1986 Segregated Parks

In 1986, Dearborn residents voted to segregate their parks. The decision was overturned by a judge -- not because of its inherently racist nature, but because it was deemed unenforceable. Here's the full story.

Regional Segregation

As of the 1980 census, there were only 83 Black individuals living in Dearborn, making Black folks less than 0.1% of Dearborn's total population of 90,660. In this same census we see that neighboring Detroit was more than 63% Black and nearby Inkster was nearly 57% Black. This was a direct and intentional result of years of exclusionary racist policies implemented by the city, regional, and state governments. These policies include:

While there are many other factors that influenced it, the result is the same. Dearborn in 1986 was overwhelmingly white, and neighboring cities were majority Black.

Dearborn Parks for Dearborn Citizens

In the 1980s, overt racist rhetoric had fallen out of favor, and pundits were using more coded terms. Rather than using language of race, white supremacists were able to leverage the racial segregation of the region to inflame racial tensions. Rather than say "the parks are only for white people" or "no Black people allowed", segregationists used the language of residency declaring "Dearborn parks for Dearborn residents". With less than 0.1% of Dearborn's residents Black, this rule clearly communicated racist outcomes while skirting around the language of race.

Clear in this decision was the implication that Black folks were welcome to spend their money in Dearborn, and give their labor to Dearborn's businesses, but not enjoy themselves or benefit from Dearborn's amenities.

Image from a newspaper clipping, showing a banner attached to a fence reads "smash apartheid from south Africa to Dearborn. Progressive Labor Party. InCAR." Banner includes an image of a black hand and white hand grasped in solidarity. Behind the banner are two men engaged in a softball game

The reality of the racism inherent to this decision was not lost on activists at the time. The NAACP, the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR), and the Progressive Labor Party protested the decision through legal and direction action.

While the NAACP took the matter to court, InCAR and PLP hosted a Smash Apartheid softball game in one of the disputed parks.

The decision was eventually overruled by a judge. This decision was made on the basis that the rule would be unenforceable with the current infrastructure. In the end the parks remained open and public spaces.

Echos in 2020

As Accountability for Dearborn has been working to bring attention and awareness to the impact of Dearborn's policies on Dearborn's communities, a common refrain has been that only Dearborn residents should have a say in Dearborn policies. The government of Dearborn's decisions and actions impact our neighbors on all sides of us. Dearborn's history of racist policies mean that there are key voices not present in discussions about anti-racism, and these voices are those most impacted by racial injustice.

When you work in Dearborn, shop in Dearborn, recreate in Dearborn, and pass-through Dearborn your labor, your commerce, your presence, and your spirit make Dearborn the community that it is. If we're going to build an inclusive Dearborn that means every member of Dearborn's communities has a chance to give input.