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The Detroit News.

'Integration of the heart' remains elusive
July 1, 1998

By Jeffrey Fladden

Jeffrey Hadden is the deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.Some 35 years ago this nation embarked on a project to eradicate the vestiges of black slavery and legal segregation. Congress passed momentous civil rights and voting rights legislation aimed at politically empowering black Americans.

According to journalist Tamar Jacoby, however, the optimism about black-white relations that marked the dawn of the civil rights era has faded. The dream, voiced by Martin Luther King Jr., of a fully integrated "beloved community" has proved elusive. Too many black Americans, she contends, still feel, more than three decades after the civil rights revolution, that they are not at home in America; they are still living in Someone Else's House.

In tracing the causes of this loss of hope, Jacoby examines developments in New York, Atlanta and Detroit. Her conclusion: The dream of full integration foundered on the rocks of continuing white racism, or at least indifference, matched by a countervailing black politics of resentment. Add to this unwholesome mix lethal doses of Iiberal hubris and condescension, both to blacks and working-class whites.

She discovers these forces at work in New York City and Atlanta, but her section on Detroit will obviously hold the most interest for local readers.

Her accounting of events since Detroit's 1967 riot is thorough and largely accurate. Jacoby creates nuanced portraits of largely forgotten local political actors, such as Pontiac housewife Irene McCabe, who led a doomed crusade against school busing for racial balance in that city, and the late US. District Judge Stephen Roth who attempted to achieve racial balance in Detroit's schools by busing students across the boundaries of Detroit and its suburbs. (Irene McCabe's efforts were the catalyst for the political career of a young lawyer named Brooks Patterson.) To readers of a certain age, her account will seem like viewing a videotape on rewind.

The major character in Jacoby's narrative of Detroit, however, is Mayor Coleman A. Young. In her estimation, he failed to reach out to white residents both in Detroit and its suburbs and settled for "black power in one city." In her view, this doomed Detroit to an even greater decline than it was already facing in the 1970s and '80s from the exodus of low-skill, but high-paying manufacturing jobs in the shrinking U.S. auto industry.

Jacoby apportions ample blame for Detroit's strained race relations to a white-dominated police department that was swift and brutal in its treatment of black Detroiters, guilty and innocent alike. (A remnant of this old police culture was on display in all its ugliness during the trials of officers Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers in the death of Malice Green.) And she notes that white Detroit and its suburbs have had a long history of acting violently to keep blacks bottled up in selected areas of the city.

But once in power, an embittered Coleman Young encouraged a contempt for the law and the police and made excuses for criminal behavior.

In dealing with budget shortfalls (and possibly carrying out a vendetta against the police) in the mid-1970s, he reduced the size of the department. He took officers off the city's freeways, igniting a rolling crime wave that lasted for months and was quelled only when the Michigan State Police arrived.

Added to the crime problem were busing orders from federal courts that told working-class parents they would have to send their children to distant and failing schools. The inevitable result: a resentful black city surrounded by equally resentful white suburbs. And unlike New York and Atlanta, Detroit, because of its shrinking economic base, had no margin for political error.

If Detroit is Jacoby's worst case, Atlanta is her best. The core city remains integrated, after a fashion, and many more blacks who reside in the city have achieved middle-class success. Still, blacks live on one side of the city and whites on the other. Jacoby, asks, "Is this as good as it gets?"

But the situation may be less bad than she thinks. Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom note that only Baltimore and New Orleans have joined Detroit as black-majority cities since the late 1960s. And in the last 30 years, 7 million blacks have moved to the suburbs, compared with the 4.4 million who migrated from the South to Northern cities since 1940. The Detroit area is not representative of racial housing patterns in the rest of the nation.

Too, Jacoby never really defines exactly what she means by "real integration.” By definition, she says, "inclusion is an ideal—more a beacon than a concrete prescription." At another point she quotes a black college student looking for “integration of the heart." That's a tall order for mere government—and reveals a strain of utopianism not only in the student, but in the author.

Still, Jacoby's prescriptions for ameliorating what she perceives as the continuing gulf between blacks and whites are the only ones that make sense and the only ones that have worked in the past for other groups: One standard of law for all. One set of academic expectations for all. One set of political rules for all.

If we ever truly achieve these goals, “integration of the heart" won’t be so distant a dream.

The reviewer: Jeffrey Hadden is the deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.

©1998 The Detroit News

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