At his 1974 inauguration, newly elected Detroit Mayor Coleman Young shouted a warning to criminals: "Hit Eight Mile," he said, promising his new constituents that he would free them from the grips of crime that had persisted under the two previous stewards of the city.
Two things resulted: 1) White suburbanites shrieked in terror, ignorantly interpreting Young's words to mean that he was sending black thugs after them; and 2) the only ones who "hit Eight Mile" were the city's core population.
Demographers say they didn't expect the census count to go as low as 713,000, but it's an exodus from the Motor City that has been taking place since at least the 1950s.
Some people believe that black people actually enjoy living in bullet-riddled neighborhoods. That notion, though, is as shortsighted as it is stupid. Most of the quarter-million people who have fled Detroit over the past 10 years are African American.
What this tells us is not that black people feel most comfortable surrounded by gunfire. Despite a failure to notice on the part of politicians and pundits, this tells us that black folks hate living with a poor quality of life just as much as everyone else does.
While Young has changed both the police department and city hall to better reflect the city's new black majority, poor city services, the faltering educational system and higher property taxes have pushed white and black Detroiters out.
Many people reporting this story think black people just picked up and left for the suburbs between 2000 and 2010, but they are wrong.
During the 1940s, Detroit's black middle class was primarily located on the city's east side in an area called Paradise Valley. But when the federal government built Interstate 75 right through Hastings Street, the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, they were forced to disperse.
Those who could afford it moved to the more affluent west side, which had larger homes and better services than previous civic administrations had bothered to provide for black people -- most of whom worked in auto plants with white southerners, Eastern Europeans and Middle Eastern immigrants.
Over time, blacks migrated farther west until, by the beginning of Young's second term in 1978, the black middle class ended up on the northwest side. At the time, the mayor took up the battle waged before he was elected -- that his predecessors had failed to fight -- against auto companies that were doing everything they could to get away from Detroit.
From the mid-1950s, automakers were fleeing the city by building plants in distant suburbs and then finally moving to other states and even countries. That industry void has never been filled, with only Chrysler's Jefferson North and GM's Hamtramck Assembly still standing within city limits.
With the simultaneous disappearance of Detroit's residential and corporate tax base, followed by the 1967 12th Street Riot -- which most historians consider a turning point in the city's saga -- the quality of life declined, resulting in more abandoned houses, flooded streets, crime and devil's night.
Black people who had before then made a decent wage either working in plants for city or state agencies, or in other areas of the private sector, watched and waited as their tax dollars provided less and less, and city hall competency shrank.
Meanwhile, suburbs like Southfield, Roseville, Harper Woods and Dearborn Heights -- the towns that didn't chase black people away -- and, later, Warren, Troy and Sterling Heights started noticing an influx of blacks, who were following their middle-class white counterparts and looking for the same things: working streetlights, good schools and police that came when you called. By 2000, Southfield, for example, was 50 percent black.
Contrary to popular belief, a neighborhood with frequent drive-by shootings are not our natural habitat, and if we can afford to move to a better environment for our families, we will. We want to go to hospitals where we get prompt and excellent treatment. We want to send our children to schools where the students don't feel entitled to curse or beat up the teachers.
The census numbers of Detroit should bode ominous for those in government who want to retain their population: Black people may not always go to the ballot booth and vote, and we may not always vote with our dollars, but make no mistake, as history has proven, we always vote with our feet.
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