May 24, 1918: First African-American Mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young is Born

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On this day, May 24, 1918, famous politician, labor leader, and civil rights activist, Coleman Alexander Young was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Coleman was the first African-American mayor of Michigan’s largest City, Detroit, for approximately two decades, from 1974 to 1994. This was a service for five complete terms in the office, making Young the longest-serving mayor of his time in history. During his tenure as a mayor, Young’s top priority was to completely integrate the police force, which was composed of only about 18% of African-American by the time he was elected to office. Towards the end of his tenure, the police force was already integrated and up to approximately 50%.

Over his two decades of service as the Mayor of Detroit, the Renaissance Center, Joe Louis Arena, the People Mover, and the General Motors ‘Poletown’ Plant alongside other iconic organizations or institutions were successfully completed. Coleman was also a moving force behind the construction of the modern-day Charles Wright H. Museum building of the African-American History.

As a labor activist, Coleman was an important figure in the establishment of the NNLC (National Negro Labor Council) in 1951. His progressive and active participation in the union activities led to the 1952 confrontation with the House Un-American Activities Committee when he was accused of being a Communist subversive.  In 1964, he was elected to Michigan’s Senate where he served until 1973, and also in 1968, he became the first black American elected to the Democratic National Committee.

When Coleman was merely five years of age, his family relocated to Detroit, Michigan from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, hoping to escape from the racism, violence, and political biases/injustices that the African-Americans endured at the South. Thereafter, Coleman attended both Catholic and public schools in Detroit. Young became one of the best students who graduated from Eastern High School.

During the World War II, Young served as an Airman at Tuskegee, taking the roles of bombing and navigation. He also played a significant role as an activist in the Freeman Field Mutiny, the period during which many black American officers were randomly arrested for refusing to support the 1945 segregation.

Young was an outspoken member of the labor union, actively supporting and advocating for the rights of African-American workers. Even though his participation and activities in the union resulted in the loss of his job at Ford, Coleman did not give up his roles as labor organizer. Young was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1981, and in 1994, he published his autobiography titled “The Hard Stuff: Autobiography of Mayor Young Coleman,” at the age of 79 years. He later died of respiratory complications on 29th November 1997, in Detroit.

Read more of the story from:



Harp, Andrea S. April 17, 2001. “Coleman A. Young: Social and Political Powerbroker”. The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Wayne State University.



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