A few nights ago a cool summer breeze wafted down Barrie Street on the east side of Dearborn. I was sitting on a porch with my friend, Steve, sipping ice cold water and enjoying a full belly after a feast for Eid. It was his 70th birthday and Steve, a Muslim, had nothing to say but thanks to Allah. A neighbor was out with her kids, playing and chatting with other neighbors under the clear evening sky.
"I'm so glad they moved here. I miss when we had more children on this street," said Steve.
Steve recalled how one house used to have six children in a two bedroom home. The other home had three, the next had four, naming each family. Most had Arabic names. Now, he said, they're all off to college or working as professionals. What Steve didn't mention, and what he didn't have to, was that his new neighbor, the one he's grateful for, just so happens to be black.
Since the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., a statue of Orville Hubbard, Dearborn's mayor from 1942 to 1978, has come under increased scrutiny as a symbol of racism. After the shooting many southern states are focusing on symbols of oppression like the confederate flag, while folks in Michigan and the Metro Detroit area have begun to point at the statue of Orville Hubbard and ask, "Why's that still here?"
Orville Hubbard was a racist, a segregationist and he didn't hide it. One of his more famous quotes is, "I'm not a racist, I just hate those black bastards."
Talk about a piece of work. He also was a bit of a Robin Hood. In the book Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn, David L. Good outlined ways in which Orville Hubbard would cheat and steal from Ford Motors Company, which is headquartered in Dearborn, in order to provide better services for residents.
During this nadir Dearborn opened up Camp Dearborn and a recreation facility for residents. Hubbard had trash collection, street cleaning, snow plowing, police and fire services that went above and beyond any other city in Southeast Michigan. Most of this he paid for by over-assessing the property value for Ford Motors company facilities. For these reasons, many older folks in Dearborn, primarily white senior citizens, remember the days of Hubbard fondly.
Now, Dearborn is facing it's past and wondering: Is the statue of Orville Hubbard an insult? Certainly, many African Americans continue to be wary about the city. While many have moved in thanks to community ambassadors like Ford Motors, the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College, Dearborn still has a bad reputation.
I've heard, time and again, African Americans mention how they'd love to live in Dearborn, but they're terrified of the stories they heard from their parents. Orville Hubbard's name almost certainly comes up. Most express surprise at how sweet and kind folks are when they're here, because the history is just that: history.
The fact is, Orville Hubbard does deserve to be remembered, but with more nuance than his statue offers. Dearborn is a great place to live and we should be welcoming to everyone. Many senior citizens remember the good things about Hubbard, but we can't afford to look past the bad.
My friend Steve would pull out every piece of food in his fridge if you stopped by, just to make you feel welcome. Removing the statue of Orville Hubbard from city hall is the neighborly thing to do. The Dearborn historical museum might be a better place for it, or maybe over on the grounds at Camp Dearborn.
What's most important is that, as a community, we continue to be the welcoming place we always have known Dearborn to be. If an African American family moves in I think we'd all like their new neighbors, not Orville Hubbard, to be the ones waving back.
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