Roman Gribbs, 1925-2016

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Mayor Roman Gribbs presents Leonard Simon of the Detroit Historical Museum with the Mayor’s Medal of the City of Detroit in a 1971 ceremony.  The partially visible sign behind museum director Solon Weeks proclaims, “Detroit, City for the ’70s.”

Roman Gribbs, Detroit’s mayor from 1970 to 1974, passed away on April 5, 2016 at the age of 90.  Hailing from Emmett, Michigan, a small town near Capac, Gribbs spent his childhood attending a one-room school house, and milking cows on his family’s 100-acre farm.  Uninterested in a career as a farmer, Gribbs joined the army in 1946.  In 1948, he emerged with an honorable discharge, and enrolled in the University of Detroit.  Here Gribbs studied economic and accounting as an undergraduate and went on to earn a Juris Doctor degree in law.  Gribbs’s legal career would take him from a private practice and into several Wayne county government positions, including that of Sheriff in 1968.

Pamphlet for Roman Gribbs's mayoral campaign.

In this campaign brochure, Gribbs focuses on police professionalism, public safety, city services, citizen input, business opportunity, housing, and a new Tiger stadium.

Gribbs was elected mayor in 1969, narrowly defeating Richard H. Austin, the first African-American to win a mayoral primary in the city. Under Gribbs, work began on the Renaissance Center, ethnic festivals began on the city’s riverfront, and Eastern Market saw new development.  While Gribbs sought to integrate the Detroit Police Department, his term also brought about controversial police initiatives like Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets (S.T.R.E.S.S.). When Gribbs stepped down after his first term, S.T.R.E.S.S. became a major issue during Coleman A. Young’s first mayoral campaign.  After briefly returning to private practice, Gribbs returned to public service in 1975 as a circuit court judge.  From 1982, until his retirement in 2001, Gribbs served as a Michigan Court of Appeals judge.

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Gribbs poses with a Detroit Fire Department Emergency Medical Services ambulance in this 1972 photo.

Recently we were fortunate enough to interview the former mayor for our Detroit 67 Online Archive of oral histories.  In addition to the unrest of 1967, during the hour-and-a-half interview, Gribbs covers growing up on a farm, the flaws of S.T.R.E.S.S., his take on Coleman Young, and even playing host to the Chinese ping-pong team during their diplomatic tour of the United States. Listen to the interview here.

Mayor Gribbs appears in the first of this series of 19 public service announcements promoting the 1973 slate of Riverfront Ethnic Festivals. This program began under Gribbs’s administration.