Finally, Hamtramck closes an ugly chapter in its history

Attorneys associated with the decades-long Hamtramck housing discrimination lawsuit pose with U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth A. Stafford after Stafford officially put an end to the lawsuit.


By Charles Sercombe
Last week, a historic moment took place in both Hamtramck and federal court.
The city’s long-running housing discrimination lawsuit was finally settled, with a stroke of a pen, by U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth A. Stafford when she issued an order of dismissal, thus ending a lawsuit that began in 1968. The lawsuit has the possible distinction of being the longest-running federal lawsuit ever.
The lawsuit was the result of city officials, in the 1960s, razing neighborhoods where a majority of the residents were African-Americans.
That action was done under the guise of a nation-wide, federally-funded program called “Urban Renewal.” The program was meant to remove blight in the inner cities and improve community life.
When the residents wised up to the fact that they were being racially targeted, they filed a lawsuit in federal court.
A Detroit federal judge, Damon Keith, an African-American civil rights champion, called the action by city officials “Negro Removal,” in an obvious play-on-words reference to the Urban Renewal program.
Keith oversaw the case for decades, but died before he could see it to its completion. All of the original plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit are also long-deceased.
Sarah Sims Garrett was one of those people who were wronged, and, as the story goes, she volunteered to have her name used for a class action lawsuit filed against the city.
Garrett was among those who died long before the lawsuit was finally settled.
Keith once conceded that the case was a matter of “justice delayed is justice denied.”
However, a number of the plaintiffs’ descendents were eligible to purchase the new housing thanks to subsidies.
In honor of Garrett, the city created a park in her name, located on the southbound service drive of I-75, just north of Caniff.
At a ceremony dedicating the park, last July, Vera Burk — an African-American woman who was chair of the Grand Haven-Dyar-Dequindre Corporation, one of the two corporations set up to mediate a settlement with the city — said the road to settling the lawsuit “was a struggle.”
“I love my Hamtramck, but it was a struggle,” she added.
The city eventually entered into a settlement agreement in which it promised to build 150 senior housing units as well as 200 other housing units. That proved easier said than done.
Simply put, there was no funding to build the housing units, and so the matter dragged on for a number of years until the federal government stepped in and began offering financial assistance. The state and Wayne County also contributed to the funding for housing.
The last three housing units were finally constructed during the past year.
Hamtramck City Manager Max Garbarino issued the following statement:
“The plaintiffs filed this case years before many of us in city government were born. While it has been an honor to see long-delayed justice finally delivered, I am humbled to be just one of many city leaders that took the steps necessary to correct an injustice that never should have occurred.
“I’d especially like to thank my predecessor, Kathleen Angerer, and Mayors Gary Zych, Tom Jankowski, Karen Majewski and Amer Ghalib, all of whom demonstrated the compassionate leadership necessary to complete this project.
“It is my fervent hope that these houses bring peace and comfort to the plaintiffs. As we bring this chapter in the city’s history to a close, we are determined to make Hamtramck even more welcoming and inclusive.”
Former Mayor Karen Majewski, who served as mayor for 18 years, also welcomed the news that the lawsuit has finally been settled.
“Congratulations to the plaintiff families who waited so many decades for justice to be served in Sarah Sims Garrett et al. vs. City of Hamtramck case,” Majewski said.
“And thank you to the many advocates, activists, attorneys, public officials, and public agencies who never gave up on finding a just and workable solution to an increasingly complex quagmire of financial, practical, and legal issues.
“Many of the people who were committed to seeing this case through have moved on from their positions, and many — most notably many of the original plaintiffs and the Honorable Justice Damon Keith — have passed from this world.
“Their work is visible in the 200 homes that have been built and renovated in Hamtramck, in the plaintiff families that are a vital part of the fabric of our community, and in the city’s demonstrable commitment to confronting our nation’s most difficult but essential issues as we continue to move toward a future marked by racial justice, equity, and fairness to all.”
Mayor Amer Ghalib, who is in his first term as mayor, also noted the historic moment of the lawsuit’s conclusion.
“It’s historic and I’m honored that the dismissal of this case happened during my leadership. Last year we build the last three houses and this year we celebrate the dismissal of the case,” Ghalib told The Review.
“The city will be saving up to $30,000 of just attorneys’ fees. We closed a dark chapter of our city’s history and we will make sure nothing similar to that happens again.”
Former City Attorney James Allen also played a pivotal role in drawing the lawsuit to close.

Magistrate Stafford called him “A real champion of justice.”
Allen said, of the moment: “Many people were called to the bar for an opportunity to work on a case like this. I am grateful the universe put me in that position.”
Allen also credited assistance by attorney Harry Kalogerakos in the case. Both worked on the matter for 20 years.
Posted May 3, 2024

3 Responses to Finally, Hamtramck closes an ugly chapter in its history

  1. Shari Bloomquist

    May 4, 2024 at 3:46 pm

    I congratulate the Plaintiffs who have finally seen justice completed after over 50 continuous years of litigation.

    However both the plaintiffs and defense attorneys in this case have earned vast sums of fees during its course. It has been a gold mine for both sides of lawyers and it is only with the financial assistance of outside did this case finally close.

    An accounting should be made and publicly disclosed how vast the fees received by the law firms in this case were.

  2. Abbas Bazzi

    May 4, 2024 at 4:35 pm

    those lawsuit houses are cheaply built. it’s like the most cost-saving material (cost-saving for the city) went into building them just to get the plaintiffs off the city’s backs and to quiet down the civil rights voices that first made a ruckus what happened decades ago. don’t mean to associate civil rights voices with ruckus, because such voices are eloquent—but the city’s old guards considers them to be a ruckus.

  3. Gary Saganski

    May 6, 2024 at 11:48 am

    1. Would it be possible to name each person in the front page picture regarding this article?

    2. Article should probably include the Shopping Center funding model mandated by the Courts to help finance the house construction/renovation projects. Although it then becomes a longer article. That shopping center is very useful for the community.

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