Detroit's Plan for 'African Town' Stirs Racial Tensions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Detroit's Plan for 'African Town' Stirs Racial Tensions


Byline: Brian DeBose, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Detroit City Council, in defiance of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, likely will move forward with plans to create an "African Town" in the tradition of Chinatowns and Little Italys nationwide, even though the issue has turned into a racially divisive economic-development proposal.

In July, the council resolved to build up a section of the city devoted to African and black American literature, cuisine and art, which Mr. Kilpatrick endorsed. He vetoed the resolution, however, when it became clear that the council's plan would allow only black businessmen and investors to use the $38 million earmarked for the project.

Mr. Kilpatrick argued that the resolution is both racist and unconstitutional.

"It's not the African Town proposal. We like the idea," said Howard Hughey, spokesman for Mr. Kilpatrick. "But what they are proposing is to create a publicly funded private entity and give one man $40 million to use and distribute to investors, and it is unconstitutional to do that based on race and [the resolution] says very clearly that it would be."

The nine-member council - which has two white members - voted 7-2 to override Mr. Kilpatrick's veto and passed the resolution. In addition, they resolved that Detroit is a "majority-minority" city that is underserved.

Council member Kay Everett, who is black, said the first resolution was "ridiculous" and opposed the African Town resolution for being illegal and divisive.

"It is reverse racism, and you can't right a wrong with another wrong. It's reparations with public money," she said.The resolution isn't legally binding, and Mrs. Everett, council member Sheila M. Cockrel, who is white, and the Asian, Hispanic and Arab chambers of commerce are working to have the resolution rescinded during a third and final vote on Oct. 11. The three chambers said they will file a class-action lawsuit against the city if the council chooses to move forward beyond the resolutions.

The city's African-American Chamber of Commerce also opposes the bill, calling it unconstitutional, but has said it wouldn't file a lawsuit.

Typically, Chinatowns, Little Italys and other locales, such as Spanish Harlem in New York, were created by immigrants in a time when they were not accepted in other areas of the city and forced to build their own businesses and communities centered on their respective cultures. …

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