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Hadil Al-Turki

Dr. Martin
HON 1000
November 17, 2015
A Collective Vision
While standing at the intersection between Jefferson and Woodward Avenue, my mind
raced with questions concerning the two statues in sight. How could these two distinct statues,
The Fist, a 24 foot long bronze fist and forearm memorial dedicated to one of the best boxing
champions, Joe Louis Barrow, on one hand and the Spirit of Detroit, a monument symbolizing
the relationship between the spirit of the Lord and liberty ever have a connection pertaining to
where we, the people of Detroit, are going?1 As I delved into the history concerning The Fist,
and searched for connections based on the previous lectures and readings, I found a connection
between the two sites; a connection that can be further extended to judge whether these two sites,
as a collective vision, are a good or bad illustration of where we, the people of Detroit are going.
Before identifying the connection between the two statues, one must understand the
meaning and history behind the statues to comprehend how and why the sites are able to work
together. The Fist, built in 1986, is a statue that honors Joe Louis successes, especially in
breaking racial barriers during a time when whites and blacks were segregated. Struggling to
earn his respect as a successful boxer, Joe Louis was finally celebrated by both blacks and whites
when he won the match, in 1938, against Max Schemling, a German boxer whom Adolf Hitler
1 The reference to Detroit can also be a metaphor to America as a whole since Detroit is an exaggerated
version of America. (Dean Herron, Lecture One)

supported. The match between the two boxers, which was labeled as the biggest fight in the
history of the world,2 was a symbol of Joe Louis fighting a representative of Nazi Germany, so
in winning the match, America unitedly celebrated.3 This unity is the focus of what the Spirit of
Detroit. In the monument, a man, who is crouched over, holds the symbol of God in his raised
left hand and, with his head turned towards his right hand, holds the symbol of family, which is
representative of unity. Because of the scripture associated with the monument, Now the Lord is
that spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, the monument presents the idea
that if we as a society believe in God, a being that is superior to us, then we, all races of human
beings, are all equal; thus, one race cannot see itself superior to another.4
Thus, the two sites work together to present the problem of racial inequality and a
solution to it. The physical manifestation of The Fist identifies, and is a reminder to us that
racial inequality still exists. 5 In relation to the problem presented by The Fist, the Spirit of
Detroit, suggests a solution of how America can overcome racial inequality.6 It suggests that if all

2 Joe Louis: Americas Hero Betrayed. HBO Sports, 2008. Documentary.


3 In terms of opposing Nazi Germany, this is one of the few instances in which the whites cheered on a
black man and wanted him to win. Because of this event, both blacks and whites were able to celebrate
together as a country. (Joe Louis: Americas Hero Betrayed)
4 I argue that the main point of the message the Spirit of Detroit is presenting is not enforcing that
everyone must believe in God to achieve equality, rather that it as a way in which all races are can be seen
as equal.
5 After the course of events that take place in The Great Gatsby, the main character, Nick Caraway,
finally concludes that one cannot escape the past. This is the same case with The Fist because, as long
as The Fist is present, the cases of racial inequality that occurred during the time cannot be erased.
6 In group collaboration. We identified the connection between the two statues was that The Fist
identifies the problem and the Spirit of Detroit can be a solution to the problem.

races were to treat the other race equal, racial conflict would not occur.7 This can be referred
back to the Detroit riots of 1943. If blacks were not treated inferior to whites and were offered
housing and jobs, then tension between the two races would not have emerged and the riot
wouldnt have broken out. 8
If the connection between the two statues is that Detroit is trying to get to a place where
racial equality is achieved, if thats the place we want to go to, then the two monuments are bad
illustrations of where we are going. When analyzing the amount of progress America has made
in diminishing racial inequality, it hasnt been successful. For example, even at a time when
white war officials used Joe Louis, a black man, as the national symbol of WWII9, war agencies
kept the army segregated and denied black soldiers access to higher military positions. 10 This
suggests that when blacks broke racial barriers, they were still discriminated against.11
Todays racial standing12 in Detroit is different from what it used to be in the past, but if
America was truly working to eliminate or lessen racial prejudices, discriminations, and
7 I argue that if all races are equal and one race cannot claim itself superior to another, then racial
inequality wouldnt exist, therefore, conflict between races wouldnt arise.
8 In a survey conducted before the 1943 riot, 83% of blacks in Detroit felt that they werent given
opportunities to participate in the political and social issues at the time compared to 54% in southern
cities. Racial inequality in Detroit was so great that blacks in the South, where Jim Crow laws were still
enforced, felt more engaged than the blacks in Detroit. This example illustrates the frustration blacks felt
during the era. (Martelle, 147-148)
9 Visit to the Detroit Historical Museum. In using Joe Louis as the symbol of WWII, war agencies
encouraged blacks to participate in the affairs of the war (such as joining the army or making war
machines) to prepare America in its role as the arsenal of democracy.
10 Secretary of War Henry Stimson, stated that the reason why Blacks were not given opportunities in
the army was because black individuals did not show the military initiative of their white counterparts.
(Constructing G.I. Joe Louis: Cultural Solutions to the Negro Problem during World War II)
11 This proves that the breaking of racial barriers were not successful and had minimal effect on the
progression towards racial equality.

inequality, then significant changes between the past and the present should be observed. But,
this is not the case. There are similarities in the racial patterns observed sixty years ago13 and the
patterns of today. For instance, in the 1950s, the majority of white Detroiters moved out of the
city into homogeneous racial suburbs which is still the case today. According to a study done by
the University of Michigan, Detroit is the third most racially segregated cities in America in
which 83% of the population of Detroit is black.14 This proves that the whites and blacks are not
in unison like the Spirit of Detroit suggests, and therefore we will not be able to achieve racial
equality or change the rate of progress made towards getting there.
Although, how can one be sure of the feasibility of the solution that the Spirit of Detroit
presents? Can unity of different races truly repress racial attitudes? The results of the Ossian
Sweet case that occurred during 1925, proves that with effort, we can minimize inequality. In the
case, Ossian Sweets brother, Henry, was tried for murder.15 Considering the fact the jury of the
case consisted of white men and the attitudes that whites toward blacks at that time period, it was

12 I argue that todays racial standing differs from that of that of the past because todays officials can
never look the other way when dealing with racial inequalities which is what happened in the past. For
example, even when the federal government ruled against discriminatory hiring practices, white managers
nonetheless sided with white workers and limited the amount of jobs hired to blacks. These types of
discriminatory actions would not go unnoticed in todays society. (Martelle, 147)
13 One of the many racial pattern that occurred in the past is the efforts that the whites put in to keep
residential areas segregated. This was done, for example, by refusing to sell or rent houses to black
families. (Detroit : Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide)
14 Oralandar Brand-Williams, Jodi S Cohen and Mark Puls / The Detroit News. "Segregation has Detroit
in Iron Grip: U-M Study shows Metro Area's Racial Divide Persists; Authors Blame Racism, Poverty."
Detroit News: A, 1:1. Nov 05 1999. ProQuest. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.
15 Ossian Sweet, a black doctor, bought a house in a white neighborhood, an angry white mob gathered
and attacked the family. In fear, Ossians brother, Henry, fired a gunshot and all eleven people who were
in the house were tried for murder.

not likely that Henry would be found innocent.16 However, that was the verdict of the case. This
was all made possible because of Clarence Darrow, who led the defense. He convinced the allwhite jury to confront their racial prejudices and then set them aside to come to a just
conclusion.17 Darrows feat in persuading the jury to set aside their sense of superiority over
blacks parallels the solution that the Spirit of Detroit suggests and proves its achievability.
Regardless of the fact that they were built in different eras for different reasons, the meaning
behind the two statues coincide to form a strong connection. This connection has the merit to
further analyze where Detroit is going, where it wants to go, and its success in going
there.18

16 I argue that in the past, the racial attitudes that the whites held on blacks were not favorable. This
It can be
observed that
notion
is exemplified
inthe
a survey conducted by Wayne State University, in which the whites admitted that
visitors
are
receiving
BKEDetroits race relations because of the number of Negros, their moving into
they were not satisfiedawith
effectneighborhoods,
from The Fistand
andtheir
the having too many rights. (Martelle, 173-174)
white
Spirit of Detroit.
17 Dean Herrons Lecture Six, October 19, 2015.
18 Since Detroit is the third most segregated city in America, the efforts in desegregating blacks and
whites in order to come together as a family, like the Spirit of Detroit suggests, Detroit hasnt been
successful in minimizing racial inequality.

Bibliography
Darden, Joe T. (2013). Detroit: race riots, racial conflicts, and efforts to bridge the racial
divide. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. Electronic resource.
Dean Herrons Lecture. Lecture Six: Ossian Sweet Case. October 19, 2015.
Detroit Historical Museum visit, November 3, 2015.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. (1995). The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner. Print.
In- Group Collaboration with members in class. November 10, 2015.
Joe Louis: Americas Hero Betrayed. HBO Sports, 2008. Documentary.
Martelle, Scott. Detroit: A Biography. Chicago: Chicago Review, 2012. 147-174. Print.
Oralandar Brand-Williams, Jodi S Cohen and Mark Puls / The Detroit News. "Segregation has
Detroit in Iron Grip: U-M Study shows Metro Area's Racial Divide Persists; Authors
Blame Racism, Poverty." Detroit News: A, 1:1. Nov 05 1999. ProQuest. Web. 13 Nov.
2015.
Picture taken when visiting the site, November 8, 2015. Primary source.
Sklaroff, Lauren Rebecca. "Constructing G.I. Joe Louis: Cultural Solutions to the "Negro
Problem" during World War II." The Journal of American History 89.3 (2002): 958-83.
ProQuest. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.