“These people responsible for this are worse than the communists in Poland,” one local said when General Motors razed the neighborhood in the early 1980s.

In 1981, Detroit lawyer and activist George Corsetti decided he would capture the demise of Poletown on video, directing the documentary film, Poletown Lives!

“They were up against the giants,” Corsetti told One Detroit last week, “General Motors, the city of Detroit, the Archdiocese, the UAW, probably Wall Street too and my sense was that they weren’t going to do too well.”

Poletown Lives! captured efforts by some Detroit east side residents to keep their homes as General Motors and the City of Detroit used eminent domain to take their property and build what would become the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant.

That plant made news late last month with the announcement it might close as the automaker restructures its operations.

Thirty-seven years ago Corsetti followed residents as they searched for ways to stop their removal and displacement. Thousands were displaced along with more than one hundred businesses, several churches and a hospital.

Poletown Lives! shows the wrecking ball leveling the Immaculate Conception Church, the centerpiece of Poletown’s Polish Catholic community.

“These people responsible for this are worse than the communists in Poland,” Father Joseph Karasiewicz said in the film. Someone asked him, “Including the Archdiocese, Father?”

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Karasiewicz said, “because it’s a criminal act. You go down to a very basic definition of stealing, that’s simply taking somebody else’s property against their will, that’s all it is.”

“It was clearly over when the church went down.” Corsetti recalled.

Karasiewicz would die of a heart attack six months after his church was leveled.

This post originally appeared on DetroitPBS.org. This week, One Detroit tells the Poletown story through filmmaker George Corsetti’s eyes, airing Thursday at 7:30pm on Detroit Public Television.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  2. Groups of people look at their phones while sitting in Washington Square Park in Manhattan.
    Life

    How Socially Integrated Is Your City? Ask Twitter.

    Using geotagged tweets, researchers found four types of social connectedness in big U.S. cities, exemplified by New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and Miami.

  3. People standing in line with empty water jugs.
    Environment

    Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ Water Crisis, One Year Later

    In spring 2018, news of the water crisis in South Africa ricocheted around the world—then the story disappeared. So what happened?

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. Tents with the Honolulu skyline behind them
    Life

    Where Is the Best City to Live, Based on Salaries and Cost of Living?

    Paychecks stretch the furthest in smaller cities for most workers, but techies continue to do best in larger, more expensive cities.

×