This Day in Black History: May 24, 1918

Coleman Young, the first African-American mayor of Detroit, was born.

Posted: 05/24/2013 11:14 AM EDT

Coleman A. Young was the first African-American mayor of Michigan’s largest city and an official who reshaped the political landscape of his city. He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on May 24, 1918.

Young moved to Detroit in 1923 and graduated from Eastern High School. During World War II, he served as a Tuskegee Airman, as a bombardier and navigator and played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in which African-American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base in 1945.

In 1964, Young was elected to the Michigan State Senate where he served until 1973, and in 1968 he became the first African-American member of the Democratic National Committee. In 1973, Young was elected mayor of Detroit. One of his top priorities was to more fully integrate the police force, which was approximately 19 percent African-American at the time of his election and over 60 percent at the end of his tenure.

Over his 20 years as mayor, the General Motors “Poletown” plant, the Renaissance Center, the People Mover, Joe Louis Arena and several other landmarks were completed. Young was also the driving force behind the construction of the current Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History building. In 1981, he was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Young published his autobiography, Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young, in 1994.

He died Nov. 29, 1997.

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(Photo: Lyn Alweis / Denver Post / Getty Images)

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