Cafe Hitch-hike

2004-01-12

History and my municipality

The following article gives a little history about my fine municipality.

NOTE: All I know is that we are all a part of this world because we were given the gift of life... We possess life but apparently that doesn't make us equal in many eyes. It angers me, to bend MLK's words, when people are judged by the color of their skin and not their character. Since when was life supposed to be better by eliminating or excluding a group? It doesn't, plain and simple. It's extreme idiocy for those who think so.

Even when I was a child, I thought the WWII holocaust was inhumane. I think that movements that believe one group should be completely subjected and eliminated by another are absolutely cruel and inhumane. I cannot comprehend what innate drive would move people to be so hateful to one another. It frightens me to see this, as much as it angers me.

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DEARBORN'S 75th ANNIVERSARY: Racist ex-mayor inspires a musical comedy

Flamboyant leader's warts, goodness shown

January 12, 2004

BY MARISOL BELLO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

'KEEP DEARBORN CLEAN' LYRICS

There's one more fear we have to tame
We want for things to stay the same
We like outsiders fine, if they stay with their own kind
We're proud and want our peace of mind
But there's this thing called civil rights
Is this one of my losing fights?
If integration comes today, shall I block it come what may, or should I meet this man halfway?
(Chorus)
So I said let's help keep Dearborn clean
I think you must know what I mean
And just in case you've got a particle of doubt . . .

First, comedian Mel Brooks' "The Producers" charmed theatergoers with "Springtime for Hitler," a musical romp through Nazi Germany during World War II.

Next, the British charged onto the London stage with "Jerry Springer -- the Opera," a bawdy reverie about the infamous TV talk-show host.

Now, retired Detroit newspaperman David Good presents "Orvie!," a musical comedy about the life and times of Orville Hubbard, the controversial former mayor of Dearborn.

One of the longest-serving mayors in U.S. history, Hubbard looms large in any examination of Dearborn history because he ruled for 36 of its 75 years as an incorporated city. He was known for off-the-wall shenanigans -- from setting up a government in exile in Canada to disguising himself in a clown mask to fool authorities.

Yet Hubbard is most remembered for being one of the most outspoken segregationists north of the Mason-Dixon line. He once said he opposed integration because it led to "half-breed kids. Then you wind up with a mongrel race. And from what I know of history, that's the end of civilization."

For Good, a former Detroit News writer and editor, the flamboyant mayor seemed a natural choice for a musical comedy.

"He was such an interesting, bizarre personality," said Good, who also wrote a biography of Hubbard. "He would say anything, do anything for publicity."

As Dearborn kicked off its 75th anniversary celebration Sunday at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, views on Hubbard were mixed. Many residents remembered him fondly. A statue of him stands in front of City Hall, and a street, Hubbard Drive, is named in his honor.

However, even though Dearborn has become an Arab-American enclave, its population remains predominantly white.

James Netter, a western Wayne County civil rights activist, said black people are wary of living in and driving through Dearborn because of its racist past.

There are "not a lot of positive things to say about Orville Hubbard," Netter said. "He treated an entire group of people with hatred."

Netter said he doesn't know whether he would see Good's play. There are just some things he's not sure he can laugh at, he said.

Hubbard's daughter, Nancy, doesn't get the joke, either. She read Good's play and said it focused on negative antics instead of promoting her father's contributions to Dearborn.

"It was a put-down, like a joke," said Hubbard, The president pro tem of the Dearborn City Council.

She said her father was a popular mayor who shoveled snow, picked up trash and sent constituents birthday cards and postcards from his travels. He designed Camp Dearborn, a 600-acre recreation center in Milford Township, and bought Dearborn Towers, a high-rise in Florida, for the city's seniors.

"He did everything for this community -- the libraries, civic center, the pools," she said. "He put Dearborn on the map."

Hubbard said those who would say her father put the city on the map for the wrong reasons "are wrong. . . . It's all been blown out of proportion, like a myth."

Good said he couldn't write an historically accurate piece about Orville Hubbard without including the controversies.

In one scene, Hubbard and his cronies sing "Keep Dearborn Clean" as they hand voters cards that read "keep the negroes out."

The city actually passed out such cards in 1948 when Hubbard urged residents to reject a new federal housing project proposed for the city.

"It's going to make some people uncomfortable," Good said. "One of my goals is to have people acknowledge Dearborn's racist past."

"Orvie!" covers Hubbard's life from the early 1930s when he ran unsuccessfully for various public posts to his death in 1982 at age 79. Most of the play takes place during his time as mayor from 1942 to 1978.

Good covered the mayor in the 1960s. He said he was prepared to dislike Hubbard but was charmed by his booming personality.

In 1989, Good published what is considered the definitive biography on Hubbard, "Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn -- the Rise and Reign of Orville L. Hubbard."

Good began writing the musical last year, and now he and the composer, Lapeer ragtime piano player Robert Milne, are looking for a playhouse in which to show the production. There has been little interest in Dearborn.

"I think the sentiment locally is that it is too touchy to put on," Good said.

But he hopes that as the city celebrates its 75th anniversary, officials won't be selective about Hubbard's place in Dearborn history. Good said that's why the play depicts all facets of the mayor.

"This is a rather sympathetic treatment of Hubbard without toying with history," he said. "It shows warts and all -- the racism, the political boss, the childishness. And I hope it still presents him as someone you can root for."

Contact MARISOL BELLO at bello@freepress.com.

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