Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Statue of Limitations

In another time, in another era, against another backdrop, a statue of Orville Hubbard outside of City Hall was a monument about which the good people of Dearborn didn't bat an eye.

And not just Dearbornites.

It wasn't just the people who lived in that city that knew what Hubbard, Dearborn's mayor from 1942-78, stood for.

It was an ironic monument, really, because the statue of Hubbard, in an almost welcoming repose, belied the exclusiveness that pocked his reign over the city.

Hubbard was an unapologetic segregationist. That's not opinion.

But those ways were widely accepted by his citizenry, particularly in the first 25 years of his being mayor.

To the people of Dearborn, Orville Hubbard represented the sheriff that kept their streets safe and the town prosperous, despite sharing multiple borders with the city of Detroit.

Everyone knew what safe and prosperous was code for in Dearborn under Orville Hubbard.

No blacks allowed.

Hubbard made no bones about it. African-Americans simply weren't allowed to take up residence in Dearborn.

The statue of Hubbard, sculpted in 1989, came down from outside the old city hall on Tuesday. Dearborn opened its new city hall in 2013, but the Hubbard statue didn't make the trip with municipal employees. 

But now that the statue's original site has been sold to a private entity, it had to be moved.

The only question was, where?

It will be moved to outside the Dearborn Historical Museum, a move that amounts to a compromise.

The statue certainly wasn't going to be relocated outside the new and current city hall. That was made clear by current mayor Jack O'Reilly, whose father John was a Hubbard protege and who succeeded Hubbard as mayor.

“It was never intended the statue would come to the new (City Hall),” O’Reilly said. 



The compromise in moving the statue to the Historical Museum's grounds is that the nod to Hubbard's place in Dearborn history will remain, but by not being near the current city hall, there won't even be a hint that the Dearborn of today is represented by what Orville Hubbard's segregationist views elicit.

Hubbard's extremism when it came to refusing blacks to move into the city unfortunately overshadows the good that he did for Dearborn, and there really was a lot of that.

Under Hubbard, there was a strong parks and recreation system in the city, a Florida-based senior care facility and Camp Dearborn, to name just a few positives.

A museum is exactly where the Hubbard statue belongs.

Museums aren't always warm and fuzzy. Often they're the opposite; the curators fill them with reminders of a past that is disturbing.

The Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford isn't there to put smiles on people's faces.

As for the Hubbard statue, even one of his daughters, Nancy, who served for years on the Dearborn City Council, said "I think it's alright" that it will be moved, though her preference would be to "leave it where it is."

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council for American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, summed things up pretty well, capturing why the statue both needed to come down and be relocated to a museum.

"The vision that Orville Hubbard had," Walid said,  "thankfully, is not the Dearborn of today."

But it can't be swept under the rug, either. 

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