The mid-1930s were banner years for the city of Detroit’s unrivaled sports scene. In late 1934, the Tigers won the pennant. Just seven months later, the Red Wings took home the Stanley Cup and the Lions sat atop the National Football League. And it wasn’t just team sports that dominated. Hometown hero Joe Louis had his sights set on his boxing’s crown.
All this success managed to awaken the city from a depression-induced slumber. However, beneath all the championships and celebration, an underground society began to form. A white supremacist group that splintered from The Ku Klux Klan, The Black Legion terrorized the streets of The Motor City during the 1930s. Now, author Tom Stanton weaves together both the pride and the embarrassment of Detroit in one sweeping book, Terror in the City of Champions.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.
Stanton’s book was shocking to read, to say the least. The story of how The Black Legion rose to prominence was alarming. Basically, prospective members were invited to mysterious meetings only to find out they were tricked into an initiation to The Black Legion, a hate-driven, racist organization. They were then told that they were now members without choice and if they were to betray their new brotherhood, they would be killed. Obviously, not all members were innocent, but this practice was the key in how they were able to grow their numbers so quickly.
The other side to the book detailed the Detroit Tigers and their rise to World Series Champions. Honestly, I found this to be the duller of the two stories and at times found myself drifting off, waiting to read more about the murder and madness that surrounded the Legion. It’s not to say that Stanton did a bad job in presenting the sports aspect, the material was concise and the narrative easy to follow, it just didn’t grab me in the same way.
If you’re a fan of the “Eric Larson” style of historical presentation, I think you’ll at the very least find this an interesting read. I wouldn’t put it on the same level as Larson, but it’s worth a look.