Former conservative Detroit mayor Roman Gribbs dies at age 90

Former Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs and his wife in 1970. Photo via Walter P. Reuther Library.
Former Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs and his wife in 1970. Photo via Walter P. Reuther Library.

By Steve  Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

Roman Gribbs, a conservative Polish American who served as mayor of Detroit from 1970 to 1974, died in hospice care Tuesday.

He was 90 years old.

After spending much of his childhood on a farm, Gribbs served in the Army and eventually received a law degree from the University of Detroit in 1954.

In 1968, Gribbs became the Wayne County sheriff until he narrowly defeated Richard Austin, an African American, to become Detroit’s 65th mayor in 1970.

Gribbs was a controversial mayor who ran on a platform of cracking down on crime. He was often criticized for ignoring the concerns of Detroit’s growing black population and allowed the police force to remain overwhelmingly white. He also strongly supported the police department’s paramilitary STRESS (Stop Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets), which resulted in the brutal treatment of many African Americans.

Gribbs decided not to run for re-election in 1973. He was replaced by Coleman Young, the city’s first black mayor.

Gribbs served on the Michigan Court of Appeals from 1982 to 2001.

“Roman Gribbs was the textbook definition of a dedicated public servant. Through a career that stretched nearly half a century, and in his roles as an assistant prosecutor, a respected judge, and as sheriff and mayor, he admirably served Detroit – a city he loved dearly,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “I am grateful for his service, and my heart goes out to his family.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.