detroit: a biography


In February 1863, Thomas Faulkner, a Detroit saloon owner of mixed-race background, was arrested on the charge of raping a 9-year-old white girl. Despite his protestations of innocence, Faulkner was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The Civil War-era incident incited a white mob to burn 35 homes, kill at least two black people and injure numerous others. It’s a chilling story — all the more so because there was no rape. The witnesses recanted, and Faulkner was pardoned “after serving seven years in prison for a crime that never happened,” Scott Martelle writes in “Detroit: A Biography.” Martelle, a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit News, caps this account by quoting a disturbing letter from a woman on a farm outside Detroit to her lawyer-husband in the city: “Abstractly considered, the burning of those houses was something to be thankful for.” This, Martelle notes dryly, “was a timeless indicator of the relations between Detroit’s future suburbs and the core of the city.”

more from Julia M. Klein at the LA Times here.