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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Detroit: Before the fall

  • Detroit is a metaphor of the American Dream and our dream. We were privileged to live and work there for over a quarter of a century. Here we look at Detroit in its youth on its way up. Next week we look at it after the fall.
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  • Detroit is a metaphor of the American Dream and our dream. We were privileged to live and work there for over a quarter of a century. Here we look at Detroit in its youth on its way up. Next week we look at it after the fall.
     
    Early 20th Century
     
    The pictures shown here are postcards from 1900 to 1925 when Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the new 20th century.
     
    It was young, growing rapidly, robust, and full of hope and ambitious plans for its future because its economy was based on the technology of the future e.g., automobiles.
     
    Messages printed on the postcards here express great pride in the city.
     
    “More tonnage passes Detroit than any other port in the world. It is estimated that more than eight million passengers arrive and depart from Detroit every season of navigation. The white boats in the Harbor are excursion steamers, the finest of their kind in the world … The Detroit News set a world record in 1920 by publishing over 28 million lines of paid advertising.”
    In 1909, “Central High School is the best in Detroit.” (I taught several courses in this building after it was purchased by Wayne State University [WSU].)
     
    Briggs stadium at Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, near the WSU campus, was where the legendary Ty Cobb played for the Tigers.
     
    Each noon hour I walked by Ford’s plant in Highland Park where the model-T was built and created the middle class.
     
    For half a century after it opened in 1876, the 185 foot tall Water Works Park Tower was the city’s number one tourist destination.
     
    Detroit existed a century before Oklahoma City and was early on more visibly opulent than any Oklahoma city until recent decades.
     
    Early in the 20th century, postcards used superlatives like “best, largest, and most” to describe Detroit.
     
    Remember
     
    Today, faculty of the Business School of WSU where I taught come from countries around the globe.
     
    My department chairman was from India, and the colleague with whom I wrote a book was Chinese.
     
    Big Three auto workers were largely second-generation Europeans who came to Detroit pursuing the American Dream.
     
    Before the Jewish people entered the Promised Land, Moses warned them to “Remember.” [Deut.8].
     
    He anticipated that after securing peace and prosperity, they would forget the values and lifestyle developed in the 40 years of hardship and deprivation in the desert.
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    He didn’t want them to forget their dream and the dependence on and obedience to God required to achieve the dream.
     
    Our nation and Detroit have parallel histories, and I present here some history of the latter as a metaphor providing us lessons for the former.
     
    Both nation and city have come from nothing to the heights of achievement.
     
    Detroit has subsequently fallen to the depths, and we need to remember the lessons from its fall to prevent our nation from a similar descent.
     
    The “Greatest Generation” is rapidly departing. Many of them began life in poverty and prolonged hard times. Circumstances forced the Protestant Work Ethic on them. They under-consumed, over-saved, and invested their savings. They paid cash, stayed out of debt, valued education. (My mother and I went to OU together. Her mother became an LPN at age 59.) They left inheritances — not debts.
     
    My generation experienced the last years of the Depression and have lived through the most prosperous years anytime, anywhere, and those who have lived according to the values and practices of our predecessors have ended well.
     
    Tougher times today require that our children not expect to live like their parents and grandparents.
     
    They need to scale down their American Dream to one more like those who experienced the Great Depression.
     
    Detroit’s rise and fall have been spectacular, and the lessons learned from their experience are instructive for our nation.
     
    Next week, Detroit: After the fall.

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