The history of Flint, Michigan is rich and deserves appreciation. Flint was once a booming city, with great promise of economic wealth and stability. The city and its people played a large role in auto industry and the start of the UAW. It’s also the birth place to several major athletes. Flint has much to be proud of, but the alarming crime related statistics often over shadow the good.
The Very Beginning
During the early 1800’s the area that is now Flint, Michigan started off as a small trading post by Jacob Smith. He worked with the Ojibwas Native Americans and the territorial government trading furs. Slowly the area grew into a small village and by 1855 was incorporated. Census records show that Genesee County had 22,498 thousand people at this time.
From Lumber to Automobiles
By the end of the 19th century, Flint was a key player in the lumber industry. It was from this that the local carriage making industry began and eventually led to automotive. Buick Motor Company moved to Flint after a failed start in Detroit. Many other automobile related factories opened up in Flint as well. For a period of time all Chevrolet and Buick automobiles were manufactured in Flint. As you can imagine this was an amazing time to be a part of Flint.
United Auto Workers and The Sit-Down Strike
United Auto Workers began in 1935 in Detroit as a labor union to represent workers. It wasn’t until the Flint Sit-Down Strike in 1936 to 1937 that the union transformed and became a major labor union. On December 30, 1936 factory workers went on strike. The entered the building after lunch but refused to work. They joined together and kept management out of the building. The union supplied the strikers with food. Despite attempts made by a local judge and the police to force the workers out of the factory, the workers didn’t budge. Finally Governor Frank Murphy stepped in and worked as a mediator between the union and General Motors. On February 11, 1937 an agreement was reached giving workers what they needed and giving the UAW the credit and recognition as a legitimate workers union.
The cities influence in the automotive industry and steadily growing population kept Flint as a significant player in politics. In fact, Flint provided a majority of the tanks and other military vehicles to the government during World War II. According to Census records, Flint’s population reached a height of nearly 200,000 people in 1960.
However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. During the late 1960’s Flint started to see an increase in crime, poverty, and unemployment. Things became worse with the 1973 oil crisis and collapse of the auto industry. In the 1980’s General Motors started cutting workers due to outsourcing, moving jobs overseas, or to non-union factories. As more and more factories shut down and jobs moved out of Flint, the city started accruing more debt.
In 2003 Ed Kuntz was called in as the emergency financial manager to make major changes and cut the deficit. During this time he made major pay cuts for the mayor and City Council members. Insurance benefits were also lost by many officials. He cut overnight travel and spending by the city employees. He made other pay cuts throughout the city and increased water and sewer bills of the residence in Flint. He continued to make cuts and changes and during the summer of 2004 the financial emergency was considered over. However, the city is still greatly in debt and continues to struggle.
Crime started to rise in Flint during the 1980’s and 1990’s. By the 2000’s the city of Flint was ranked in the top five violent crime cities with a population of at least 50,000 people, according to FBI statistics. Despite the increase in violent crimes, the city’s high debt led to 141 police officers to be laid off between 2008 and 2010. In 2011 Flint was rated the number one dangerous city in the United States by the FBI crime statistics study. Late 2011 Flint was able to hire back 6 officers thanks to funding from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services.
When you speak to the older generation about what Flint use to be, it’s hard to believe they are talking about the same city we see now. We see the empty factories, abandoned buildings, and poverty throughout the city. As a community we have to hold on to those memories of what Flint use to be and join together as we work on making improvements for a better future.
Information was gathered from Wikipedia, U.S. Census, FBI publications and Mlive.com.