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Dearborn takes down statue of former mayor Orville Hubbard, proud segregationist

Updated at 5:30 pm The city of Dearborn quietly removed a controversial statue of former mayor Orville Hubbard this morning. 

For years, the 10-foot-tall bronze monument stood outside of the City Hall building. 

Now, it’s on its way to the Dearborn Historical Museum.

Hubbard, who ran the city for more than three decades, from the 1940s through the late 1970s, was an outspoken supporter of segregation. 

This past summer, as South Carolina's governor ordered the Confederate flag be removed from the state capitol, some Dearborn residents called for Hubbard's statue to be removed, too. 

"So that's what we want to do too, is say: this is not about who we are, and what our government is, and who we are as a community, but it is a part of the history of the community," says current Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly. 

He says they knew they'd have to move the statue when the city recently sold their former City Hall building.

In the meantime, O'Reilly says city officials have been reaching out to faith groups and other communities in Dearborn to talk about the statue.   

"The important thing is how we deal with, and how we reach out to, the persons who were unfortunately harmed - just the fact that they felt this was a community they weren't welcomed in, that they couldn't come in, that they might even be at risk of being treated differently when they got here," he says. "Those are real harms." 

A symbol of Dearborn's controversial past comes down, and some residents are relieved 

Hubbard was a lot of things, but he was never boring.

He famously bought a Florida resort for Dearborn’s elderly, provided city residents with progressive services like free babysitting, and, during WWII, he “organized a flotilla to patrol the Detroit River for German submarines,” according to the New York Times.

But even during the Civil Rights era, Hubbard was nationally known for his racist policies.

More from the New York Times:

“In 1965, he was indicted under a Federal civil rights statute for allowing the Dearborn police to stand by while a crowd stoned the house of a resident who was mistakenly believed to have sold his property to a black family. Mr. Hubbard, acquitted, treated the jury to a steak dinner.”

Hubbard strongly supported segregation, warning that integration would lead to a “half-breed kids” comprising a “mongrel race,” which he said would ultimately mean the end of civilization.

Recently, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) of Michigan called for the statue’s removal, writing an open letter to Dearborn’s city council this summer.  

And in a recent op-ed,Bridge Magazine’s Bill McGraw argued it was time for the statue to go.

“Presenting Hubbard’s likeness in such a celebratory fashion, without a word about his aggressive race-baiting, is dishonest and embarrassing; it’s a cover-up that obscures the reality of southeast Michigan’s ugly racial history…The reckoning in Dearborn is long overdue.”

Now that the statue has been removed, it’s a relief for those like Fatina Abdrabboh, a Dearborn resident and the director of ADC Michigan.

“We’re certainly celebrating this as a success,” she says, while also agreeing that the statue should be placed in historical context in a local museum.

“As Americans, we’re forever seeking a frank and reflective history, and as long as [the statue of Hubbard is] in context and evaluated appropriately, and contextualized appropriately, certainly that’s why we have museums. And they become part of the lessons on life. And the lessons are often taught by bad examples.” 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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