Why I Love Detroit, And This Sculpture

Michigan, the national leader in recession, depends on an auto industry that will never be as big as it was. So how does the Detroit area diversify? Who's hiring, or investing in something new? In the series Retooling Detroit, Morning Edition reports on Detroit's desperate race to replace the jobs that the automakers eliminate.

In the center of my favorite city, looking across the Detroit River to Canada, stands a monument to Joe Louis.

Detroit's Brown Bomber shattered the myth of racial supremacy with one decisive fight. After suffering a humiliating loss to the German fighter Max Schmeling in 1936, Louis trained tirelessly for a rematch two years later, and defeated the Nazi poster boy in just two minutes and four seconds.

The sculpture that honors him is a 24-foot-long, defiant right-handed punch, suspended above Jefferson Avenue.

Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young once said that Joe Louis stood for everything that was good about Detroit. I can't help but agree. Joe Louis is the symbol of all that I love about this city.

Lots of people hate this sculpture, saying it glorifies violence. The statue was installed in the late 1980s, back when Detroit was known as the nation's murder capital, and the damage from the '67 riots still felt fresh.

But I don't see violence in this sculpture; I see a bullheaded determination. Joe Louis, like many Detroiters, took his blows. But Louis endured, and he did it with style.

National headlines talk about the death of Detroit. But looking around me, I see Detroiters getting on with their lives. This is a place where people bring you a casserole when you get laid off, and start working the phone book to find you a job.

The city is defined by people like this, even as news breaks about the possible collapse of the Big Three.

Detroit was destroyed by fire in 1805, and that tragedy gave the city its motto: "Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus," or "We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes."

This city has burnt to the ground more than once. But it emerged every time, ready for a comeback. Just like Joe Louis.

Celeste Headlee is a reporter based in Detroit.

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