HARD STUFF by Coleman Young


The Autobiography of Coleman Young
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 A timely but stubbornly selective autobiography of Detroit's five-time African-American mayor, written with Wheeler (coauthor of Hank Aaron's I Had A Hammer, 1991). The authors tell the parallel stories of a profoundly troubled city--abandoned by the auto industry that had nourished it and becoming for a time the nation's notorious murder capitol--and of the extraordinary man who governed it for 20 years (ill and out-of- favor at age 75, Young chose not to run in the last election). Young grew up in Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood when it was still a cozy place to live. Tricked out of college because--he says--of his race, he worked at Ford, learned Marxism at the local barbershop, served with the famous Tuskegee Airmen, and immersed himself in left-leaning union activities. He became a local hero after taking on Joe McCarthy's HUAC and, in 1973, was elected mayor when Detroit's racial balance tipped toward African-Americans. In office, Young delivered on many of his promises--most significantly, to divide power through affirmative action where he was empowered to do so, and to tame the police department, whose union newspaper was, he says, still calling blacks ``jungle bunnies'' when he moved into the mayor's waterfront mansion. Here, Young and Wheeler go on to take us through the agonies of grappling with what Young calls ``the damnestdest demographics in America.'' Later on, the former mayor presents a fairly strong case for the imposition of term limits: The man, it seems, was simply overly merged with his city. Since much of the material here on Detroit will be familiar to readers of Ze'ev Chafet's Devil's Night (1990), it's a pity that Young, on his own turf, hasn't told us more about his turbulent relationship with Jesse Jackson, or hasn't been less roguish and elliptical about his personal life. Which is to say that this aptly titled book, while dandy, could have been softer. (Eight pages of b&w photographs)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-84551-5
Page count: 334pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993


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