Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City

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Cornell University Press, Jan 15, 2004 - History - 304 pages

America's urbanites have engaged in many tumultuous struggles for civil and worker rights since the Second World War. In Whose Detroit?, Heather Ann Thompson focuses in detail on the struggles of Motor City residents during the 1960s and early 1970s and finds that conflict continued to plague the inner city and its workplaces even after Great Society liberals committed themselves to improving conditions.

Using the contested urban center of Detroit as a model, Thompson assesses the role of such upheaval in shaping the future of America's cities. She argues that the glaring persistence of injustice and inequality led directly to explosions of unrest in this period. Thompson finds that unrest as dramatic as that witnessed during Detroit's infamous riot of 1967 by no means doomed the inner city, nor in any way sealed its fate. The politics of liberalism continued to serve as a catalyst for both polarization and radical new possibilities and Detroit remained a contested, and thus politically vibrant, urban center.

Thompson's account of the post-World War II fate of Detroit casts new light on contemporary urban issues, including white flight, police brutality, civic and shop floor rebellion, labor decline, and the dramatic reshaping of the American political order. Throughout, the author tells the stories of real events and individuals, including James Johnson, Jr., who, after years of suffering racial discrimination in Detroit's auto industry, went on trial in 1971 for the shooting deaths of two foremen and another worker at a Chrysler plant.

Bringing the labor movement into the context of the literature of Sixties radicalism, Whose Detroit? integrates the history of the 1960s into the broader political history of the postwar period. Urban, labor, political, and African-American history are blended into Thompson's comprehensive portrayal of Detroit's reaction to pressures felt throughout the nation. With deft attention to the historical background and preoccupations of Detroit's residents, Thompson has written a biography of an entire city at a time of crisis.


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Whose Detroit?: politics, labor, and race in a modern American city

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Using as a pivot the spectacular riots that gripped Detroit in July 1967, Thompson (history, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) casts the Motor City turned murder capital as a symbol of America's ... Read full review


Beyond Racial Polarization Political Complexity in the City and Labor Movement of the 1950s
Optimism and Crisis in the New Liberal Metropolis
Driving Desperation on the Auto Shop Floor
Citizens Politicians and the Escalating War for Detroits Civic Future
Workers Officials and the Escalating War for Detroits Labor Future
From Battles on City Streets to Clashes in the Courtroom
From Fights for Union Office to Wildcats in the Workplace
Urban Realignment and Labor Retrenchment An End to Detroits War at Home
Civic Transformation and Labor Movement Decline in Postwar Urban America
Notes from the Author

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About the author (2004)

Heather Ann Thompson received a bachelor's degree and master's degree from the University of Michigan and a PhD from Princeton University in 1995. Before joining the faculty of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2015, she taught history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte from 1997 to 2009 and at Temple University from 2009 to 2015. She has written about the history of policing, mass incarceration, and the current criminal justice system for The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, NBC, New Labor Forum, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post. Her books include Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City and Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971, which won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2017. She is also the editor of Speaking Out: Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s.