Martin Harvey

Detroit Mayor and Council
Pass the Buck on Housing

(8 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 2, 8 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT – Following on the heels of the reactionary decision of the Dearborn city administration to exclude a Negro housing project from that city comes another slap in the face of the Negro citizens of the Detroit area. This time it is his lordship, Mayor Jeffries, and the Detroit city council who completely reveal the inability of the politicians to offer any sort of decent solution to a housing problem that has been plaguing this city since before the war.

Back in May of 1943, the Detroit City Council, pressed with demands for expanding the housing facilities available to Negroes, turned a deaf ear to all proposals and ruled that any new housing must not change the existing racial composition of neighborhoods. Reduced to cold facts this decision meant – no new Negro housing. There was no room for expansion in the already tragically overcrowded sections where Negroes are segregated in Detroit.

Since that time, of course, the housing situation has become increasingly intolerable. Hardest hit, as always, are the Negroes. Figures from the War Manpower commission and the U.S. census Bureau reveal that there has been an increase in the Negro population of 62,000 in 1944. At the same time the white population decreased by 82,000. These figures, unfortunately, do not reveal the results in terms of overcrowding, disease, juvenile delinquency and the other ills that find a fruitful breeding place in rundown tenements and unpainted shacks.

Political Buck Passing

The situation finally reached a stage where it seemed that action could be delayed no longer. But this was not reckoning with. Detroit’s two-bit politicians. Blundering as they are, they are past masters of the art of delay and deception. It started with the Detroit Housing Commission which, presumably, is responsible for such things as seeing to it that adequate housing is available. The director-secretary of the commission, Charles F. Edgecomb, announced publicly that new neighborhoods would have to be opened up to Negro housing to meet the problem.

Did this mean that the Housing commission would finally DO something? Heaven forbid! This was merely a recommendation, you see.

Did the Housing Commission have the power to act on its recommendation? Of course it did. But action which would in any way improve the conditions of the Negroes living in Detroit (and might, incidentally, antagonize the powerful real estate interests) is what the august commission is least interested in. Why, in a couple of years the war might end and with it the problem of providing homes for the workers in Detroit’s armament factories. And in the meantime? In the meantime we’ll pass the buck to the City Council.

The Council, which is best known as a home for worn-out athletes, was not at all pleased with this decision. Polled by the press on their reactions to this new proposal on Negro housing, the eminent councilmen waxed eloquent with such comments as: “Well, er, you see ...” “This, matter deserves careful consideration ...” “We will study this recommendation closely ...” One courageous lawmaker is even rumored to have gone so far as to say: “When we have reached a decision, we must act on it.”

Mayor and the Athletes

Crowning this statesmanlike discussion was the decision to wait until the Mayor made a recommendation. The ex-football players on the Council remembered enough about passing to know what to do with the buck that was passed to them?

Everyone waited for the Mayor’s decision. Mayor Jeffries is one who does not shirk responsibility nor hesitate to take a firm stand. His firmness, however, seems, invariably, to be directed AGAINST Negroes. The last time Jeffries was firm was in backing ex-Prosecutor Dowling in his ruthless anti-Negro campaign during and after the Detroit race riots. This time the lion suddenly turned into a lamb.

The Mayor failed to appear at the Council meeting at which he was to present his recommendations. Instead he sent a letter. He bad no recommendation on the Housing Commission proposals, he told the Council. He suggested – further discussion! He proposed that the subject be discussed by representatives of the Housing Commission, the Mayor’s Interracial Committee (a body set up to cover Jeffries’ vicious role in the riots), the Council and Jeffries himself.

The final scene in this farce is the short line in the newspapers: “No date was suggested for the discussion.”

In this swamp of double-talk and double-dealing only one thing stands out clearly. Jeffries and his dirty crew of peanut politicians do not intend to lift a finger for decent Negro housing – or decent housing for anyone. Decent housing means modern homes, means air and light, means rents that fit a worker’s paycheck. Looked at through the insane mirror of capitalism, decent housing means smaller profits for the landlord? The two are incompatible.

A Way Out

There are also two ways to fight for adequate housing. There is the landlords’ way, the politicians’ way. This is based first and foremost on the sacred right of private property. This is the way of endless discussions, of buck-passing, of begging. This is the crawling, segregated, Jim Crow way.

And there is the workers’ way. This is based on need and on the proven ability of the country’s industry to provide ample housing for everyone. This is the way of workers’ action, of a militant struggle for the right of workers to control the kind of homes they live in. It is in the interest of all workers to provide modern homes for ALL and, by ending the competition for living space between black and white, root out Jim Crow and segregation.

Does anyone have more right to ample housing that the workers who produce all that is built?

Is anyone better able to fight for such a program than the labor movement, uniting Negro and white?

Last updated on 7 December 2017