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Detroit’s Black History

To mark Black History Month, The Michigan Citizen reached into its photo archives to repost a variety of events that tell some of Detroit’s recent history. We encourage readers who can add to the narrative of any of the photos to please do so by submitting comments to



Activist Marie Thornton was physically removed from one of the state-controlled “deform” board meetings. She subsequently successfully sued the district. Meetings were loud and disruptive as citizens protested the loss of their vote and control of their children’s education to the state. Most felt it was control of the $1.2 billion bond money that prompted the state takeover.

Historic McMillan School in Delray was a victim of the first state takeover. Built in 1886, the school was demolished under orders from state-appointed schools chief executive officer David Adamany. Lynette Bell, PTA legislative chairwoman, was one of those fighting to keep the school. Parents, community members and teachers had secured a historic designation as a strategy against closure. MEAP scores were on the rise and enrollment had increased, but since the schools were under state control, the people were not heard. Students were shifted to the new Beard school constructed with bond moneys. The new Beard was found to have been constructed on a toxic site.

Sharon McPhail waged a hard-fought battle to win the 2000 Wayne County prosecutor’s race against Mike Duggan. McPhail charged, at the time, that Duggan was running as part of a strategy by then County Executive Ed McNamara to circle the wagons against a federal investigation of McNamara and his cronies. Many believed McPhail won, but the out-county votes — including Duggan’s hometown, Livonia — were impossible to recount and Duggan narrowly won the seat.

Community efforts to recall Dennis Archer for refusal to grant one casino liscense to local, Black ownership did not succeed. City Clerk Jackie Currie threw out 72,000 signatures claiming the signers were not legal. Among those tossed were long-standing and well-known residents.

Minister Malik Shabazz, with fist raised (left in rear), depicted the mood of the crowd surrounding a Bill Beckham press conference in 2000. Beckham served as CEO of the state-controlled “deform” board, as community members called it. Attorney Sharon McPhail (red dress, center rear) represented the community pro bono in the legal struggle to overturn the law allowing the state to seize control of the Detroit Public schools and, most importantly, the $1.2 billion voters approved for new and improved school buildings.

Assistant Prosecutor Kym Worthy, flanked by County Commission Bernard Parker on her right, and NAACP President Wendell Anthony, rose to fame with her successful prosecution of renegade officers Budzyn and Nevers, who beat Malice Green to death with their flashlights.

In the late 1990s, the members of the Shrine of the Black Madonna joined members of the Community Coalition and citizens alike in a broad-based fight to secure at least one of three slated casinos to be Black and locally owned. Thrawted by Mayor Dennis Archer, the community groups then launched a recall campaign against Archer.

Casino owner and Detroit resident businessman Don Barden and his wife, Bella Marshall, invited Michael Jackson to join their efforts to secure a Black-owned casino for Detroit. Jackson and Barden proposed a family-oriented theme park to be built on the river near the Ambassador Bridge as part of the Barden casino proposal. Their efforts did not win over then Mayor Dennis Archer, who opted instead for a large, corporate, Vegas-owned casino, an Illitch casino and an Indian casino.

Police brutality was a major issue in Detroit in the 1990s. A member of an eastside motorcycle club was killed by renegade officer Eugene Brown, who killed or assaulted six civilians. Another of his victims, LaMar Grable, was one of the more well-known cases of an innocent dying at the hands of an out-of-control police. The Justice Department investigated and entered into a consent decree as a result.

Community protest against the first state takeover was loud and long. Here parents and civic members protest in front of the School Center Building, which then taxpayers still owned. Under state-appointed CEO David Adamany, the building was taken from the district. Taxpayers had to begin to pay rent to the Farbmans for space in their Fischer Building. No public oversight was possible under terms of the state takeover. The deals remain secret. Queen Mother Helen Moore (right front with sign) started up Keep The Vote/No Takeover in response.

Cartoonist Dewayne Hoffman portrayed the grip Mayor Dennis Archer and Gov. John Engler had on the Detroit Public Schools with the first state takeover. The district at the time, 1999, had rising test scores and nearly a $100 million surplus. The district was $300,000 in debt when voters finally wrested control back — temporarily — from the state in 2006. A vote of the people demanded the state repay Detroit, but instead Gov. Jennifer Granholm launched a new takeover with the appointment of EM Robert Bobb. More debt, student flight and school closings followed.

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