You’ve got to be "Old School" to remember that Virginia Slims cigarette ad slogan, "You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby."  But if you grew up in Metro Detroit around the 1970s, you heard it then and you’re hearing it again now.

Since Orville L. Hubbard became mayor of Dearborn in 1942, until his final year in office (1977), he was determined to keep blacks out of "his" city, which borders the predominately black city of Detroit. “He made no secret of his segregationist views ... [H]e was proud that he kept Dearborn lily white,” states a 1986 article in The New York Times.

I’m black, and I grew up on Detroit’s west side. During my high school days, my friends and I would stay away from Dearborn as much as possible. The police would constantly pull over blacks, and there was actually a law barring non-residents of Dearborn from playing in the city’s public parks. Blacks who were playing basketball or just having a picnic would be asked to show their IDs, while many whites who also were non-residents were not asked and allowed to stay.

The NAACP and the Detroit chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union were two of the main organizations who led a successful boycott of Dearborn businesses, and challenged its constitutionality in the Wayne County Circuit Court. “If we can’t play in their parks, we won’t pay in their stores,” said NAACP official Joseph Madison in a 1985 statement. The boycott, which was called off initially, but was reinstated when the Dearborn mayor at the time, Michael Guido, refused to sign the new agreement that would allow non-residents access to the city’s public parks. Of course, Detroit’s first black mayor, Coleman A. Young (who was in office from 1974-94) had a real problem with this from the beginning.

When I turned 16 and bought my first "hooptie," I would tell my friends who lived in Inkster, I’m not driving down Michigan Avenue to visit you. I felt the Dearborn police were just waiting for me. There were lots of blacks living in Inkster and worked in nearby Dearborn. Mayor Hubbard said blacks were allowed to work at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, he just didn’t want them living there. So it was Ford’s idea to build apartments in Inkster to accommodate the workers.

Fast forward to now, a lot has changed. Dearborn still hasn’t had many blacks move in, but it’s the largest Muslim community in the United States. Who could have ever imagined that? The reputation of police harassing blacks and other minorities for the most part appears to be over.

For the past six years, I’ve hosted my annual Detroit Hair Wars in the city of Dearborn: two years at the Adoba Hotel and the previous four at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, which shares the parking lot with the Dearborn Police headquarters. Our clientele spends money at the city’s hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses. And we’ve had zero incidents. Still, some of my "old school" fellow promoters who present events at the Performing Arts Center refuse to put “Dearborn” on their fliers and social media posts. They simply say it’s located at 15801 Michigan Ave. at Greenfield Road.  I guess they are afraid their older guests are still staying away from Dearborn.

But the city of Dearborn has made tremendous progress in race relations. 

Do most blacks generally feel comfortable in Dearborn in 2019?  The answer is “yes.”  I can truly say that Dearborn has come a long way, baby. 

The 2020 Detroit Hair Wars — “Hair Stars & Hot Cars” will be held on Sunday, May 17, at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center.

David Humphries is the founder and producer of "Hair Wars".

Read or Share this story: