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Michigan from 1939 to 1945


Michigan capitol state
Michigan capitol state

During World War II (1939-1945) the automobile industry ended production for civilian use and converted its operations to the manufacturing of military equipment such as tanks, airplanes, and amphibious vehicles. Turning out war materials valued at $50 billion, Detroit earned the title of “Arsenal of Democracy.” Large numbers of workers from other states, including many blacks from the South, went to work in the plants. Racial tensions erupted into violence in Detroit in 1943 that killed 34 people. The migration of workers continued after the war as plants returned to civilian production, meeting long-suppressed demand for cars, trucks, tractors, and buses. In 1950, when the nation began rearmament on a large scale, the automobile industry expanded to handle the production of defense materials. The demand for workers continued in the early 1950s, and Michigan’s population grew 23 percent in the decade.

The Democratic Party, which had first gained strength during Roosevelt’s administration, took control of the governor’s office in 1948 with the election of G. Mennen Williams. Williams was reelected to five more terms, serving from 1949 to 1961. No previous governor had served more than three terms. The Democratic Party won most statewide elections in the 1950s, due to Williams’s popularity, the party’s close ties with organized labor unions, and its support from black voters. However, the Republicans maintained control of the legislature, because apportionment of seats in both houses favored rural areas and small cities, where the Republicans were strongest. In the mid-1950s, employment in Michigan’s automobile industry began to decline, intensified by a nationwide recession in 1957 and 1958.

Revenue from taxes fell while state expenditures rose to meet the rising costs of social welfare payments, causing budget deficits. It was only with the auto industry’s gradual return to prosperity in the early 1960s that the drain on the treasury ceased. In 1967 Michigan enacted a flat-rate income tax to help pay for the state’s increasing public needs.

In 1961 the state convened a constitutional convention to deal with outmoded government and fiscal practices. A new constitution was approved by the voters in April 1963 and went into effect the following year. One of the members of the constitutional convention, Republican George Romney, was elected governor in 1962. The state legislature was reapportioned in 1964 to comply with the “one-person, one-vote” principle.

During the 1960s, Michigan continued to struggle with racial and economic problems, especially in its deteriorating cities. Many city residents, mostly whites, moved into the suburbs, leaving behind rising crime and unemployment. During a tense period of civil rights struggles throughout the nation, rioting broke out in predominantly black sections of Detroit in July 1967. Blocks of buildings were burned and looted, and 43 people were killed. "Michigan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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