As anyone who has anything to do with me knows, I have become obsessed with the future of Detroit since early October. I think about Detroit all the time. I worry about its future. I reminisce about its past.
I love Detroit.
Shortly after I left the U.S. Department of Labor as a political appointee to President Jimmy Carter, I spent a week in Detroit.
When I write about being a political appointee to the President of the United States, I am being accurate. Nevertheless, my importance in the political food chain was minimal. My title was Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown.
Secretary Brown was the best boss I ever had. Writing speeches for him was a joy. But I was at no point important in the larger scheme of things. The measure of my power: My title earned me the right to replace my government issued sofa, in my palatial office, with a custom made sofa.
I spent days looking at cloth samples asking advice on sofas. That was the extent of my political power.
Nevertheless, as a political appointee, my job required approval by the Senate of the United States. These days when senate confirmation issues are raised, the rancor in politically hostile D.C. had gotten to the point where confirming a speech writer of no special importance could be a problem today. In 1978, the human resources person at the Labor Department had me fill out the necessary paperwork. The following week I read in the Congressional Record my name, amidst a lot of other names, as having been confirmed by the senate. O tempora. O mores.
Details of my Detroit trip must come at another time. I was working for a week in Detroit as a contractor for an educational publisher. I stayed at Henry Ford II’s Renaissance Center, the controversial hotel plus which epitomized white corporate Detroit. These were executives, including African-Americans, who worked in the city and slept in the suburbs.
I spent days at the Downtown Detroit Chrysler automobile assembly plant which has since closed. The experience left me with a love for the Motor City, or Motown which is Detroit’s frequently used nickname. My experience with the African-American community of Detroit, a community that sleeps and votes within the city limits, is a fond memory.
My access to the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) International Headquarters thrilled me. Each visit seemed an act of homage to the great labor leader Walter Reuther whom I greatly admired. Reuther’s power, generated by his ability to turn out the vote, led him to dominate Michigan politics. In the process, Walter Reuther created a university system, characterized by Anne Arbor, the envy of the academic world. Reuther also created a superb vocational training network emanating, as it were, from Detroit’s Wayne State University.
There is far too much to say here about the problems of today’s Detroit and the promise of tomorrow’s.
During this ongoing Detroit obsession which began in October and has not stopped, I have been listening to the music of the Supremes.
The Supremes remind me of the glory days of Detroit. May those days return even at only a fraction of the joy Detroit felt when it had an automobile industry. When I think about Detroit, the first thing that comes to mind is the Supremes singing their 1966 hit song: I hear a symphony.
Song accessible on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg-ercNIHQA
Whenever you’re near, I hear a symphony
A tender melody
Pulling me closer, closer to your arms
Then suddenly (I hear a symphony)
Ooh, your lips are touching mine
A feeling so divine
Till I leave the past behind
I’m lost in a world
Made for you and me
—Song stanza courtesy: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/supremes/ihearasymphony.html
“With 12#1 pop singles, numerous sold out concerts and regular television appearances, the Supremes were not only the most commercially successful female group of the Sixties but among the top five top/rock/soul acts of that decade. Diana Ross, Mary Williams, and Florence Ballard composed Motown’s flagship group. Barry Gordy Jr.’s black pop music crossover dream come true that paved the way from rock radio hits and packaged bus tours to Los Vegas showrooms and Royal Command Performances. At the height of the civil rights movement, they were also embraced by the world as symbols of black achievement. Fronted by Diana Ross during their peak years, they epitomized Holland-Dozier-Holland’s classic Motown sound and the label’s sophisticated style. Unlike other girl groups, the Supremes had a mature, glamorous demeanor that appealed equally to teens and adults. Versatile, and unique, the original Supremes were America sweet-hearts setting standards and records that no one has yet equaled.”
–from The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, published by Fireside Press, 1995. This is a superb book which will bring joy to anyone who purchases it.