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Also on Davis' agenda were plans to make adjustments on a number of DSR routes. His plans were to cut down on services in the depopulated areas of the center city, and expand services "where the people have gone," particularly in the northwest and northeast sections beyond Grand Boulevard.

Davis even envisioned exclusive bus lanes on the city's freeways, with a bus a minute sailing downtown past cars stuck in traffic jams. He wanted to shout out of the bus window to those drivers "Come and ride with us. You'll get there a lot sooner!"

However, most of his ideas would have to take a back seat, as more pressing financial problems lay ahead for the DSR. With drastic cuts in service on the horizon, including the possible elimination of all Christmas and New Year's Day service, and with the immanent possibility of bankruptcy being predicted for the department, most of his ideas would never see the light of day.

DAVIS ANGERS D.S.R. UNION LEADERS:
Perhaps the most negative mark left on Davis' reign as general manager were comments he made in March of 1972 regarding employee work performance. A letter which Davis addressed to the Board of DSR Commissioners later released to the press made him a marked man by the various DSR unions. In his letter Davis charged that the DSR was afflicted with high absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays, stating that, "...in many positions, in excess of 20 percent of employees habitually take Friday and Monday off."

Davis also stated that the payment of phony sick claims and the high overtime necessary to cover those absences; along with "accident-prone" drivers; and an accident claims racket, all constituted major expense items for the department. Accident claims against the DSR were averaging about $100,000 a month, while unnecessary overtime was costing more than $10,000 per month. Davis considered both to be unacceptable.

Of course, these charges were vehemently denied by union officials during a special news conference, where representatives from the drivers' union; the salaried workers' union; the mechanics' union; and other department locals were in attendance. Kerchel Schwartz, president of the bus drivers' union, said the "statements made by Davis about the drivers are lies," while the head of AFSCME Council 77, Lloyd Simpson, even threatened a work stoppage, and demanded that Mayor Gribbs remove Davis from his position.

REMAINING D.S.R. YEARS AND BEYOND:
Although Davis was never released form his duties which, no doubt, would have been an unwise political move for the mayor at that time in the city's history Davis, for the most part, would maintain a low media profile through the remainder of his term. He did, however, manage to see the department through its financial crisis, and was still in charge during negotiations held in 1973 to sell the DSR to the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA). Davis would remain on as DSR general manager through the end of the Roman S. Gribbs administration. He resigned shortly after Coleman A. Young was sworn in as mayor in January, 1974. That following July, under a newly revised city charter, the DSR would become the Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT).

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BLACKS IN DETROIT PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
(THE EARLY YEARS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN EMPLOYMENT IN PUBLIC TRANSIT IN DETROIT)
Over the next twenty years, Ed Davis would publish his memoirs and serve as a consultant to minority auto dealers and other African-American business owners. Although he would continue to receive honors during his remaining years for his numerous accomplishments in the auto industry including being the first African-American inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1996 not much has been mentioned regarding his appointment as head of Detroit's ailing public transit system. A once proud system that had been on a decline many years prior to the arrival of Ed Davis and would unfortunately continue on that decline for many decades to come.

Edward "Ed" Davis would pass away due to congestive heart failure on May 3, 1999, at the age of eighty-eight.

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT: I would like to personally thank DDOT Senior Service Inspector (SSI) Carl Dutch for loaning me his
copy of  the Ed Davis autobiography
"ONE MAN'S WAY" which was used to contribute information for this article. I do apologize to him
for keeping the book so long, but it was worth the time.

Information for the above article were compiled from numerous sources, including, the Ed Davis Autobiography "One Man's Way" (Ed Davis Associates, 1979),
the February 6, 1972 edition of the Detroit Free Press
"Detroit Magazine" article titled, "Ed Davis: The Idealist in the Driver's Seat of the Creaky Old DSR,"
and also from miscellaneous 1972 thru 1973 Detroit Free Press and Detroit News newspaper articles (courtesy of the S. Sycko collection), and various online
sources, including the online web-site
Answers.com: Ed Davis.
For Comments & Suggestions Please contact Site Owner at: admin@detroittransithistory.info
© 2007  (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 11-18-07, 09-30-14)
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The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.
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In today's society, African-American employment within the public transit industry is pretty much taken for granted in most major cities across this country. But down through the years this has not always been the case, and the city of Detroit, MI was no exception.

BEFORE THE D.U.R. ERA (Late 1800s)
According to the 1890 U.S. Census results, the population for Detroit was recorded at 205,876, ranking Detroit as the nation's 14th largest city. That same census recorded the city's Negro population at 3,431, or 1.7% of the population. Although small in number, there appears to be some presence of black workers employed by at least one of the privately-owned companies granted franchise rights to operate streetcars along the city's streets.

However, the hiring of blacks for motorman and conductor positions known in the transit industry as platform jobs was, for the most part, minimal at best. In 1890, only 589 Negroes were employed in street railway jobs nationwide. At the time, most of these transit jobs tended to be dominated by Irish and Italian Americans, while the low number of blacks in the industry was due largely to a general refusal by streetcar companies to hire Negroes.

Although detailed information is scarce, for those few blacks in Detroit who were hired by these companies, it appears that employment opportunities leaned more toward the usual unskilled lower-paying maintenance jobs, or positions not involving platform work on the city's streetars.

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However, despite the apparent low number of blacks hired to work on the city's streetcars at that time, some historical evidence exsists to show the employment of at least one African-American who worked on Detroit streetcars as far back as the late 1890s as a "conductor" a position that would later be denied to black workers.

On page 154, in a book titled "A History of the Detroit Street Railways" by Graeme O'Geran, a somewhat jovial confrontation is recorded between a black streetcar conductor and the city's mayor. In November 1895, during a protest over a recent fare increase, Mayor Hazen S. Pingree attempted, on a number of occasions, to get himself ejected from a Detroit Citizens' Street Railway streetcar. During one of these events, accompanied by reporters, the Mayor encountered "colored" conductor J. P. Anderson, who, along with his motorman, had no choice but to order the Mayor off the streetcar for refusal to pay the new fare. How many other black men besides Mr. Anderson were employed by the Citizens' company as conductors could not be determined at this time.

However, in 1897, a local committee of prominent Negroes was formed for the purpose of obtaining industrial jobs for blacks who were being displaced in hotel and domestic jobs by European immigrants. This committee was sucessful in obtaining a number of conductor and motomen jobs for Negroes on the street railways. Consequently, according to the book "The Negro Wage Earner" by Lorenzo J. Greene and Carter G. Woodson, by 1900, Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis were the only three cities in the North where Negro men were allowed to work, in a limited capacity, as motormen and conductors.

BLACKS IN DETROIT TRANSIT THE D.U.R. ERA (19001922)
On December 31, 1900, the three street railway companies that serviced Detroit, and the one company that serviced the suburbs, were consolidated into one and renamed the Detroit United Railway (DUR). Consequently, all streetcar operation within the city of Detroit would now be under the control of the DUR.

Under the DUR, it appears that blacks were still being hired for platform jobs, but primarily as motormen. By 1918, the DUR was reported to have hired 75 Negro motormen, some having been employed for years.

Meanwhile, on January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced the Five Dollar Day wage for Ford autoworkers, which raised the minimum daily salary from $2.34 to $5. As a result, Detroit became a magnet for eastern and southern European immigrants, followed by thousands of blacks and whites migrating from the South starting in 1916 all in search of high paying auto jobs. Consequently, the city's population would more than double, from 465,766 in 1910 to 993,678 by 1920 (an increase of over 113%). During this same period the black population would increase more than eightfold, from 5,741 to 40,838 (an increase of 611%).

However, an increasiong hostility toward blacks would emerge by the mid-1910s, as large numbers of southern whites also migrated to Detroit; many bringing their racial prejudices with them. When the country entered World War-I in 1917, this growing racial hostility would also manifest itself in denying blacks jobs on the city's streetcars. Even though the war resulted in a shortage of available men to fill needed transit jobs, it didn't prevent members from the local street railway union from insisting that restrictions be placed on hiring Negroes to fill these jobs.

In the book "Women, War, and Work: The Impact of World War I on Women Workers in the United States" by Maurine W. Greenwald, it is reported that in July 1918, Division 26 of the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America (AASEREA) and the DUR formally agreed to the employment of "women and colored men" only if the necessity arose due to the war shortage. In September 1918, the DUR began hiring women. But because the union objected more to the employment of black men than to white women, the DUR hired 260 white women conductors and only a few black motormen between September and December of 1918.

Although it was reported that the DUR had stopped hiring Negro motormen after WW-I (1919), black workers were still employed by the company. According to a 1920 survey titled, "The Negro in Detroit" by Forrester B. Washington, the DUR employeed 436 Negroes in 1919 (5% of workforce). However, employment was primarily limited to lower-paying maintenance jobs, or a few skilled positions that did not require contact with the public.

BLACKS IN DETROIT TRANSIT THE D.S.R. ERA (19221974)

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THE EARLY YEARS:
On May 15, 1922, the city-owned Department of Street Railways (DSR) began its first day of operation by taking-over the city's street railway system from the DUR.

Although city residents would celebrate this event that was thirty years in the making, the city ownership of the streetcar system unfortunately didn't improve job opportunities for blacks to work on the city's streetcars. By 1926, the reported number of black motormen employed by the DSR had now dwindled to forty-five.

In the book titled "Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes: An Oral History of Detroit's African American Community, 1918-1967" by Elaine Latzman Moon (pg. 97), a brief reference is made regarding the limited job opportunities for blacks on the city's streetcars.

"Well, on the streetcars . . . a motorman could be black, but the conductor had to be white. That was a standard rule, you just couldn't get the job it you were black. So blacks could not handle the money or deal with the public as such because the conductor would have the right to put someone off the bus (streetcar) that didn't pay his fare. So black people couldn't do this, so we'd be the motorman."

Meanwhile, that union sanctioned policy of limiting the hiring of blacks in certain positions would continue when the DSR launched its Motor Coach Division in 1925.

While small numbers of black men were hired by the DSR as streetcar motorman, none were considered for the positions of streetcar conductor (the one who collected the fares, issued transfers and took care of passenger needs), or the higher-paying position of motorcoach operator (or bus driver), who, in addition to driving and collecting fares, also had the responsibility of being in total charge of his vehicle and all the passengers on board.

As the black population continued to expand rapidly during the 1930s, civil rights activists began pressuring the city to hire blacks in city government positions. It was during this time that some changes were beginning to be made within the DSR.

A more liberal hiring policy initiated under general manager Fred A. Nolan (1934-43) is credited for an increase of blacks hired by the DSR starting in the late-1930s. Nolan was also instumental in promoting motorman George W. Jackson as the DSR's first black motorcoach operator in 1938.

But overall, progress was slow. In 1935, only 202 of Detroit's 23,684 total municipal employees were black. By 1940, 396 of 30,324 employees were black, the vast majority hired in the Public Works and Recreation Departments. However, events over the next few years would result in a major hiring change of black employees that would make the Detroit DSR quite unique in the public transit industry.

THE WAR YEARS:
The major turning point in the hiring of black workers for Detroit city government positions (including jobs in the city's transportation department) would occur during the 1940s.

The election of Edward J. Jeffries, Jr. as mayor of Detroit (194048) would bring about the first major breakthrough for black workers in city government. Jeffries, who entered office in 1940, was initially sympathetic to black demands for municipal employment and broke down the barriers against black employment in dozens of city departments during his first three years in office. However, Jeffries would later change his views on racial issues (including "bi-racial" public housing) and often sided with conservative "anti-Negro" forces after the devastating racial riots of 1943.

However, America's entry into World War II in late 1941 would spark the beginning surge of DSR job opportunities for blacks in Detroit. Due to the fact that so many DSR employees were being called away for military service and many more leaving the DSR for the higher-paying private-sector war production jobs in the auto plants, the door was now open for blacks to fill those gaps.

Faced with a prolonged shortage of operators, the DSR began hiring black men in large numbers to serve as conductors, motormen and bus drivers. In 1943, the DSR also hired "temporarily" a number of black women as conductorettes and motorettes.

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Virtual Motor City Collection photo #37057_1, used by permission of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
All rights, including those of further reproduction and/or publication, are reserved in full by the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Photographic
reproductions may be protected by U.S. copyright law (U.S. Title 17).  The user is fully responsible for copyright infringement.
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An African-American motorman can be seen operating the controls of DSR streetcar #3462 along Clairmount
at Hamilton Ave in Sept 1949.  Not too many years before this photo was taken, the position of streetcar
motorman was the only transit platform jobs available to blacks on Detroit streetcars.  
(T. Dworman photo)
However, the arrival of World War II resulted even more so in city government employment becoming perhaps the
most promising arenas of opportunities for blacks in Detroit. This was primarily due to many white city employees
being called away for military service and many more leaving lower-paying city jobs for the higher-paying private-
sector jobs, particularly in the defense industry. This opened the door for blacks to fill the gaps. According to the
book "The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit" by Thomas J. Sugrue, the
breakthrough for black workers came during the second world war. In 1935, only 202 of Detroit's 23,684 municipal
employees were black, and by 1940, only 396 of 30,324 employees were black. However, by 1946, the numbers had
grown to 8,037 blacks workers, comprising a remarkable 36% of city employees.   



Although over half of blacks employed by the City in 1946 were hired for unskilled jobs, primarily in the Public Works
and Recreation Departments, the second most hired area was one in which blacks made a genuine break-through—
city transportation jobs. A quote from the above mentioned book "The Origins of Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality
in Postwar Detroit" states....

"At the end of World War II, 2,310 blacks were employed on the Detroit Street Railway (DSR), mainly as conductors
and motormen, the result of a serious shortage of white workers and the liberal hiring policy of DSR head Fred
Nolan."

America's entry into World War II in late 1941 would spark the beginning surge of DSR job opportunities for blacks in
Detroit. Due to the fact that so many DSR employees were being called away for military service and many more
leaving the DSR for the higher-paying private-sector war production jobs in the auto plants, the door was now open
for blacks to fill those gaps. Faced with a prolonged shortage of operators, the DSR began hiring black men in large
numbers to serve as conductors, motormen and bus drivers. In 1943, the DSR also hired "temporarily" a number of
black women as conductorettes and motorettes.

This opened the door for blacks to fill the gaps. According to the book "The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race
and Inequality in Postwar Detroit" by Thomas J. Sugrue, the breakthrough for black workers came during the
second world war. In 1935, only 202 of Detroit's 23,684 municipal employees were black, and by 1940, only 396 of
30,324 employees were black. However, by 1946, the numbers had grown to 8,037 blacks workers, comprising a
remarkable 36% of city employees.

The percentage of African-Americans employed by the Detroit DSR in the 1940s was much higher than in any other
major city. According to the book "The Negro in the Urban Transit Industry through 1945" (by Philip W. Jeffress), in
December of 1943, a total of 27.4% of DSR operators were classified as "nonwhite" (a term referring almost
exclusively to Negro employees). In contrast, among the 15 largest U.S. cities, Washington DC had the next highest
at 11.9%; while only 6.9% of operators in Los Angles and 6.0% in Cleveland were classified as nonwhite.

At the end of World War II, 2,310 blacks (out of more than 8,600 employees) were employed on the Detroit DSR,
mainly as conductors and motormen.



Although the DSR would continue through the years as a major employer of African-American workers in Detroit city
government, it would take decades for blacks to ascend to the upper management ranks of the Department. In
October of 1971, Detroit Mayor Roman S. Gribbs appointed Edward Davis (a pioneer in the automobile sales
industry) as the first African-American General Manager of the DSR. In his autobiography titled "One Man's Way" Ed
Davis states the following....

"When I took over, there were nine department heads, but there wasn't one black in any of these positions. It is not
discrimination in reverse to say that many blacks, stagnating in their jobs, could have been better qualified than their
white bosses to run the departments if given a chance. Most of the department heads and most of the blacks who
had moved into so-called white collar jobs at the DSR had originally been coach drivers. But while the whites moved
all the way up the ladder, the blacks languished in the more menial supervisory roles. I am convinced that this policy
of excluding black employees from departmental responsibility pierces the core of the DSR's difficulties. A young
black could join the organization only to learn quickly that his opportunities for advancement would be cut off after
he had reached a certain level."

Within the first eighteen months as general manager, Davis reduced the number of departments in the DSR from
nine to seven, and selected two blacks from within to head two of those departments.
It appears from this late 1890's photo, that blacks were allowed to operate sprinkler cars that were used to
sprinkle water between the tracks during the summer.  Required by an 1897 city ordinance, these cars kept
down the dust stirred-up by streetcars along unpaved city streets.
(Schramm Collection photo)
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The DUR was still in control of the city's streetcar service when Detroit's population exploded during the 1910s.  The
need for transit workers would increase during this period, but black men would soon be excluded from these jobs.
An unnamed black motormen can be seen at the controls
of a DSR PCC streetcar in 1945.  Large numbers of black
men were hired by the Detroit DSR during WW-II.   
(Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo #48409_3)
Fred Nolan's (left) liberal hiring policies are credited for
an increase of blacks on the DSR during the late 1930s.
It was also under Nolan when the DSR's first black bus
driver — George W. Jackson
(right) — was hired.
When these photos were taken in 1943, the DSR had hired 900 black men as conductors,
motormen and bus operators, and 300 black women as conductorettes and motorettes.
A black morotman
(left) and conductorette (right) can be seen in the two photos above.
(photos courtesy of the May,1943 edition of The Crisis Magazine)
When this photo was taken in 1953,
over two-thousand blacks were
employed by the DSR.
(courtesy of Scott Richards collection)
The percentage of African-Americans employed by the Detroit DSR in the 1940s was much higher than in any other major city. According to the book "The Negro in the Urban Transit Industry through 1945" (by Philip W. Jeffress), in December of 1943, a total of 27.4% of DSR operators were classified as "nonwhite" (a term referring almost exclusively to Negro employees). In contrast, among the 15 largest U.S. cities, Washington DC had the next highest at 11.9%; while only 6.9% of operators in Los Angles and 6.0% in Cleveland were classified as nonwhite.

At the end of World War II (1945), 2,310 blacks (out of more than 8,600 employees) were employed on the Detroit DSR, mainly as conductors and motormen.