A Kid From Car Country

I found this rather touching story and wanted to share it with you.

“We all did what we had to do, buddy boy”, he told me.  “They was good jobs and it was how I  could take care of y’all.

Like thousands of our fathers, he joined the picket lines and fought to make a living for their families.

..he joined the union and walked the picket lines in the brutal Michigan winter for health care and better wages. He watched other people driving around in new cars he had helped to build but he could never afford to own. A million little worries and a dozen big troubles in a cold, gray place without family nearby caused him to fall to pieces. He spent time in an institution and when he was cured he had nothing to look forward to other than going back on the line. But the automobile industry gave him possibilities he was not able to find anywhere else with his tenth grade education.

African-Americans and working class whites came from the South in search of jobs in the industrialized north. By the, mid-1920s Detroit was the fastest growing metropolitan area and the fourth largest city in the United States. Today, Detroit ranks in eleventh place.

In 1925 the city was home to three thousand major manufacturing plants, thirty-seven automobile manufacturing plants, and two hundred and fifty automobile accessory manufacturing plants. Factories employed over three hundred thousand people. The prosperity and opportunity Detroit seemed to offer attracted tens of thousands of migrants of all classes and skills. African-Americans, because of their color, were simply the most visible among the newcomers. link

Back to the story

My parents, a sharecropper father from Mississippi and an immigrant mother from Newfoundland, were forced to abandon the land of the South for the line of the North. Daddy came home from the war hoping to farm but sharecropping was a modern form of indentured servitude and indoor plumbing and electricity had great appeal for my Ma. When a boyhood pal rolled into the cotton patch in a new Buick he bought with his wages from a job at Fisher Body in Flint, my parents destinies were altered.

What a difference a job and a living wage make.

The car industry made America the planet's economic power and the people who stood the line and bolted on tires and dropped engines onto chassis and snapped on fancy trim are the workers who carried the country on their back. After fighting to save the world from oppression, they took up the fight for fair wages, health care, and retirement pensions and built history's greatest labor movement.

And when they are gone?

Things are quite bad, though. There is little left of my hometown of Flint. The city looks even grimmer than it does in Michael Moore's documentaries. Unemployment in Michigan is about ten percent officially but almost everyone seems to be looking for work and no one knows how many have simply given up and left. As much of this city seems to be deserted as it does occupied. The car and truck plants are hardly operating and many are simply shutting down. Residential neighborhoods, once bright with new paint and well-kept lawns, are rundown and weedy. People wonder what is going to happen and if anyone will be smart enough to know how to correct what has gone wrong.

Then what?

We’re doing okay,” he said. We just don’t know what comes next.

Nobody does, I thought. But once this grim place was the most alluring in America and led the country with ideas and jobs and technology and people gave up their old lives and family histories to come here and be a part of the boom. The engine of the world was built here. And it is hard to believe we are simply going to let it run out of gas.

For those of us who are kids from car country, I think you will be touched by this story .  I hope you will take a minute to read it.


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    • dkmich on November 22, 2008 at 19:07

    Tips from a car kid.  

  1. http://www.laht.com/article.as

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