Flint, Michigan Over the Years

Nick Boyd
Professor Patterson
Flint, Michigan Over the Years

Flint, Michigan was once ranked on the top 50 cities in America and is now ranked in the poorest cities of America. To the common person Flint, Michigan is about as well-known as Zap, North Dakota, but it was once a huge auto producer in the United States. The portion of Flint’s history most interesting is from 1900 until 1990. The city grows in population even during the Great Depression and both World Wars. Then in 1960 the total population falls, thousands of white people flee from Flint while the black population increases exponentially. The reason for the dramatic change in population might be attributed to one company named General Motors.

In 1908 a man named William Durant founded General Motors in Flint Michigan at a time when there were approximately only 8,000 in America (Highsmith, 2014). At the beginning Buick is what GM made but over the years they acquired over 20 companies and made more and more types of cars (Highsmith, 2014). This made the need for workers skyrocket which is seen in the population of Flint from 1900 up until 1930 (Figure 1). Since workers were pouring in and the automobile industry was booming, money was being made left and right which lead to more people seeking jobs and wealth of the booming city.

In the two years the United States fought in the First World War population in Flint did not fall according to census data. This could be explained by the soldiers coming back between 1919 and 1920 however. In the period after the war from 1920 to 1930 the population almost doubles which is expected as it is well known as the roaring 20’s (Figure 1). It is also during this time when the black population grows significantly from around 1,000 to 5,725. Many black people headed north and west in search for jobs and opportunities while getting away from state legal terrorism caused from racism.

Then the Great Depression hit the United States and the rest of the world between 1929 and 1939. White population decreased by 10,000 during this time while the black population actually increased by almost 1,000 (Figure 1). At the end of 1936 a 44 day long strike took place in the city of Flint about the recognition of the United Auto Workers union, UAW, which ended well for the workers. The United States was climbing out of the recession at this point but workers still felt they were treated poorly and did not have a say, not to mention their pay lowered from 40 dollars to about 20 dollars per week (Highsmith, 2014). Even though this strike is one of the biggest events to occur in Flint’s history it is not seen as a major population driver.

World War Two comes blazing around and Flint’s population rises once again. Money is always made during a war and in Flint that money was for tanks and other war machines. Because Flint had outstanding factories to produce cars with, it also along with a few modifications was perfect for producing the machines of war used to win. Even if people were sent out to fight the war the city of Flint still needed workers to mass produce for the war effort so the population steadily rose. Even after the second war the United States was still fighting in the Cold War which meant there was still a need for war products which Flint could provide. This shows the increase in both black and white population inside the city since there was still jobs and money to be made.

Then suddenly throughout the 1960’s General Motors started to divest and deindustrialize from Flint. This triggered major White Flight from Flint in fear of loss of jobs and devalues of their property. However the black population continued to steadily rise and start to level off in the 1980’s (Figure 1). This can be attributed to not being able to afford to move out of the city or even being able to make more than what they used. Also with an abundance of people moving out of the city this means that there is more space that has already became a lot cheaper for people to move into. The 1973 Oil Crisis did not help the movement of white people out of the city. Because the city’s main business was still auto manufacturing, the fear caused by the oil crisis made people want to leave a city that was just automobiles.

During the 1980’s there was a lot of local deindustrialization of the city of Flint. During this time both black and white populations were starting to steady off. By 1990 there were only 2,000 more white than black living in the city (Figure 1). The deindustrialization and devaluing of property combined with few major jobs led to the City of Flint being on the list of most dangerous cities in the United States(Basset, 2006). In 2000 the total population of Flint was approximately 125,000 and only 8,000 were employed by the once great General Motors (Sterbenz, 2013). The rest had very poor paying jobs and more than 38% lived below the poverty line. The city has become a place that nobody wants to live in anymore. Just ten years later the population dropped to around 101,000 people living in the city (Sterbenz, 2013).

If we have learned anything from the city of Flint it is to not base a whole city around one industry. As soon as General Motors started deindustrializing, cutting jobs, and moving production to cheaper countries the city started to fail. Poverty rates rose quickly right along with crime. With no money to fix problems, they only get worse and that’s exactly what happened to Flint.

Figure 1.
Flint black and white pic

Timeplot link: http://timeplot.canwefixthebroken.net/


Sterbenz, Christina, and Erin Fuchs. “How Flint, Michigan Became The Most Dangerous City In America.” Business Insider. June 16, 2013.

Fine, Sidney. Sit-down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969.

Highsmith, Andrew. “Beyond Corporate Abandonment: General Motors and the Politics of Metropolitan Capitalism in Flint, Michigan.” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 1, 31-47, 2014.

Basset, Ellen, John Schweitzer, and Sarah Panken. “Understanding Housing Abandonment and Owner Decision-Making in Flint, Michigan: An Exploratory Analysis.” Lincoln Institute of Land Policy Working Paper. 2006.

Highsmith, Andrew R. Demolition Means Progress: Race, Class, and the Deconstruction of the American Dream in Flint, Michigan. 2009.


On a side note wordpress is being incredibly difficult in allowing me to indent each paragraph so sorry for the awkward spacing and no indentions. Here is a link to what the paper was intended to look like Flint Mi Paper.

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