The Documentary, which ran on the History Channel on Sunday, July 1, talks up Detroit’s strength while Michigan Central Station was the beacon of hope, through the downfall of the city.
Now that the city of Detroit is “pulling itself up by its bootstraps,” as one of the subjects noted in the intro, the city has a long way to go before it’s as close to 100% sound as it can be.
The documentary, narrated by Detroit Native J.K. Simmons tells a condensed story, with historians and celebrities interjecting commentary, from Tim Allen to Alice Cooper, and of course, executive producer Big Sean.
The stock market crash becomes the pivotal moment of the documentary, showing that the war and depression really drug down the city, and it never fully recovered for being rocked. Even with World War I, utilizing Detroit women to build airplanes at Willow Run, and bringing African Americans to Detroit with The Great Migration, there was still a lot that needed healing – especially after the Race Riots in 1967.
The documentary also touches on Berry Gordy creating Motown and bringing the first paying jobs to African American musicians. Smokey Robinson takes over this segment to a degree, bringing his commentary from something that he actually existed in from Day 1.
African Americans didn’t have the American Dream 100% despite its initial romanticism of coming to Detroit in hopes of a better life. Living in slums, not making as much as a White Man, or working only certain jobs, the emotions were heightened, which then boiled over during the Race Riots. After the “White Flight,” moving all of the auto companies out of town, the African American Community were left behind to deal with an all-white Police Force – and that’s when the problems got really out of hand. You cannot even begin to describe what Simmons calls “civil unrest,” but the footage and the accounts from people who lived in that time are devastating.
1973 brings the Oil Crisis, with Auto Companies falling and closing, jobs lost, and more, it put the nail in the coffin. Unemployment reached 18% while factories closed, and employees got pink-slipped. Journalist Ken Coleman says it best when he notes what people said about Detroit – that the African Americans “burned down their city,” and that things went to hell after that – and he says “it’s fallacy.”
The downfall wasn’t just one thing, there were multiple things that lead to what we know surface-wise about the city of Detroit. The urban blight, the crime rate, dilapidated buildings, and more. Once Michigan Central Station was closed, it was the end of an era.
The documentary then covers what we have lived through – the Auto Industry Bankruptcy, emergency services not responding for hours, dark neighborhoods, blight, and drugs. Mayor Dave Bing moves to want to demolish Michigan Central Station, which of course, didn’t end up happening.
There are some things that were left out throughout the documentary. Actually, a big gaping hole of things that were left out. The scandal of Kwame Kilpatrick wasn’t even mentioned, which was a big part of the city’s issues. Of course, it does make sure to note that Dan Gilbert has bought over 100 locations, and moving his company, Quicken Loans, to the downtown sector, as helped invigorate some of the cities revenue.
Bill Ford Jr. finally takes center stage right at the end of the documentary, as people felt that once Michigan Central Station was open again as some sort of “center of innovation,” and Detroit Dirt’s representative said it best when she says that Detroit is a “Maker’s City,” and that’s 100% true.
So it’s not that there is a question of if it will happen, the resurgence. It’s when.
TRAILER: ‘Detroit: Comeback City’ From The History Channel
To watch the documentary, Detroit News notes that “‘Detroit: Comeback City’ it will be available on-demand through cable providers, the History channel website and the History watch app.”