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Orville L. Hubbard

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Orville Liscum Hubbard (April 2, 1903 – December 16, 1982) was the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, for 36 years, from 1942 to 1978. Sometimes referred to as the "Dictator of Dearborn", Hubbard was the most outspoken segregationist north of the Mason-Dixon line. During his administration, non-whites were aggressively discouraged from residing in Dearborn, and Hubbard's longstanding campaign to "Keep Dearborn Clean" was widely understood to mean "Keep Dearborn White." Hubbard is also remembered as a political boss who delivered a wide range of city services to his constituents, including the construction of a 626-acre (253 ha) rustic camp outside the city and the purchase of an eight-story senior citizen tower in Florida, all for use by Dearborn residents.

Early yearsEdit

Hubbard was born April 2, 1903, and raised on a farm near Union City, Michigan. Before being elected mayor of Dearborn, Hubbard ran for office unsuccessfully on nine occasions, including three unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of Dearborn, three campaigns for the Michigan State Senate and one each for Congress, Dearborn City Council and township justice of the peace.[1]

Biographer David Good described Hubbard as a "one-time high school athlete, ex-Marine, nonpracticing attorney, self-acknowledged expert on matters from the milking of cows to the history of the American Revolution, and personal symbol of suburban America's resistance to racial integration."[2][3]

Mayor of Dearborn: 1942–1978Edit

Hubbard was elected mayor 15 times, his last term in office began in 1973. Sometimes referred to as the "Dictator of Dearborn",[4] he regularly won re-election with more than 70% of the vote and once recruited a candidate "to avoid the unseemly appearance of an unopposed election." Hubbard's "opponent" was reportedly seen on more than one occasion wearing a Hubbard button on his jacket.[5] Hubbard suffered a serious stroke on November 3, 1974, and the City Council president served as mayor pro tem, running the city on a day-to-day basis, for the rest of Hubbard's final term.

Segregationist policiesEdit

Dearborn in the Orville Hubbard years became known nationally as a symbol of racial segregation. Hubbard's longstanding campaign to "Keep Dearborn Clean" was widely understood as a thinly veiled campaign to keep Dearborn white. Hubbard became the most famous segregationist north of the Mason-Dixon line, and when he left office in 1978, only 20 African-Americans lived in Dearborn—a city with a population of 90,000.

In 1948, Hubbard led a campaign to defeat a referendum to build a low-income housing project in Dearborn on the ground it could turn into a "black slum." Cards opposing the referendum urged Dearborn residents to "keep the Negroes out of Dearborn."[2]

In 1956, Hubbard received national publicity after telling an Alabama newspaper that he favored "complete segregation" of the races.[2]

During the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, the federal government put Hubbard on trial for conspiracy to violate human rights in an incident involving mob vandalism to the home of a man rumored to have sold the home to an African-American. Hubbard was acquitted of the charges.[2]

For many years, Hubbard was unabashed in his comments about segregation. He once told a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser: "They can't get in here. We watch it. Every time we hear of a Negro moving—for instance, we had one last year—in a response quicker than to a fire. That's generally known. It's known among our own people and it's known among the Negroes here."[6] He also boasted that one of his tactics to discourage blacks who had just moved into Dearborn was by providing police and fire protection that was "a little too good"—wake-up visits every hour or so through the night in response to trouble calls.

Hubbard's other statements on race include the following:

  • He once examined the bullet-riddled body of a black man and called it an open-and-shut case of suicide.[2]
  • Hubbard was once quoted as saying, "I'm not a racist, but I just hate those black bastards."[2]
  • During the 1967 Detroit riots, Hubbard ordered Dearborn police to "shoot looters on sight."[2]
  • "I favor segregation", he told The New York Times in 1968. With integration, Hubbard said, "you wind up with a mongrel race."[7]

Hubbard's racial views were not limited to African-Americans. He was known to complain that "the Jews own this country", that the Irish "are even more corrupt than the Dagos", and as Middle Easterners began moving into Dearborn that "the Syrians are even worse than the niggers."[2]

However, after the civil rights prosecution by the federal government, and investigations by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Hubbard was more cautious in his public comments. In an interview with The Detroit News in the early 1970s, Hubbard claimed: "I don't keep the niggers out of Dearborn. I don't keep anybody out of Dearborn. I haven't done anything to encourage 'em. I don't do anything to discourage 'em." In that interview, Hubbard also contended that his "Keep Dearborn Clean" slogan had nothing to do with racial segregation and was based on his efforts to keep Dearborn city politics free of corruption. He asserted: "Our first slogan said, 'Keep Dearborn Clean from Vice, Graft and Corruption. That's exactly what it means."[2] Even then, however, he noted his alarm that Dearborn was "a little postage-stamp community" that was "surrounded now", and that "eventually they'll overrun the place."[2]

Dearborn TowersEdit

In 1967, Hubbard led an effort to purchase an eight-story, 88-unit apartment building with canal views in Clearwater, Florida. Though similar proposals had been rejected by Dearborn voters, Hubbard won City Council approval for acquisition of the project, which was renamed "Dearborn Towers." The City paid $1.1 million for the property, which was made available for rental at reduced rates to Dearborn's senior citizens.[8][9] The complex, a one-mile (1.6 km) walk from the beach, included a heated pool, organized poker nights and other activities. The project was billed in the 1960s as the first attempt by a U.S. city to own property outside the state. However, in 2007, Dearborn voters authorized selling the property (then valued at over $8 million) to help overcome a city budget deficit.[8][9]

Camp DearbornEdit

During the Hubbard administration, the City of Dearborn also built Camp Dearborn on 626 acres (2.53 km2) in Milford Township, Michigan. Opened on July 4, 1948, Camp Dearborn was Hubbard's pet project, and he was involved in its design. Hubbard dubbed the camp "the citizen's country club."[10] Dearborn had a substantial tax base as the home of Ford Motor Company, which allowed Hubbard to provide his constituents with services unheard of in other cities of its size.[10][11]

Unsuccessful proposalsEdit

During his tenure as Dearborn mayor, Hubbard made several unsuccessful proposals, including a proposal to incorporate several other Wayne County suburbs into a super-suburb of Dearborn and a proposal for the City of Dearborn to purchase and operate Detroit's Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.[12]


Hubbard remains a controversial figure in Michigan politics. In his book Detroit Divided, University of Michigan researcher Reynolds Farley found in 2002 that African-Americans in Metro Detroit view Dearborn as harboring racial hostility.[13] Dearborn's African-American population is up from fewer than 100 in 1980 to more than 1,200 in 2000. Still, that represents less than 1.3 percent of the population in a city that borders the predominantly African-American City of Detroit.[13] Dearborn is not by any means unusual in that respect, however, as such stark racial differences between Detroit and its suburbs are typical. For example, in Livonia, Michigan, another West-side suburb of Detroit, less than 1% of the population is African-American.

Controversy over the Orville Hubbard statueEdit

A statue of Orville Hubbard

A statue of Hubbard erected in front of City Hall remains a subject of controversy. A Michigan Historical marker near the statue refers to Hubbard as "an effective administrator" who "made Dearborn known for punctual trash collection", but omits any discussion of his segregationist policies.[14] Some groups have urged the City to remove the statue.[15][16] In his book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, James W. Loewen listed the Hubbard statue as one of the Top 20 historical monuments ripe for "toppling", along with the obelisk celebrating the White League in New Orleans and "The Good Darky" statue at the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge.[17] The City removed the statue September 29, 2015 and stored it at the Dearborn Historical Museum.[18]

Carl Levin's comments at Rosa Parks' funeralEdit

In 2005, Senator Carl Levin spoke at the funeral of Rosa Parks, making the following comments about Hubbard: "The South had Orval Faubus; Michigan had Orville Hubbard. Orville Hubbard vowed to keep Dearborn clean, which some like to interpret as keep Dearborn white, despite Hubbard's dedication to a well kept city and strict City Ordinances in regards to property maintenance and the Dearborn Public Schools annual 'Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix Up Parade'."[19] Levin's comments drew an angry response from Hubbard's family. A letter published in the Detroit Free Press from Hubbard's granddaughter, Susan L. Hubbard, referred to Levin's comments as "mean-spirited ramblings of an arrogant, Washington politician", and attributed the following quotation to former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young: "Orville Hubbard was quite a man. Believe it or not, he was a person I admired. He and I disagreed on some things, but he was a hell of a mayor. I regarded him as one of the best mayors in the United States. ... He took care of business. He knew how to meet the needs of his people."[20]

The musical: "Orvie!"Edit

In 2006, Hubbard was the subject of a musical play, Orvie! The musical was written by David L. Good, a former Detroit News reporter and editor, who is the author of a biography of Hubbard, and the composer Bob Milne.[5][21] Hubbard's daughter, Nancy Hubbard, then the president pro tem of the Dearborn City Council, described the play as "a put-down, like a joke", that distorted her father's contributions.[22] She said her father was a popular mayor who shoveled snow, picked up trash and sent constituents birthday cards and post cards from his travels. "He did everything for this community – the libraries, civic center, the pools. He put Dearborn on the map."[22]


  1. ^ "Famous People". Dearborn Area Living. Archived from the original on 2007-11-02. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Detroit News: Orville Hubbard – the ghost who still haunts Dearborn". The Detroit News. July 17, 2000. Retrieved 2018-09-24. excerpted from Good, David L (1989). Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2289-1.
  3. ^ "Mayor Orville Hubbard Statue". Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  4. ^ Good, David L. (1989). Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn: The Rise and Reigh of Orville L. Hubbard. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2289-1.
  5. ^ a b Rubin, Neal (2004-03-28). "Orville Hubbard now a song-and-dance man". Detroit News.
  6. ^ Reynolds Farley; Sheldon Danziger; Harry J. Holzer (September 5, 2002). Detroit Divided. Russell Sage Foundation.
  7. ^ "Ask local express: Was Orville Hubbard really that bad?". Detroit Free Press. 2004-08-09.
  8. ^ a b Nichols, Darren A. (2007-06-11). "Dearborn seniors may lose Fla. perk; City considers selling beach-view apartment tower to fill budget hole". Detroit News.
  9. ^ a b Nichols, Darren A. (2007-10-15). "Residents oppose vote to sell senior Towers in Fla.". Detroit News.
  10. ^ a b Warikoo, Niraj (2007-09-09). "Suburb revamps citizens' escape: Visitors attracted to tradition, idyllic feel". Detroit Free Press.
  11. ^ "The Ordeals of Orville". Time. 1950-08-21. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  12. ^ Marsh, Richard (1998-12-10). "Ideas of Hubbard's that didn't thrive". Press & Guide Newspapers. Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  13. ^ a b Trowbridge, Gordon. "A policy of exclusion: Invisible boundaries created dividing line between black, white suburbs". Detroit News.
  14. ^ "L1152". Michigan Markers web site. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  15. ^ "Down with Orville Hubbard". Archived from the original on June 13, 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  16. ^ "Dearborn, Michigan - Statue of Dearborn's Jaunty Racist Mayor".
  17. ^ "Down with Orville Hubbard". Metro Times. 2000-01-19.
  18. ^ "Dearborn removes Hubbard's statue from former city hall". Retrieved 2015-10-01.
  19. ^ "U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) delivers remarks at the funeral of Rosa Parks". Political Transcript Wire. 2005-11-02.
  20. ^ Hubbard, Susan L. (2005-11-11). "From our readers: Sen. Levin wrong about Dearborn, Hubbard". Detroit Free Press.
  21. ^ Maynard, Micheline (2006-07-21). "Dearborn Mayor's Posthumous Musical". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  22. ^ a b Bello, Marisol (2004-01-12). "Dearborn's racist ex-mayor inspires a musical comedy; Flamboyant leader's warts, goodness shown". Detroit Free Press.