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Black Detroit

A People's History of Self-Determination

About the Book

The author of Baldwin’s Harlem looks at the evolving culture, politics, economics, and spiritual life of Detroit—a blend of memoir, love letter, history, and clear-eyed reportage that explores the city’s past, present, and future and its significance to the African American legacy and the nation’s fabric.

Herb Boyd moved to Detroit in 1943, as race riots were engulfing the city. Though he did not grasp their full significance at the time, this critical moment would be one of many he witnessed that would mold his political activism and exposed a city restless for change. In Black Detroit, he reflects on his life and this landmark place, in search of understanding why Detroit is a special place for black people.

Boyd reveals how Black Detroiters were prominent in the city’s historic, groundbreaking union movement and—when given an opportunity—were among the tireless workers who made the automobile industry the center of American industry. Well paying jobs on assembly lines allowed working class Black Detroiters to ascend to the middle class and achieve financial stability, an accomplishment not often attainable in other industries.

Boyd makes clear that while many of these middle-class jobs have disappeared, decimating the population and hitting blacks hardest, Detroit survives thanks to the emergence of companies such as Shinola—which represent the strength of the Motor City and and its continued importance to the country. He also brings into focus the major figures who have defined and shaped Detroit, including William Lambert, the great abolitionist, Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, Coleman Young, the city’s first black mayor, diva songstress Aretha Franklin, Malcolm X, and Ralphe Bunche, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

With a stunning eye for detail and passion for Detroit, Boyd celebrates the music, manufacturing, politics, and culture that make it an American original.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

“Boyd...breathes new life into the history of Detroit through stories of the city’s black residents from its earliest days to its bittersweet present... He leaves no stone unturned, making his work an invaluable repository of all that is black Detroit.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An inspiring, illuminating book that will interest students of urban history and the black experience.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The extensive coverage demonstrates the full range and influence of black citizens in Detroit… Recommended for anyone interested in Detroit or in urban history.” —Library Journal

“Detroit has become a code for urban failure, which is to say, black failure. Herb Boyd’s riveting new history gives us, Black Detroit, and turns an oft caricatured community into a world of actual, struggling human beings. This is not easy work. But Boyd, with his Detroit roots and lucid prose, performs the labor as though he were born to do so.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me

In Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination, Herb Boyd does a captivating job of writing, compression, and interpretation. The personal spine of his narrative makes it special. Readers will appreciate Boyd’s comprehensive grasp of one of America’s most important cities. It’s a superb read with vital lessons on a people’s struggle for self-determination.” —Dr. David Levering Lewis, University Professor, Emeritus, NYU, and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography

“With extraordinary passion, and with truly beautiful prose, Herb Boyd captures all that is the Motor City. Through the pages of this book readers actually feel Detroit-they not only experience a city that has always been at the very epicenter of this nation’s most important freedom struggles, but they also come to know a city that has always, always been anchored by a most powerful and determined black community. As Boyd reminds us all: Black Detroit is the place where dreams of justice never, ever, die.” —Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

“As a lifelong resident of Detroit, from a young age, my father’s activism in the UAW exposed me to the city’s political and social history. It imbued me with a deep awareness of and love for its black culture, history, and resilience. Herb Boyd’s exhaustive research is compelling and extensive, it quickened my knowledge of the city’s Black History. Beginning in 1701, Boyd guides his readers through the long journey of Black Detroiters as they struggle for their place in the city. The depth and breadth of this magnum opus is profoundly informative in narrating the rich history of the city. Every Detroiter should read this book.” —John Conyers, Jr., Congressman

“Herb Boyd has done it again. Black Detroit is a powerful, timely, and important history of an iconic city whose hopes and dreams, triumphs and tragedies, continue to both challenge and shape the African American experience and American democracy. This brilliant history is a must read for students, scholars, and all those interested in the history of the civil rights movement and black freedom struggle.” —Peniel E. Joseph, Author of Stokely: A Life

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062346629
  • ISBN 10: 0062346628
  • Imprint: Amistad
  • On Sale: 06/06/2017
  • Pages: 432
  • List Price: 34.99 CAD
  • BISAC1: SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
  • BISAC2: HISTORY / United States / General
  • BISAC3: HISTORY / Social History

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