A People′s History of Detroit

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 17 illustrations Published: April 2020

Author(s): Mark Jay, Philip Conklin

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, History > U.S. History, Sociology > Urban Studies

Recent bouts of gentrification and investment in Detroit have led some to call it the greatest turnaround story in American history. Meanwhile, activists point to the city's cuts to public services, water shutoffs, mass foreclosures, and violent police raids. In A People's History of Detroit, Mark Jay and Philip Conklin use a class framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present, embedding Motown's history in a global economic context. Attending to the struggle between corporate elites and radical working-class organizations, Jay and Conklin outline the complex sociopolitical dynamics underlying major events in Detroit's past, from the rise of Fordism and the formation of labor unions, to deindustrialization and the city's recent bankruptcy. They demonstrate that Detroit's history is not a tale of two cities—one of wealth and development and another racked by poverty and racial violence; rather it is the story of a single Detroit that operates according to capitalism's mandates.


A People's History of Detroit finally allows us to look beyond the mythology of the Motor City, the ruin porn, and the boosterism, and to grasp the dialectic of redevelopment and dispossession, accumulation and abandonment, that has defined its history for a century. Mark Jay and Philip Conklin's book is a model of militant research, recovering the city's traditions of resistance and revealing the staggering human cost behind the hype about the ‘New Detroit.’” — Alberto Toscano, Reader in Critical Theory, Goldsmiths, University of London

“In this intellectually stimulating, bold, and panoramic treatment of Detroit, Mark Jay and Philip Conklin render in fine detail the processes that produce both tremendous wealth and misery. Their work is a powerful antidote to recurrent narratives of market triumphalism, from Ford's five-dollar day to the postwar promises of the affluent society and the casino capitalism touted during the Archer, Kilpatrick, and Bing years. This book is a much-needed account of Detroit's evolution.” — Cedric Johnson, author of Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics

"Jay and Conklin’s narrative is at its most gripping during their account of the revolutionary 1960s and its aftermath. In addition to providing a detailed blow by blow account of Detroit’s 1967 uprising, they also argue – in contrast to most left-liberal narratives of the Great Rebellion – that arson and looting should not be viewed as chaotic side effects in contrast to morally justified political unrest, but as part of a broader direct confrontations against the institutions of private property and the state. . . . . These interrogations of memory and history make Detroit’s past feel like anything but past; as a result the city’s radical history blends with today’s global present." — Andrew Newman, Antipode

"Jay and Conklin work backward before working forward. The authors first offer a people’s history of Detroit’s present, subverting chronology to read the resurgence narrative of Detroit against the grain and reveal the erasure of Black Detroit via the myth of Detroit’s 'Golden Age' in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. This allows them, and therefore us, to understand the systemic problems facing contemporary Detroit first, and then uncover their prehistory second, instead of the other way around." — Hannah Zeavin, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Equal parts an urban history of a single city and a sweeping theory of capitalism. . . . Through a detailed exposition of one city’s past, A People’s History of Detroit imagines what a people’s future could look like in Detroit—and in other cities." — David Helps, Public Books

"Recommended. General readers through faculty." — Y. Kiuchi, Choice

“It is a testament to the clarity and scope of Mark Jay and Philip Conklin’s vision that A People’s History of Detroit—which went to press prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the onset of the most severe capitalist crisis since the 1930s, and the eruption of an unprecedented nationwide uprising (with global reverberations) against police brutality—is replete with insights for those trying to make sense of these deeply uncertain and troubling times.”
  — David B. Feldman, Monthly Review


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mark Jay is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Philip Conklin is a PhD student in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

They are coeditors of the literary and political magazine The Periphery.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. Marx in Detroit  1
1. A Tale of One City, c. 1913–2018  17
2. Fordism and the So-Called Golden Years, c. 1913–1960  75
3. The Conditions of the Great Rebellion, c. 1960–1967  129
4. Revolutionaries and Counterrevolutionaries, c. 1967–1973  155
5. Post-Fordism and Mass Incarceration, c. 1974–2013  195
Conclusion. Competing Visions for Detroit's New Era  221
Notes  231
Bibliography  285
Index  299
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0834-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0788-3