With tributes from politicians, clergy and ordinary citizens who waited for hours in the cold, the city Friday honored Coleman Young, the outspoken five-term mayor who died last week at 79.
“Mayor Young was simply one of he greatest mayors in American history,” Young’s successor, Dennis Archer, said during the funeral, a celebration of a complex, pivotal politician worshipped by some and vilified by others.
“His legacy is the spirit and the soul of Detroit,” Archer said. “Coleman Alexander Young touched the essence of Detroit, made people feel they had a stake in the city’s future.”
Aretha Franklin performed two songs during the funeral, one a rendition of “The Impossible Dream” that included lyrics in tribute to the man who became Detroit’s first black mayor in 1973.
“Detroit will be better for this,” Franklin sang, “that one man torn and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star.”
Shortly before the service began at Greater Grace Temple, mourners clapped and sang to gospel music. Coleman Young Jr., 15, silently went to the open coffin and placed a note in his father’s pocket.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater read a letter from President Clinton, who wrote that Young’s death was “not only a great loss for Detroit but for our nation as well.”
The president described Young as “a dedicated and determined leader who guided his beloved city through 20 years of challenge and change.”
Earlier, several hundred people lined up in 32-degree weather outside the church. Some wore furs and formal wear, while others were dressed in jeans and tennis shoes. Thousands more were on hand to listen to the ceremony outside or were at churches watching on big-screen televisions.
City operations were modified to give workers time to attend.
“I didn’t even feel the cold. I didn’t think about that,” said artist Richard Johnson, 40, as he stood outside the church with a sketch of Young he said he would donate to the ex-mayor’s family. “It didn’t matter. I just wanted to pay my respects.”
Health care worker Gilbert Chisholm, 43, lined up at 1 a.m. to make sure he got one of the 4,500 seats inside the church to mourn Young.
“We all include him as part of our family,” he said.