Between the Lines: Dennis Archer

Jan 26, 2018

Credit Mike Lanka / WMU University Relations

Despite growing up in the strictly segregated world of 1940’s Detroit, Dennis Archer put himself through college and law school through determination and a lot of hard work. He was the first person of color to become president of the American Bar Association, and of the State Bar of Michigan, which once banned African Americans from joining. Archer became the associate justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and then was twice elected mayor of Detroit. He's co-written his autobiography, Let the Future Begin (Atkins & Greenspan Writing, 2017) with journalist and TV host Elizabeth Ann Atkins.

“What prompted me to write it was my wife of long standing,” Archer says. “She was the one who encouraged me to go to law school. Ultimately I did, and I fell in love with the law. Then, I think I did the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life and married the teacher who suggested I go to law school. She encouraged me to write a book so that our two grandsons would be able to appreciate what I tried to do with my life, and that I could also share with the public, because, as she pointed out—‘you’ve had the benefit of the press writing about you, but they wrote about what they saw and what they thought was important.’ And our two sons, there are a lot of things they didn’t know about me. I wanted them to know.”

Archer says he also wanted young people to know how he had been able to achieve success in spite of growing up in the small town of Cassopolis under poor conditions, and having to deal with segregation and racism.

Credit Atkins & Greenspan Writing

During his eight years as Detroit's mayor, the Archer administration was responsible for such projects as the Campus Martius, the city’s three casinos, Ford Field, Comerica Park, the General Motors world headquarters in the Renaissance Center, the Compuware Building that is now known as the One Campus Martius, the River Walk, and many other projects throughout Detroit.

“People had talked to me right after I got elected to a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court,” Archer says. Around that time, he says, “There were issues occurring in the city. Businesses were moving outside of the city; people were not investing in the city; crime was rising. We had a lot of storefronts that were closed. People were leaving the city, and they had been leaving since 1954.”

After some thought, Archer decided to take on the challenge to turn around the city he loved. He brought together a group of experts to develop a plan to solve many of those problems, calling it “Thoughts for a Greater Detroit.” He would later refer to this paper as his blueprint for rebuilding the city. Archer was mayor of Detroit from 1994 to 2002. He later served on the Board of Trustees at Western Michigan University, which he attended as an undergraduate in the 1960's.

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