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The remaining Black representative for MI is Rep. Brenda Lawrence who is set to retire at the end of the year.
The remaining Black representative for MI is Rep. Brenda Lawrence who is set to retire at the end of the year. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images.

Detroit will be without Black representation in Congress for the first time in 70 years

A city that is over 80% Black is without representation in Congress as Indian-American Rep. Shri Thanedar split the Black vote, beating two Black candidates.

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Following an odd primary this past Tuesday, Aug. 2, one of more shocking headlines to appear across the country is that Detroit, which is over 80% Black, will be without Black representation in Congress for the first time since the 1950s. As a reason, some point to the new redistricting lines that grouped together Black neighborhoods in conjunction with mostly White suburbs. 

Per The Detroit News, with over nine candidates on the ballot Tuesday, the Black vote was divided and led to a win for Indian-American State Rep. Shri Thanedar, who took 28% of the vote. As a result of the win, Democrats are without Black candidates in any Michigan congressional race in the November general election. Republicans, however, have two Black candidates in John James, who is on the ballot for the 10th District, and John Gibbs for the 3rd District. 

That being said, some Black candidates did win in state legislative races. Over 24 Black state House and Senate candidates won their primary elections on Tuesday. This includes 10 incumbent lawmakers. Both Republican and Democratic races were both filled with Black candidates. Nevertheless, the overall number of Black lawmakers in the legislature could fall below the current number of 20 depending on upcoming election outcomes. 

The self-funded Thanedar is a former chemical testing entrepreneur who became a multi-millionaire, and splurged over $8 million of his own fortune on a successful campaign for the Democratic nomination in the Detroit congressional district. He went on to defeat eight other Black candidates. Thanedar will go on to face business development specialist Martell Bivings, the Republican nominee, in November 

With most of Detroit being overwhelmingly Black, some doubt Thanedar’s sincerity to bring much needed change for one of the most powerful manufacturing cities. Additionally, the historically rich culture from the Black community leaves many residents wondering what the future holds without one of their own overseeing changes made to their neighborhoods, laws, schools, and much more.

Detroit Democratic political consultant Mario Morrow called the change “historic and it’s devastating.” He followed it up with another comment on Thenador’s win 

“Shri Thanedar was elected by default and I think he knows that,” he said. 

Detroit has always had at least one Black representative in D.C. ever since Rep. Charles Diggs Jr. was sent to Congress in 1954. 

Detroit’s official historian, Jamon Jordan spoke on the significance of not having a Black voice representing them. 

“Civil rights, human rights, and racial equality have been major planks for Black lawmakers representing Detroit,” he said. “They rose in the African American community in popularity based on their commitment to those kinds of issues.” 

The only remaining Black representative in Congress is Democrat Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who announced plans to retire in 2022 rather than go for re-election in Michigan's new 12th District. 

Now representing the 12th District is Palesteninan-American Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who found no competition in defeating her three fellow competitors, all Black women. The two-term incumbent lawmaker already represented most of the 12th district prior to her victory on Tuesday. 

In similar fashion to the GOP looking to accrue all Latino votes at the moment, the same has occurred in more conservative parts of Michigan and Detroit, specifically where Republicans have worked with the Black community in recent years in efforts of getting their vote. Now, the only Black representation is on the Republican side when it comes to congressional leadership. 

One of Thanedar’s biggest critics is Morrow.

“He is going to definitely have to have a coming-to-Jesus meeting with the Black leadership of the 13th Congressional District, primarily in Detroit. And he is going to have to prove himself on bringing home the bacon and building bridges,” he said. “And if he doesn’t, they’re coming after him in two years, and there will not be eight other people running against him. It will be a targeted, well-organized campaign.”

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