“I made a prediction a long time ago and it’s come to pass. I said what we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it and then throw in the blankets and the corn.” — Oakland County (MI) Executive Director L. Brooks Patterson.
This quote came from L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican official in Oakland County, MI. Patterson has been the county’s Executive Director for 21 years. He might have said these lines back in the days when he was fighting against desegration of schools. He also said them more recently, during an interview with the New Yorker. The article came out on Martin Luther King Day, 2014.
Patterson gave the statement in response to a question about what steps Detroit might take to fix its finances.
Even as Patterson struggles against throngs of criticism and negative publicity, he doesn’t deny that these were his words. He told the Detroit Free Press that his quote was taken out of context. However, Paige Williams, who interviewed Patterson for the New Yorker, says the comment came in answer to a question regarding what steps Detroit might take to fix its financial problems.
“People know me and they know I sometimes use words to make a point,” Patterson told the Detroit Free Press earlier this week.
“When I said Detroit is going to become an Indian reservation, my point was, if you don’t get black people on their feet, the successful ones will move out and the ones that remain will be dependent. We’re getting very close to that now.”
Where does the fence come in?
So in context, he was saying that the black people in Detroit are like those other minorities, the Native Americans? But then what does herding them up have to do with getting them on feet? What benign meaning is there is ‘building a fence around them?’ Not to mention throwing in ‘blankets and corn’.
When you know where Patterson’s words are coming from, you understand that the meaning was not benign. He is the lawyer who represented the anti-segregationists in Oakland County, decades ago. He fought school busing all the way to the Supreme Court, where he eventually won the case. After that he lobbied for a ‘no busing amendment’ to the United States Constitution.
Here is a photo of Irene McCabe and attorney L. Brooks Patterson meet in Washington with Rep. Thomas Downey, D-Va., in October, 1971. McCabe and Patterson were lobbying for an anti-busing amendment to the Constitution.
Patterson’s entire career has been focused on building fences to keep ‘those people out.’
Patterson believes in fences. He’s been working at keeping ‘those people out’ of his own community for a very long time. I think maybe he’s gotten so old and set in his ways that he just forgot he was talking to an outsider, someone who might find his views shocking and more than a little distasteful.
The legacy of L. Brooks Patterson in Oakland County is that he protected the citizens of the once affluent area of from having to mingle with ‘other races.” In a way he built a fence at the border of Oakland County and the city of Detroit. In return for the fence, Oakland County voters elected him to the office of County Prosecutor. He has held one or another political office there, ever since.
Apologize for what?
Community activists and civil rights leaders gathered in Detroit, on January 21. The Reverend Charles E. Williams III called for a sincere apology from Patterson. Patterson told the Detroit Free Press “I’m not apologizing because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
People who live in Detroit disagree with that. Here’s a video of the news report from WXYZ Action News.