New book Re-examines Coleman Young’s Influence Over Detroit

Author and historian Ken Coleman publishes “Forever Young: The Coleman Reader,” the first book written about the Detroit mayor in more than 20 years.

It’s been more than two decades since there was a book capturing the rich history of Detroit’s first Black mayor, Coleman Young, was published. That was co-written by the mayor himself: “Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Coleman Young.”

That autobiography came on the heels of 1991’s “Quotations of Mayor Coleman A. Young” by Bill McGraw and 1989’s “Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker)” by Wilbur C. Rich. It seems like now’s a good time to revisit the mayor’s legacy.

Historian Ken Coleman, a former senior editor at the Michigan Chronicle and former press secretary for U.S. Reps. Gary Peters and Brenda Lawrence, launches his fourth book chronicling Detroit’s black history, this time with a specific focus on Young. With “Forever Young: The Coleman Reader,” Coleman, who says he has dedicated his life to chronicling Black life in Detroit, believes that there is more of Young’s story to be told.

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Essentially, the book is an amalgam of his lived experiences and political tenure, pegged on two key events in Young’s life: His testimony before a U.S. House committee in 1952, and his announcement that he would be stepping away from city hall.

“The way the book is laid out, there’s a couple different sort of sections of it, if you will,” Coleman tells BLAC. “One, it’s a classic biography which includes some elements of his life that isn’t as much discussed in the previous three books. Secondly, the book includes his complete testimony before a U.S. House committee on un-American activities in 1952. His book ‘Hard Stuff’ has a portion of that entire testimony, but doesn’t have it all completely. Third, a good portion of his 1993 news conference, where he released to the press that he would not seek an unprecedented sixth term as mayor.”

Coleman says he wrote “Forever Young: The Coleman reader” to inform millennials and others who’ve recently moved to the city, that may not be aware of the Mayor Coleman Young’s rich history and legacy.

He says his goal with the book was not write an exhaustive biography, a compilation of his famous quotes, or even write solely about Mayor Young’s political career, but to create a combination of those topics in further detail.

Coleman says that the mayor’s body of work and length of time served as an elected official really made, in his mind, writing “Forever Young” a no-brainer.

“I thought this was a great opportunity to write a book and not try to do what’s already been done,” Coleman says, “and not try to do an exhaustive biography because he’s written one himself. And who can tell a better story than he?”

As the city of Detroit’s 66th mayor, Mayor Young was the longest serving mayor in Detroit history, holding office from January 1974 to January 1994 proceeding Mayor Roman Gribbs. During his political career, he also was a member of the Michigan State Senate from 1965-1974.

It’s his career as mayor that defines his legacy. Depending on who you talk to, Coleman – whose reverence for the mayor is evident in the fact that he speaks his first and last name in conversation – says Young is the most celebrated and misunderstood mayor in Detroit history.

“Young was often thought by particularly suburban whites as being pro-black and anti-white, pro-Detroit and anti-suburb,” Coleman says. “In his inaugural speech, he pointed out – and he certainly did carry this out – that the appointees in his administration would represent the look and the feel of the city. The phrase that Coleman used was that it would be 50 percent black and 50 percent white.

“Coleman Young’s press secretaries were always white. He chose to keep the police commissioner of the previous mayor,” Coleman adds. “Coleman Young, in 1973, ran on an anti-police platform, yet he chose to keep Philip Tannian, a white police commissioner who had formerly been a FBI agent, the very same agency that investigated Coleman Young for 40 years of his life. So, I think Coleman Young is one of the most misunderstood political figures in Michigan political history.”  

“Forever Young: The Coleman Reader” is available as an eBook that can be purchased via Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. A limited-edition book will be released on June 4 for purchase at Eric’s I’ve Been Framed Shop, located at 16527 Livernois Avenue in Detroit.

Coleman’s other books include “On This Day: African-American Life in Detroit”; “Million Dollars Worth of Nerve: Twenty-One People Who Helped to Power Black Bottom, Paradise Valley and Detroit’s Lower East Side”; and “Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit.” Along with his book release, Ken Coleman offers a weekly history segment on Detroit Public Television’s “American Black Journal” each Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

For more information, contact Ken Coleman via email, kcoleman1967@comcast.net.

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