chapter  3
Civil Rights Activism in Detroit in the Era of Unionization, 1933–1941
WithOliver Ayers
Pages 35

Chapter Three examines the effects of the unionization of Detroit’s motor industry on local civil rights activism. The Great Depression, in a reflection of the national picture, moved economic problems to the top of the political agenda. This shift was driven by economic necessity: although radical ideas became more prominent, any ‘proletarian turn’ to the left was, as in New York, as much a partial consequence of the Depression and New Deal as a motive force in itself. Responding to the dizzying pace of events, community groups endorsed union participation with growing audibility. These supportive voices—including local branches of the NNC, Urban League and NAACP—retained independent positions, however, while opponents of interracial unionism also had their say, not only in traditional enclaves like Ford-aligned churches but within a new organization, the National Association of American Workers (NAAW). The roads leading to the unionization of Ford in 1941—a transformative moment to be sure—were not straight. Events would prove that the New Deal years anticipated many of the main themes—and central difficulties—encountered during the apparent heyday of ‘civil rights unionism’ that followed.