Jan. 28, 1959: Detroit Police racially integrates patrol cars for the first time

Herbert_HartOn this day in 1959, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) racially integrates its patrol cars.

Commissioner Herbert W. Hart orders white officers to “integrate or resign.” The ultimatum triggers 4,323 white officers to stage a “blue flu” strike against the department. DPD is comprised of only 133 African-American police officers but 482,223 of the city’s 1.6 million residents are black, according to 1960 U.S. Census figures.

Hart (who is white) argues: “Racial integration is here to stay. Anybody who doesn’t like it better resign right now.”

Detroit Traffic ticket Holiday Coming to End Detroit — The “ticket holiday*; Detroit motorists enjoyed [over the] past three days appeared to becoming to an end today. Detroit police, who began “slowdown” in traffic ticket writing Sunday as a protest against integration of white and Negro’ officers in patrol cars began handing out tickets as usual late Tuesday. Police Commissioner Herbert W. Hart said day shift scout car crews issued almost twice as many tickets Tuesday as they did Monday, the second day of the present slowdown.

The policemen never allowed any major offenders to get away unpunished; but, in cases where the offenses were minor, they merely turned their head and the lucky motorist got away with only a sidelong glance. The slowdown benefited only motorists.

Other law enforcement was carried on as usual after the increase in the number of tickets, issued Tuesday, which came, on the heels of an order to “integrate or quit,” Police Supt. Louis J. Berg said he expected, traffic enforcement, to be back to normal in a few days.
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” The Detroit Police Officers Association pledged its support in making the integration orders stick. – Greensburg Daily News, 1959

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman, the author of On this Day: African-American Life in Detroit, is a native Detroiter and former news reporter. He served on the Detroit Charter Revision Commission. He lives in Detroit with his wife, Kim Trent, and their son, Jackson Coleman.