Detroit Historical Events American/World Historical Events

1950 - Detroit Population: Total: 1,849,568. Black: 300,506. (16.1%)

1950 January - George W. Crockett, Jr., Ernest Goodman, Morton A. Eden, and Dean A. Robb form the first known integrated law firm in the United States. It's African-American attorneys are the only African Americans working in the Cadillac Tower Building, which does not lease office space to African-American law firms.

January - Albert E. Cobo takes office as mayor of Detroit. His housing policies have a negative effect on African-American housing opportunities, including the razing of the African-American community known as Paradise Valley.

January 18 -Detroit Council President (and future Mayor) Louis Miriani reverses the Common Council action and grants the Tel-Craft Association a hearing before Common
Council in an attempt to scuttle integrated housing development.

March 15 - Despite the last-minute procedural tactics of Detroit Council President Miriani and others, Common Council votes to grant multi-use zoning to the Schoolcraft Gardens Housing Cooperative.

March 17 - Detroit Mayor Albert E. Cobo bows to racist pressure and vetoes the Schoolcraft Gardens Housing Cooperative multi-use zoning designation. Planned for between four and five hundred units on a 70-acre tract at Schoolcraft and Lamphere (near Telegraph Road), the non-profit cooperative had intended to build an integrated community.

July 29 - Charles W. Jones accepts Governor G. Mennan Williams' appointment as the first African-American judge in Michigan, filling an un-expired term on the Detroit Recorder's Court.

1951 Charles Diggs Jr. is elected to the Michigan State Senate after his father Charles Diggs Sr. was refused the seat to which he was elected following a bribery conviction.

1952 February 28 - Coleman A. Young testifies before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Unintimidated by the Committee and its efforts to destroy the lives of those it considered "subversive", he verbally jousts with its lawyers while refusing to name names in the National Negro Labor Council.

November - Cora M. Brown becomes the first African-American woman elected to the Michigan State Senate.

1954 Harold E. Bledsoe, mentor to many Detroit African-American lawyers, is elected President of the National Bar Association. This nationwide lawyers guild was open to all lawyers in good standing; however, it was largely comprised of African Americans.

Detroit minister Albert Cleage forms The Shrine of the Black Madonna, the centerpiece of the Black Christian Nationalist Church.

1955 November - Charles Diggs, Jr., a prominent Detroit mortician, is elected to United States House of Representatives. He is the first African-American congressman from Michigan.

1957 August - The Detroit Branch of the NAACP issues a report on police brutality entitled: "Analysis of Police Brutality Complaints Reported to the Detroit Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the Period from January 1, 1956 to July 30, 1957."

November 5th - William Patrick is the first African American elected to the Detroit Common Council (Now called, City Council) since the 19th Century.

1958 March 25th - Leon Patrick becomes the first African American appointed to a Detroit city commission, the Loyalty Investigating Committee.

April - The Detroit Tigers call up Ozzie Virgil from the minors. He is the first African-American player for the Detroit Tigers. Only the Boston Red Sox waited longer (1959) to hire an African-American player.

November 5 - Wade H. McCree, Jr. is elected to the Wayne County Circuit Court. He was appointed to the seat in 1954. In 1959 he is re-elected.

Damon J. Keith becomes the president of the Detroit Housing Commission.

1959 January 28 - Detroit police ride in integrated patrol cars for the first time.

Barry Gordy, Jr., establishes Motown Records using eight hundred dollars from the family loan fund. By the mid-1970s, it is the largest African-American-owned business in the United States.




1954 The United States Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education. Speaking for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren rules that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education is actually a compilation of five cases initiated by plaintiffs in South Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware and Kansas. The ruling overturns the ruling in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was lawful.



1960 - Detroit Population: Total: 1,670,144
Black: 482,229 (28.9% of the total)

1960 Damon J. Keith becomes Commissioner of the State Bar of Michigan.

1961 The Michigan state legislature passes a bill that prohibits racial discrimination by private cemeteries in Michigan.

April - Demonstrators surround the Kresge Headquarters at Cass Park in Detroit to pressure Kresge to integrate its lunch counters in southern states.

1961 Wade H. McCree, Jr. accepts appointment to the federal district court from President John F. Kennedy. He and James B. Parsons of Chicago, Illinois, together, are the first African Americans so appointed.

Otis M. Smith accepts appointment to the Michigan Supreme Court from Governor John B. Swainson. He is the first African American on any state high court since Reconstruction.

April 11 - The Michigan Senate votes on two bills to outlaw discrimination in Michigan cemeteries. Sponsored by Senator Basil W. Brown of Detroit and Highland Park, they are considered by most political observers to be the major civil rights bills of the 1961 session.

November - Jerome P. Cavanagh is elected Mayor of Detroit. African Americans vote for him as a block when African Americans were a key voting block and, thus his election is arguably the most significant demonstration of African-American political power in Detroit since the 19th century.

Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh. Photo courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

1962 January - As his first order of business, Detroit Mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh signs an executive order prohibiting racial discrimination in city hiring and promotion practices.

Mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh appoints Alfred M. Pelham city controller. Pelham is the son of Benjamin Pelham, who, in 1909, became the Wayne County Accountant and later chief fiscal officer, and of Robert Pelham, publisher of the 19th-Century African-American newspaper, the Detroit Plaindealer.

Robert L. Millender, Sr. leaves the Michigan Department of Workmen's Compensation to join the Detroit law firm of Crockett, Goodman, Eden & Robb as a partner. No longer a public employee, he is free to manage the political campaigns of nearly every Detroit-based African American to gain public office in the years to come, including Coleman Young.

Richard Henry and others establish the Group of Advanced Leadership (GOAL) to pursue equal opportunity in jobs, housing and education for African Americans.

1963 June 23 - Reverend C. L. Franklin organizes the "Walk to Freedom," the country's largest civil rights event to date. Featured guest speaker Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., visits Detroit and leads the march along Woodward Avenue with prominent Detroiters, labor leader Walter P. Reuther and Mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh. At the downtown rally, King gives his "I Have a Dream..." speech before delivering it two months later in Washington, D.C.

July 27 - The Detroit Branch of the NAACP leads a crowd of 200 people in a peaceful demonstration to protest housing discrimination in Oak Park, MI. The featured guests are Rosa Parks and Merle Evers, whose husband Medgar, NAACP Mississippi field secretary, was assassinated on June 12 in Jackson, MS while in the middle of a voter registration drive.

October 22 - Malcolm X speaks at Wayne State University in State Hall, delivering the speech "A Message from the Grass Roots."

1964 Professor Kenneth R. Callahan of Texas Southern University comes to Wayne State University Law School as a lecturer to replace Charles Quick who is on leave. Quick returns early and thus, two of the four African Americans teaching full-time at white law schools in the United States are at Wayne State University.

Hobart Taylor, Jr., a 1943 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, is appointed associate counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Damon J. Keith becomes chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

1965 January - Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit housewife and civil rights activist, is assassinated in an ambush from a car near Selma, Alabama, following the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama Civil Rights March, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Charles Wright, Ob/Gyn, opens the International Afro-American Museum in part of his office on West Grand Boulevard.

1966 The Michigan Supreme Court declares that the restrictive clauses on contracts for burial plots are void. J. Merrill Spencer has the right to bury his mother in a Flint, Michigan cemetery.

Judge Wade H. McCree accepts an appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

African-American Detroiters Myron Wahls and Nathan Conyers travel to the South to represent African Americans who are arrested after sit-ins, marches and other civil rights demonstrations.

April 7, 8 - Detroit Northern High School students, led by Judy Walder, Michael Batchelor, and 12th grade honor student Charles Coding, organize a demonstration and walk-out after the censorship of Coding's editorial in the student press, which criticized what he considered to be the inferior education offered at Northern.

April 20 - Northern Students resume their walkout when the School Board returns Principal Carty to duty. They open a "Freedom School" at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church with the support of Rector David Gracie and staffed by Wayne State University professors.

April 22 - Eastern High School students join Northern students in a sympathy walkout.

April 26 - Northern High School students vote to return to class, one day before a citywide student boycott is to take place. The students have successfully raised awareness on education issues in the city.

November - Geraldine Bledsoe Ford is elected to Detroit Recorder's Court and is the first African-American woman judge in Michigan.


1967 July 23 - Detroit police raid a "blind pig" (an after-hours club), located on 12th Street (Later, Rosa Parks Blvd.) and Clairmount. Civil unrest ensues, described by some as a riot and by others as an uprising or rebellion. In the course of the next three days, 44 people are killed, 7,331 are arrested, mostly for curfew violations, and $50 million dollars of property is damaged.

August - New Detroit Incorporated is formed in the aftermath and in response to the events of late July 1967. It is billed as "the nation's first urban coalition" - a cooperative of business, government, labor and community leaders, which is intended to heal the social problems that caused the recent civil unrest.

August 18 - The Michigan State Police, established in 1914, swear in the first African-American trooper in the state.

Reverend Albert Cleage, Jr. forms the Black Christian Nationalist (BCN) Church movement. Based in Detroit, the BCN church movement is a Christian civil rights and cultural organization with a militant agenda.

December 31 - The Detroit "open housing" ordinance, introduced by Councilman Nicholas Hood, is blocked by over one-hundred thousand petition signatures to force a ballot measure. (Subsequently, U.S. District Court Judge Talbot Smith strikes the measure as out of step with federal law.)


1968 April 5 - Several civil disturbances erupt in Detroit in the wake of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. African-American students at Detroit Cooley High School walk out in protest and later they are joined by students from twenty other Detroit schools and by African-American workers at the Chrysler Jefferson Avenue plant.

May 2 Young radical African-American workers at Dodge Main stage a wildcat strike and form DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) to protest continuing racism in the plant. DRUM spawns Revolutionary Union Movements at other East Side Detroit factories.

Tom Turner, president of the Detroit Chapter of the NAACP, is elected the first African-American president of the local AFL-CIO.

Willie Stamps, a Detroit Edison janitor, wins a division chairmanship in Local 223 of Utility Workers of America and is its first African-American officer.


1969 March 29 - Members of the Republic of New Africa, a radical organization advocating African-American autonomy, including a separate state for African Americans, engage in a shoot-out with Detroit police officers, killing one officer during a meeting at the New Bethel Baptist Church. Police arrest 143 men, women and children.

March 30 - Detroit Recorders Court Judge George W. Crockett, Jr., as presiding judge of the day, orders the release of the prisoners in the New Bethel Baptist Church incident of the day before.

The Revolutionary Union Movement forms a coalition called the League of Revolutionary Black Workers to continue speading the revolutionary union movement in Detroit and beyond.


November - Wayne County sheriff, Roman S. Gribbs narrowly defeats Wayne County auditor, Richard Austin, in a close mayoral election. Austin is the first African American to seriously challenge a white candidate for mayor of Detroit.




1963 June 12 - Medgar Evers, field secretary for the Mississippi branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is killed in an ambush outside of his home.

August 28 More than 200 thousand people gather at the Lincoln Memorial in the March on Washington. It is organized by A. Philip Randolph who is both president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids and an AFL-CIO vice-president. The featured speaker is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who issues a stirring rendition of an address delivered in Detroit a few months earlier.

1965 February 21 - Malcom X assasinated in Harlem, NY.

August 6 - President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law.

1968 April 4 - Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while in town to support striking African-American garbage workers.



1970 - Detroit Population: Total: 1,511,482
African American: 660,428 (44.5%)1970
Four Detroit School Board members are recalled for supporting a desegregation plan targeting eleven Detroit high schools. Detroit Judge Edward F. Bell is elected president of the National Bar Association, the nation-wide African-American lawyers guild.


1971 The Detroit Police Department forms STRESS, (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets) an undercover decoy unit formed to address street crime. However, due to its use of questionable tactics, in two and a half years, its members kills 22 people, all except one is African American.

1973 November - State Senator Coleman A. Young is elected the first African American mayor of Detroit, defeating Police Cheif John Nichols.

November - Erma Henderson is the first African-American woman elected to the Detroit City Council.

1974 First Independence National Bank, an African-American institution, opens for business. Four historically African-American hospitals, Burton Mercy , Trumbul General, Boulevard General and DelRay General merge to become Southwest General Hospital.

1975 September - WGPR-TV Channel 62 signs on the air from its East Jefferson Avenue studio as the first African-American-owned television station in the United States.

1976 Robert Hayden, born in Detroit as Asa Bundy Sheffey, becomes the first African American named Poet Laureate of the United States.

William Hart is appointed the first African-American chief of police for Detroit.


1977 Judge Wade H. McCree, Jr. accepts the appointment as solicitor general of the United States from President Jimmy Carter.

Dr. Marjorie Peebles-Meyers is named chief physician at Ford Motor Company World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. She will hold the post until 1985.

November - Erma Henderson is the first woman and first the African American elected as Detroit City Council president. The post goes to the top vote-getter in the non partisan, at-large race.

November In the first mayoral race where both contestants are African American, Mayor Coleman A. Young defeats his most serious challenger to office, Councilman Ernest Browne Jr.

1978 Special Assistant Attorney General Julian Abele Cook, Jr., accepts an appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Michigan from President Jimmy Carter.

1979 Anna Diggs Taylor, former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County and the United States attorney's office, accepts an appointment to the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan from President Jimmy Carter.



1980 - Detroit Population: Total: 1,203,339
African American: 777,916 (63% of the total)

1980 July - The Republican National Committee holds its convention in Detroit and nominates Ronald W. Reagan as its candidate for president of the United States. Mayor Coleman A. Young gives a welcome address at the opening plenary session.

November 4 - Former Detroit Recorders Court Judge George W. Crockett, Jr. is elected to U.S. Congress to fill the 13th District seat vacated by Charles Diggs, Jr.'s resignation.

Common Pleas Court Judge Lucile Alexander Watts is elected as the first African-American woman judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court.

1981 Dudley Randall is the first African American named Poet Laureate of Detroit.

November - Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young is re-elected to an unprecedented third term.

1982 Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Myron H. Wahls is elevated to the Michigan Court of Appeals through an appointment by Governor William Milliken and is its first African-American.

December 28 - Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Harold Hood is elevated to the Michigan Court of Appeals through an appointment by Governor William Milliken.

1983 Dennis W. Archer is elected president of the National Bar Association, the nation-wide African-American lawyers guild.

October - Wayne State University Professor Regina M. Williams is elected first African-American president of the Michigan Nurse's Association.

1984 Dennis W. Archer is the first African American elected president of the Michigan Bar Association.

1985 November - Michigan Governor James J. Blanchard appoints Dennis W. Archer to the Michigan Supreme Court, the first African American on the Michigan high court since Justice Otis M. Smith.

November - Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young defeats local businessman Thomas Barrow, who is a relative of prizefighter Joe Louis.

1988 Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young elevates Harold Watkins to Fire Chief, the first African American to hold the position. Mayor Dennis W. Archer later appoints him Fire Commissioner of the City of Detroit.

1989 Alexa Canady, the first African-American woman neurosurgeon in the United States, takes the post as chief of neurosurgery at Detroit's Children's Hospital of Michigan.

November - Mayor Coleman A. Young wins a fifth term by defeating Michigan (Detroit) Congressman John Conyers in the mayoral election.




1990 - Detroit Population: Total: 1,027,974
African American: 758,939. (76%)

1990 June 28 - Nelson Mandela, former president of the African National Congress, visits Detroit after his release from 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa.

1992 November 5 - Malice Green, an unarmed African-American Detroit man is stopped for questioning outside a reputed crack house on West Warren in Detroit. Green died of repeated blows to the head with heavy flashlights. The two officers, Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn, who encountered Green are convicted of involuntary manslaughter after having been granted second trials.

November - Dennis Archer wins the mayoral election as Coleman A. Young, suffering from emphysema, declines to run again.

1997 President William J. Clinton elevates Detroiter Charles Leroy Thomas from Distinguished Cross to Medal of Honor, citing a past policy of awarding heroic African-American soldiers lesser honors than white soldiers for similar or greater acts of heroism. Thomas receives the award posthumously for his service in World War II (See Dec. 14, 1944 entry).

November 24 Irving D. Reid takes the oath of office to become Wayne State University's first African-American president.

1999 Founder and CEO of Mel Far Automotive Group, former Detroit Lions football star, Mel Far becomes the first African-American auto dealership owner to gross more sales than any other African-American business, with $596.6 million.


1991 March 3 - Los Angeles, California police engage in a high-speed car chase with Rodney King. Upon his capture, police officers club him into submission, even as he lay on the ground motionless.

April 29 - A jury in the Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley, California acquits the four police officers charged with felonious assault of Rodney King. Protests erupt all over Los Angeles County, many are peaceful, however, rioting continues for four days, killing fifty-eight people.