DetroitOld PhotographsPostcards

Sincerely yours, Richard W. Reading


Under the Reading administration the city’s total bonded indebtedness has been reduced $15,123,406! Under the Reading administration traffic fatalities have been cut 41%!

Dick Reading, for his elimination of sit-down strikes, for his far-reaching economy program, for his purge of welfare cheats, for his tireless efforts to secure for Detroit maximum state and federal aid for welfare purposes, certainly deserves the support and vote of every citizen interested in the continuation of good government in Detroit.

Postmarked October 5, 1939.

However, who was Dick Reading?

Googling him reveals only that he was the 60th Mayor of the City of Detroit. He served as Mayor from 1938-1940. Obviously he won this election in 1939, but what was his story? He followed Frank Couzens and was succeeded by Edward Jeffries. Anyone know anything about him?

*** UPDATE ***

The paper also found itself in the middle of the city’s biggest political scandal of the decade.

In August 1939, the suicide of a young woman led within days to the heart of City Hall. Janet McDonald took her own life after leaving a note for The News. She claimed to be the girlfriend of a Detroit police lieutenant who was a bagman for numbers game racketeers.

The city’s mayor, Richard Reading, and Wayne County prosecutor, Duncan McCrea, professed shock and horror. They promised an immediate investigation. After three days, the investigation was complete and everyone was proclaimed innocent of all charges. The News wasn’t buying this. “We will not be convinced that the situation is possible without police connivance,” it said in an August 9 editorial. In a series of articles and editorials that fell like thunderclaps on the political establishment, the paper demanded a grand jury investigation to deal with the charges.

After nine days, a one-man grand jury headed by Wayne County Circuit Judge Homer Ferguson and directed by special prosecutor Chester P. O’Hara was formed. By the time their work was finished, Reading and McCrea had been indicted along with the police chief and sheriff. In all, 75 public officials were charged with illegal acts and 360 indictments were returned.

Info above from the Detroit News’ Rearview mirror. No longer on-line since the website redesign…

Also there is this story here

The heart of the Valley’s economy was the Policy operation, later replaced by the Numbers. It was generally believed and accepted that the only way a black man could make a lot of money was to run a policy house. Unlike the numbers, policy houses — which were exclusively black-owned and operated — had a reputation for honesty. The policy was played by buying three numbers for five cents. The numbers ranged from one to 78. Twelve winning numbers were drawn daily and paid odds of 500-1 or $25 for a nickel.

Gradually policy houses gave way to the numbers operation. It was a common sight for those allowed near the money to see $150,000 in cash in a safe with the door wide open. The next day, however the same safe might be wiped clean from one day’s winning pay offs.

“It (the numbers) was a game of the percentages and they managed to make money out of it,” said one of the Valley’s ex-patrons. “But it was based on the daily races and you could pick up a newspaper — because they published the race results — and anybody who knew how could figure the number. When the numbers came out that’s what it was. Even kids knew how to pick the numbers out of the paper.

“But there was still gambling all over the place. One man had a club upstairs over the Turf Bar and it was open 24 hours a day. “They played poker and black jack. One of the things they always had a hard time selling the police on in this city was crap shooting. Police didn’t allow any crap shooting in the Valley.

“At that time you had all of the politicians, council members, the mayor and big people in the police department who use to come down there,” he said.

Many skilled black comptometer operators, adding machine operators, secretaries, stenographers, accountants and lawyers served their apprenticeships in policy and number houses in the Valley. Before the policy operations, few black owned businesses required highly trained help. But policy money came in so fast that adding machine workers soon became proficient and well paid.

In August, 1939, the policy opera-tion received a severe blow. A policy house bookkeeper, Mrs. Janet McDonald, murdered her child, and committed suicide when her boyfriend, who allegedly was connected with protection payoffs to police officials, ended their affair. Letters she had written and addressed to local newspapers, the governor, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation charged that her former boyfriend was the collection agent of illegal money for the police department. The papers were near her body.

Circuit Court Judge Homer Ferguson was appointed to conduct an inquiry. A special prosecutor, Chester O’Hara, was appointed to handle the investigation when the prosecutor, Duncan McCrea, was disqualified by charges of his involvement in the conspiracy to protect gamblers. A mayoral aide, who testified that he collected money from racketeers for the mayor, said he delivered more than $3,000 from policy operators to Mayor Richard Reading in his City Hall office.

The prosecutor’s key witness also testified that one of the convicted racketeers had told him of a plan to set up a special racket squad in 1938 to help the numbers operators. Other witnesses charged that Reading had accepted $55,000 in payments to “protect” the $10-million-a-year Detroit operation.

By June, 1942, Reading, his son Richard Reading Jr., the mayor’s administrative assistant, McCrea, several policy operators, including Joe Louis’ manager, the former sheriff, the police superintendent, and 20 police officers were convicted of graft conspiracy. But the scandal only enhanced the glamour of the Valley.

So apparently Mayor Dick was one., and a crook too… 🙂

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