The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

Synopsis

In the 1920s, Henry Ford hired thousands of African American men for his open-shop system of auto manufacturing. This move was a rejection of the notion that better jobs were for white men only. In The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford, Beth Tompkins Bates explains how black Detroiters, newly arrived from the South, seized the economic opportunities offered by Ford in the hope of gaining greater economic security. As these workers came to realize that Ford's anti-union "American Plan" did not allow them full access to the American Dream, their loyalty eroded, and they sought empowerment by pursuing a broad activist agenda. This, in turn, led them to play a pivotal role in the United Auto Workers' challenge to Ford's interests.
In order to fully understand this complex shift, Bates traces allegiances among Detroit's African American community as reflected in its opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, challenges to unfair housing practices, and demands for increased and effective political participation. This groundbreaking history demonstrates how by World War II Henry Ford and his company had helped kindle the civil rights movement in Detroit without intending to do so.

Excerpt

This is a story about Detroit, a city whose name evoked the promise of America as the land of opportunity in the early years of the twentieth century. Henry Ford promoted that image with the progressive industrial policies and maverick business practices he put into place at the Ford Motor Company (FMC). the unfolding narrative is anchored to Henry Ford and his desire to revolutionize the world through the production and sales of his Model T, affectionately known as the Tin Lizzie. Ford succeeded—perhaps beyond even his expectations—in transforming how Americans in the twentieth century worked and played. From the agrarian rhythms characterizing the world of work in the nineteenth century, Ford retooled industry, reconstructing how the production process would be orchestrated—even as he strove to expand and enrich the world workers inhabited during their leisure time. His innovative strategies for having workers manufacture cars from interchangeable parts along a moving assembly line produced automobiles more efficiently, uniformly, and faster than the world had ever imagined.

Ford’s mass-production strategies and industrial policies spawned a revolutionary business model, redefining the road to success under industrial capitalism. By linking prosperous workers to productive markets, Ford’s formula helped shape a consumer-based economy. the more cars Ford produced and sold, the lower the cost of producing each car, making the car affordable to the workers who produced them, leading to more sales and increasing demand, which in turn lowered production costs further. When Americans purchased a Ford, they drove into a “new era.” Ford’s Model T, created for the “great multitude,” shaped modern America by expanding the nation’s cultural horizons, changing social behavior, and altering expectations about what was possible. By the early twenties the Ford name was synonymous with the word “car,” and his renown, resulting from his mass-production techniques and the cars rolling off his assembly line, was international in scope.

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