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June 9, 2018
: MI laws vs the environment; ethnic cleansing created residential segregation

Trusting the fox to guard the henhouse:
new Michigan laws say the polluters should set the environmental regulations

by Pete Brown, Detroit Workers' Voice

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is famous the world over for its incompetence, corruption, and general willingness to approve any scheme capitalist money-grubbers have for making a buck. They are particularly infamous for the Flint water disaster, when MDEQ happily approved the plan to have residents drink water from the heavily polluted Flint River because it would save a few bucks in state and city budgets. But this is by no means the only caper MDEQ has pulled. On a daily basis they are approving frack wells, injection wells, incinerators and expansion of landfills and waste processing facilities that leak pollution into neighboring communities. Michigan has become a dumping ground for industrial and frack waste from surrounding states and Canada that refuse to allow the stuff to be buried in their own backyards. When polluting waste piles up in Ohio, say, or New York, their solution is:  “Send it to Michigan; they’ll approve anything!”

Given this history, one would think state legislators would be a little embarrassed and would try to clean up the image of their state agency for environmental quality. The state spends millions every year on their advertising campaign for “Pure Michigan”, promoting Michigan as a tourist area with clean lakes and rivers and air. One would think state officials would be trying to tighten regulations and strengthen MDEQ’s ability to slow down the capitalist ruination of Michigan’s environment. But far from it, they are instead determined to hand over MDEQ to the very corporations that are polluting the environment. That’s the meaning of their latest legislative effort, bills #652-654. The purpose of these bills is to take away state regulators’ ability to make decisions based on science and instead hand over control of regulation to industrial interests.

Senate Bill 652, for instance, puts

“virtually all power for overseeing rules in the hands of a committee dominated by business interests. The committee would specifically include someone representing the solid waste industry, one representing a statewide manufacturing organization, one for small business, one for utilities, one for the oil and gas industry, … Senate Bill 653 does virtually the same thing for key environmental quality permits, setting up a 15-member committee dominated by business interests.”

Senate Bill 654 creates a science advisory board for the governor, but it’s up to the governor to ask for their advice; it has no regulatory authority of its own. (Information and quotes from the website for Anglers of the Au Sable, a recreational fishing organization.)

Many environmental, recreational and just plain democratic organizations have expressed opposition to bills 652-654. For example, Our Kitchen Table, “a grassroots organization for social justice” based in Grand Rapids, said on their website, “Having regulated industries set Michigan’s environmental rules is like trusting the fox to guard the henhouse.” Environmental activists from the Detroit area have called, written letters and made organized trips to Lansing to talk to their state representatives and urge them to vote against these bills. Despite this activity, the legislature on May 22 approved the bills and sent them to Governor Snyder to be signed into law. Peggy Case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation summed up the situation thusly:

 “The government basically has been turned over to private industry. … So it’s the fox not only guarding the chicken house, but owning the chicken house.” (See Case’s interview on Public News Service, May 24)

It is still faintly possible that Governor Snyder will veto these bills, but that is unlikely given Snyder’s history of ignoring threats to the environment and his kowtowing to the right-wing fanatics in the legislature. Like many state representatives, Snyder is term-limited this year and on the lookout for a soft job in private industry after his term of office ends. Environmental activists will have to redouble their efforts to protect water and air in Michigan and turn back the capitalist assault on them.

A massive ethnic cleansing of black people, starting in 1880, created our residential segregation and emboldened white supremacy

by Tim Hall, Detroit Workers' Voice

It is little known that after the Civil War, black people in large numbers migrated out of the south to the north, midwest and far west, long before the massive northward migrations of the 20th century. Being farming people, these black migrants settled everywhere, not just in cities. From Maine to the state of Washington, there were black people. Nearly every rural town or county had a black population. The afterglow of the Civil War, fought to end slavery, resulted in relatively good treatment in these places.

Then, in the 1880s, as capitalism in the U.S. changed from competitive to monopoly capitalism, and large numbers of smaller firms were crushed or taken over by gigantic corporations and banks, a wave of anti-democratic reaction swept through the nation. Reconstruction had been defeated and black people were deprived of the vote in the south. The KKK revived and terrorized the black masses, spreading throughout the north as well. Workers rebelling against the surging bosses were viciously attacked. The U.S. ruling class embarked on a marauding imperialism abroad to match its tyranny at home. The robber barons lived up to their name.

And a wave of terror against black people spread through the areas to which they had migrated. A massive ethnic cleansing took place throughout the country except for the Old South (which needed blacks for sharecopper farming on white landowners’ estates). The capitalist ideological apparatus – the press and entertainment – launched a virulent campaign of slander of blacks as having been “criminals” during Reconstruction; blacks were viciously lampooned everywhere in minstrel shows and in racist films such as “Birth of a Nation.”

The Civil War had been fought to free black people; now they were branded as the problem. The white capitalist ruling class used this atmosphere to incite large numbers of the white masses to attack blacks. Lynchings abounded. Lynchings are not “ordinary” murders, they are public murders carried out with the participation or acquiescence of large parts if not all of whole communities.  Local governments outlawed black people (“sundown towns” meant no blacks legally allowed after dark, laws generally enforced with violence). Literally hundreds of riots against blacks were instigated by white criminals and were christened “race riots” to make them appear caused by blacks as well. Acts of war were carried out against entire black communities, as in the aerial bombing and destruction of black Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. Later, as large cities developed suburbs after World War II, these suburbs customarily banned the presence of black people. The Levittowns, massive suburbs on the East Coast, banned blacks and continued to bar them after the Fair Housing Act in 1968.  African Americans fought back in many ways, but it was a losing battle until the 60s.

As a result of this ethnic cleansing, we have black “ghettos” and white suburbs to this day. The civil rights and black liberation movements of the 60s and 70s broke up some of this segregation, or forced it to go underground, but the pattern of segregation remains.

This process is described in James Loewen’s book Sundown Towns. Loewen, who taught at the civil rights organizing center, Tougaloo College in Mississippi, also presents his findings on his web site,

The traditional narrative of black history says that blacks were super-oppressed in the Old South and migrated north to live in ghettos. Loewens’ research shows this is only half true. African Americans lived throughout the country until they were violently driven out of mixed areas and forced into impoverished neighborhoods in the cities.

The white neighborhoods and mostly white towns and counties we see today only came about through ethnic cleansing. These newly all-white places were then “defended” by local law and violence, creating what were called “sundown” towns, counties and suburbs.

This process began in the 1880’s, lasted fully until 1968 and much of it remains today. Since it extended over such a long historical period, many people think this residential whiteness and segregation is normal. That has become a widespread bias, and whites (and blacks) are not aware that it ever was different. And that, in turn, gives many white residents an unconscious or conscious belief in white superiority. “They” are “over there” where things are worse, and that is “normal.” And so, our white areas seem “natural,” as do our “ghettos,” and thus white supremacy is naturalized in white minds. (And blacks are daily subjected to these conditions as “proof” of their supposed inferiority.)

Let’s take the Detroit area. If you know Detroit, you will recognize that the “sundown suburbs” indicated by Loewen were indeed not long ago all white, but you probably did not know that ethnic cleansing made them that way. Wyandotte, downriver from Detroit, was one exception: it enforced segregation since the Civil War and never had any black population until recently. A white worker who grew up there described how blacks were banned from Wyandotte bars by the Purple Gang, the mafia, which was strong there. Only recently have any blacks been able to live there; they are still attacked but have been able to get some protection in the courts.

Dearborn, neighboring Detroit to the south, is another example. Dearborn was maintained violently as a strictly all-white town until after the death of its arch-racist mayor Orville Hubbard in 1982. Since the late 60s Arabs have been moving into Dearborn. They did not come waving civil rights banners, but Arab businessmen were willing to serve everybody, and now blacks can travel, shop and live in Dearborn, though there still are racist incidents with the police.

Other Detroit “sundown suburbs” included Warren (notoriously racist), all five Grosse Pointes, Livonia, Birmingham, Royal Oak and a few more, along with other suburbs that were nearly all-white. Loewen’s book gives a revealing map of all these on page 117.

Such was the white wall of segregation confronting blacks migrating north after the turn of the 20th century. This wall forced black people to create a guidebook for black travelers, called the Green Book, advising them where they could stop without getting killed.

In addition, blacks faced violent segregation in city neighborhoods, where whites in white areas attacked blacks who were moving in, desperate for decent housing. In Cleveland, near where I grew up, the fights of whites in white Collinwood against blacks moving in to Glenville next door were famous, and Italian Murray Hill was a virulent fountain of racism right through the 60s. In Detroit in 1925, in a famous confrontation, a black doctor named Ossian Sweet and his friends defended with arms his purchase of a house in a white neighborhood on the east side. In 1923 whites instigated a race riot by attacking blacks, who fought back strongly. In the 60s blacks rose up in rebellions against these conditions.

Not only were blacks ethnically cleansed out of formerly mixed areas and banned from new suburbs, but after World War II they were denied FHA financing and thus did not benefit from the housing boom post-war and were thereby denied developing family wealth as real estate values rose. In addition, blacks were denied benefits from the GI Bill. Of the first 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI Bill, fewer than 100 were taken out by non-whites. Where I worked in the civil rights movement in West Tennessee from 1964-66, black folks were still living in shacks. Only in 1968, with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, could blacks get FHA loans; finally my old friends could buy small houses in Fayette County, Tennessee. But this was closing the barn door after the horse got out, as by then black family wealth was miles behind and there was no catching up.

The aftermath of the great ethnic cleansing of black people after the Civil War is still with us. Many current studies have shown a huge continuing gap between black standard of living and white.

This impact is underestimated in the customary presentation of black history, even by people entirely sympathetic to black liberation. Racism is an indelible element of capitalism; the ethnic cleansing and racism described here was and is a great weapon on the side of the rich robber barons of today, who wish to keep the working class divided and suppressed and black people and other people of color stigmatized and super-oppressed.

African Americans in the U.S. were the victims of a gigantic, violent, nearly nationwide campaign of ethnic cleansing that lasted for over 80 years and altered the living patterns of Americans on a huge scale. This ethnic cleansing gave a great boost to the ideology of white superiority and white supremacy and continues to embolden it to this day. And it was very profitable to the capitalists, most of them white, who have profited enormously from a divided working class and impoverished people of color. <>

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Posted on June 10, 2018