Detroit History

Back to where it all began, in Detroit

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Last month, I visited my birth city, Detroit. I was born here and lived in the city less than a year. My family moved to Boston and later to St. Louis. Despite that short period of time, I am forever connected to the Motor City. I was, quite literally, made in Detroit.

I also was relinquished for adoption in Detroit, a topic that I explore in my new memoir on the American adoption experience. More specifically, I was born in Crittenton General Hospital, a facility that was created to serve single mothers in 1929. By the 1940s it had transformed into a maternity hospital that promoted adoption as the most suitable plan for single mothers. Like thousands of other babies born at the hospital, I was surrendered to an adoption agency, placed in foster care, and eventually adopted by my family.

Crittenton General Hospital opened in 1929 to serve the maternal health needs of mostly single women.

My birthplace was torn down in 1975. I examine the legacy of my birth place on the website for my book. The hospital location in central Detroit, a few blocks off of the John Lodge Freeway in central Detroit, is now the location of the Detroit Jobs Center and a nursing home. There is no memorial or marking indicating the building that stood on the property for decades earlier, serving literally thousands of patients, mostly mothers and infants. If a person did not know the story of the hospital and its role in promoting adoption, they would never know the history of this place.

The surrounding area today shows the economic distress that still is prevalent throughout greater Detroit. Some homes are kept tidy, while many others, as well as apartments, are showing decay.

I wrote about my feelings returning to the place where I came into this world more than five decades ago. I felt a mixture of exuberance and also sadness seeing the place on earth when I came into being.

One cannot undo one’s past. It is the foundation upon which one build’s an identity and place in the world. I am glad I have reconnected with my roots after all of these years.


Google Street View tells a story of Detroit’s struggles


Last night, I discovered a story how Google Street View can be used to tell the story of cities, including the agony of my home city, Detroit. I wish I had discovered this earlier, because it is a great tool to document change, despite the weirdness of Google’s spy cam on all of us, in our neighborhoods. I decided to use the time machine portal to see how the former home of my Michigan relatives fared between 2007 and 2013. So this is a very personal issue for me.

What I found was not surprising, and I had reported on this on an earlier post. What I discovered today was a more rich visual tale of the decay that really is the story of Detroit’s ills over the past six years (2007-’13). I think this kind of storytelling should be used in the face chirpy “Detroit on the rebound” news coverage that some want to promote that seeks to ignore the full story.

About a month ago, I published a blog about my reaction to seeing parts of Detroit that had fallen into disturbing decay, complete with ravaged neighborhoods, arson-torched homes, and the collapse of communities. This sparked a bit of a backlash by a group of current and former Detroit area advocates (all white, like me by the way) who rushed to Detroit’s defense and said negative storytelling ignores the “good people” and “good stories” and tales of the recovery. I then reviewed the data, and think rose-colored perspectives can be naive at best given the indicators of crime, poverty, employment, population health, and more. I do think balance is critical, but you cannot ignore what you see, particularly with tools like Google Street View, and in the work of recent documentary photographers.

This is an American story and an American tragedy, with many villains, many victims, and a still uncertain future. Recovery will take decades. Right now many people are struggling, and many people have just walked away–like my relatives did decades ago. Many in leadership positions in our country  would prefer to have our country spend tens of billions to preserve our strategic priorities in foreign lands and willfully ignore a once great city that is, by all definitions, an “African American” community that many in this country care very little about.

I talked about this with an old public health classmate of mine and how young Americans go overseas to address global issues of poverty and development. He wryly commented, maybe some new grads can work on “third world” issues in our country. I think he is right.