Detroit’s forgotten ‘Dream ’
By David Maraniss, Published: June 20
David Maraniss, an associate editor at The Post, is researching a book about Detroit in 1963.
Detroit, now so beleaguered, carries an important if largely unrecognized status on this 50th anniversary of America’s civil rights summer. It was here, on June 23, 1963, that Martin Luther King Jr. first publicly dreamed his dream. This was two months before his immortal speech rolled down from the Lincoln Memorial and into history books. King’s first enunciation of his powerful “I Have a Dream” riffs came not near a statue of the Great Emancipator on the Mall but insideDetroit’s Cobo Arena , at the end of what he hailed as “the largest and greatest demonstration of freedom ever held in the United States.”
When, near the end, King thundered, “I have a dream,” audience members responded to the call and shouted, “Go ahead!” — and on he went. Some of his dream stanzas were nearly identical to those he would proclaim later in Washington; some more poetic, others less so. One seemed unique to that place. At one point, King spoke directly to a predominantly black Detroit audience that had endured decades of bank red-lining, exclusionary covenants and other Northern forms of de facto segregation. “I have a dream this afternoon that, one day right here in Detroit, Negroes will be able to buy a house or rent a house anywhere that their money will carry them and they will be able to get a job .”
Fifty years on, some parts of King’s dream are closer to reality than others, but none seems more deferred than his vision of Detroit, now a shell-shocked city on the brink of bankruptcy with long, lonesome stretches of abandoned buildings, foreclosed homes and a population devastated by joblessness. Detroit has become so synonymous with urban deterioration that it can seem too familiar, a cliche of hopelessness — a prevalent sensibility that robs people struggling to survive in Detroit, and to revive Detroit, of the respect they deserve.
Detroit has been decomposing, in a sense. All organic things decompose sooner or later, from human beings to cities, and then something new arises in their place. But they also leave important markers behind that shape the present and future. Detroit has left as many markers as any city in America. Cars, music, labor, civil rights — much of the mythical American dream was defined by this Detroit quartet. And all of them were in their fullness on that early summer day 50 years ago.
The recording was released by Motown on Aug. 27. The next day, the civil rights legions marched on Washington, and King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, and Detroit was forgotten.