated.

These changes in governmental policies have great implications for cities and localities, especially those where little if any growth is evident in jobs and population, including metropolitan Detroit and Michigan. Few federal or local dollars are available to make the investments that the Kerner Commission recommended. Funding must come from the investments of corporations that have a strong interest in the economic prosperity of where they are located as well as from large foundations that may be willing to address economic and racial inequity. Fortunately, the Detroit area is well positioned. The nation's three largest vehicle firms continue to invest heavily in the area. Seven well-endowed foundations with links to the city—Davidson, Ford, Hudson-Weber, Kellogg, Kresge, Skillman, and Wilson—now spend generously to improve the [End Page 235] quality of life, often funding endeavors once funded by the government.

It is informative to consider recent developments in the Detroit area in light of the many specific recommendations the Kerner Commission delineated in chapter 17 of its report. The problems of joblessness and education are well understood in Michigan. Further, an awareness is prevalent that African Americans are especially challenged. Every recent governor has sought to boost employment in the state, generally by reducing taxes. In 2017, the state adopted a Good Jobs Michigan program that substantially cuts taxes for firms that create new jobs that pay the local wage (Snyder 2017). Firms also get even more tax abatements if those jobs pay 25 percent above the local average.

The city of Detroit has been at the center of employment creation activities since it exited bankruptcy in 2014. Entrepreneur Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans purchased or leased more than a hundred downtown buildings in his quest to cooperate with the vehicle firms to make Detroit the axis mundi for the development of the information technology that will transform automobiles to make them safer and more efficient. The Ford Motor Company purchased a long-abandoned hosiery mill in the city's Corktown neighborhood to provide office space for two hundred specialists who will focus on autonomous and electric vehicles. In deciding to locate in an historic neighborhood near downtown Detroit, Ford stressed its desire to recruit the best talent, stating that many of those they sought desired a modern urban life style. In spring 2018, the Ford Motor Company purchased the nearby but long-empty 500,000 square foot Michigan Central Depot and office building to provide more space for their work on the next generation of vehicles. The Illich family, owners of Little Caesar's Pizza, not only built a new baseball park for their Detroit Tigers team, but also created a Detroit district in the center of the city, a project of more than one billion dollars with an arena for the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons, apartments, condos, offices, a new Wayne State business school, and numerous shops. Between 2017 and 2021, $5.4 billion in private investment will be spent in downtown Detroit to build or renovate 2.1 million square feet of office space, six thousand residential units, and 1,200 hotel rooms (Blitcock 2017).

Private foundations funded a New Economic Initiative for Southeast Michigan that seeks to recruit entrepreneurs, provide them with what they need to establish their firms, and educate Detroit-area residents for jobs in the new labor market. Skillman Foundation invested millions in six large Detroit neighborhoods with the aim of encouraging the organizational skills and facilities that residents need to secure the social services they need, especially improved schooling (Allen-Meares et al. 2017). A modern light rail line opened in 2017 linking downtown and Midtown Detroit, three-quarters of the funding coming from Detroit foundations and entrepreneurs.

Following bankruptcy, Detroit residents elected a mayor who argued that every Detroit neighborhood—not just downtown—had a future and asked to be judged on whether he could reverse the seventy-year decline in the city's population. Renewal is evident in dynamic downtown Detroit, the east waterfront, and Midtown. Coming out of bankruptcy, federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes reserved about $1.7 billion for capital expenditures that the city could spend over a decade. Those funds and monies obtained from foundations allowed the city to resume the street lights that had been turned off in bankruptcy, to improve the bus service, to raze thousands of abandoned homes, to rebuild and revitalize many of the city's three hundred parks, and to once again sweep detritus off the streets. The state of Michigan rented Belle Isle from the city and made the requisite capital investments to restore that international park toward the top of the list of the nations' most impressive urban parks.

The mayor and Detroit's city planner, Maurice Cox, in 2016 announced that $42 million, largely from philanthropies, would be devoted to revitalizing neighborhoods far from downtown. Dilapidated homes were razed, abandoned residences and apartment buildings improved and resold, playgrounds refurbished, vacant lots turned into mini-parks or community gardens, and walking paths laid out to link residential areas to schools and shopping. In 2018, another $130 million in quasi-public [End Page 236] funds, that is, monies from foundations and businesses but administered by the city, became available to revitalize ten additional neighborhoods (Edwards 2018). Consistent with Kerner Commission recommendations, the city has been promoting home ownership through the sale of foreclosed homes owned by the city's Land Bank, a program that aids new owners in securing financing and assistance in bringing the home up to code. Kerner commissioners argued that it was important to encourage business ownership in ghetto neighborhoods. The city now administers a public-private Detroit Micro Enterprise Fund that has loaned $27 million to start-ups and small firms (City of Detroit 2018).

There may be some evidence of success. From 2011 to 2016, the number of metropolitan Detroit African Americans employed increased by 23 percent and per capita income (in constant dollars) went up by 14 percent. Consistent with Sharkey's finding about trends in large cities, crime has steadily decreased in the city of Detroit, with the number of murders sinking to a fifty-year low in 2017 (Sharkey 2018; Hunter 2017). Although numerous problems in the education system remain, Detroit has a new public school system with dynamic leadership. The most recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that children in the Detroit public schools scored lower than those of children in all other large cities on tests of reading and mathematics but the new superintendent, Nicolai Vitti, vowed to change that (Higgins 2018). The A. Philip Randolph High School was established to specifically train students for jobs in the new labor market. Consistent with the Kerner Commission's call for easier access to college education, a Detroit Promise program was established, funded by foundations and the city, providing qualified students who graduate from Detroit high schools with free tuition at community colleges. If they are successful there, they may qualify for two more years of college tuition (Smith 2017). It is impressive to read the litany of recommendations the Kerner Commission offered and then to observe that many of them are now being implemented, to some degree, in Detroit due to the capital investments of private firms and foundations.

Positive development is under way that will please those who endorse the ideas of Jane Jacobs about the importance of public spaces for urban vitality and safety (2011). From the first warm days of spring until autumn, Detroit's Campus Martius, Hart Plaza, the Eastern Market area, the east waterfront, and Belle Isle are busy on weekends—and sometimes on week days—with racially diverse crowds shopping, picnicking, eating at cafes, bicycling, running, or demonstrating at protest events. This was unthinkable at the time of the Kerner report.

These are positive steps, and metropolitan Detroit could become the poster child illustrating that a location devastated by jobs loss and riven by race can rise from the ashes. However, it will be necessary to recognize the legacy of decades of racial conflict and hostility that made Detroit the quintessential American apartheid metropolis. Additionally, many governmental program and policies that were implemented recently or will be put into operation soon may have severe adverse consequences for the upward economic mobility of racial minorities and those with limited educations. [End Page 237]

Reynolds Farley

Reynolds Farley is research scientist at the Population Studies Center and Otis Dudley Duncan Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.

Direct correspondence to: Reynolds Farley at renf@umich.edu, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, 426 Thompson St., Ann Arbor, MI 48105.

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Footnotes

1. Shelley et ux. v. Kraemer et ux. McGhee et ux. v. Sipes et al., 334 U.S. 1 (1948).

2. Demographie and economie data cited were, unless otherwise noted, obtained from public use files of data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, and decennial censuses accessed at the University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (Ruggles et al. 2017) and at Queens University's Social Explorer (https://www.socialexplorer.com, accessed May 21, 2018).

3. Data reporting the racial composition of city blocks provide the most precise assessment of residential segregation. They are available only from decennial censuses.

4. The 2012 HUD study tested for discrimination against home buyers using a large enough sample to show a decline over time at the national level. However, their sample in metropolitan Detroit was small, so data are not specifically shown (Margery Turner, lead author, personal communication, May 2018).

5. Terry v. Ohio. 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

6. U.S. v. City of Detroit, Michigan, 2003. 2:03-cv-72258 (E.D. Michigan).

Additional Information

ISSN
2377-8261
Print ISSN
2377-8253
Pages
206-241
Launched on MUSE
2018-09-27
Open Access
Yes
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