Reflection on “Class, Status, and Residence: The Changing Geography of Black Detroit” by Thomas Sugrue

Sugrue’s essay takes the reader through a history of economic and resource based segregation in the city of Detroit beginning in the 1940’s. Starting with a Wayne County Circuit court ruling the McGhee family was “indeed colored” and that a local covenant could keep them from living in a white neighborhood, the story of segregationist covenants begins to unfold (Boehm 433). From the ground up, Detroit’s major governing bodies supported a white infrastructure that took away opportunities from black citizens’ residential and economic mobility under the guise of community freedoms. Even housing values were skewed by racist members of the Federal Housing Administration going so far as to advise developers to uphold racial restrictions to “protect the character of a neighborhood and to maintain high housing values (Boehm 433).”
This separation of demographics led to sub-communities that were so isolated from resources and employment that poverty became centralized in decaying inner city areas. One interesting result came in the form of black owned businesses. A specific niche market was created that allowed black entrepreneurs to service an under-served community and make enough money to flee the impoverished area. As economic downturn occurred, these citizens were able to purchased homes in formerly white communities in the suburban landscape as a mode of upward mobility creating even greater “white flight.” Though the Coordinating Council on Human Relations and NAACP both fought to have whites accept their black neighbors “with intelligence and courage” the gap continued to widen (Boehm 438). Discriminatory sales practices and home owner’s association regulatory bodies made the road to diversity quite bumpy during this time and used things such as odd point systems to determine the eligibility of new residents without overtly saying they didn’t want minorities around. As a result, to this day, open housing is still an issue, not only in Detroit, but in most major urban areas of the United States. Though racism no longer parades openly nearly as often as it once did, the toxic touch of its poisoned tentacles still sickens us to this day.

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