Dearborn City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to change the name of the Hubbard Ballroom in its civic center, the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center. The venue used for weddings and other events will now be called the Lincoln Ballroom in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.
Orville Hubbard was the longest serving mayor of Dearborn, but gained notoriety for his racist remarks and fervent support of racial segregation.
The ballroom's name is not the first time the city has reckoned with Hubbard's legacy. A statue of Hubbard stood outside city hall starting in 1989, but was moved to the lawn of the Dearborn Historical Society in 2015. There it stood until June of 2020, when it quietly was moved outside Dearborn city limits to Hubbard's grave.
Erin Byrnes, the councilmember who lead the charge on changing the ballroom's name, says she wanted the name to reflect the ballroom's function as a welcoming gathering place for the community.
"I see this as a process that really is about evolving, and it’s not about erasing. It really is about advancing unity and inclusivity in our city and I hope that this update of the name really sends a strong and positive message," Byrnes said.
Byrnes and other council members also noted the significant upgrades the ballroom had undergone in recent years.
The agenda item drew significant response from Dearborn residents, with public comments lasting for more than an hour. Though some Dearborn residents were displeased with the change, citing "cancel culture," many more perceived it as a step in the right direction for Dearborn, moving away from a racist past towards a more inclusive future.
Michael Hachem was one resident who was not terribly pleased with the change.
"It’s true that Orville Hubbard was somewhat racist, in a way, during that time, but let’s also not forget the many city services that the man brought to our city," He expressed concerns about the names of other institutions in Dearborn. "If we’re going to remove his name, we might as well remove Mayor [Michael] Guido's name, because let’s not forget what he said about Arab-Americans. We might as well rename Ford road, rename Oakland Elementary, rename Edsel Ford [High School]. This is actually a cancel culture move that the council is playing out behind closed doors."
Leslie Windless works in Dearborn, and she said she was happy to see the item on the agenda.
"I know it means a lot to me as a member of the Dearborn community and my family to be able to feel like we can even have events there. Even the organizations that I work for and head, we would never hold an event in a ballroom named after Hubbard." She noted that racism was still a problem in the city for her and others, saying, "And I don’t want to make the meeting about [Hubbard], but it’s very hard, because the things that he said and the policies he put in place still impact the city of Dearborn to this day."
Sheela Lal was one of several residents who thought that changing the ballroom's name was a good thing, but did little to address ongoing racism in the city of Dearborn, including concerns about disproportionate arrests and citations by the Dearborn Police of Black people.
"There needs to be more involvement in how citizens and residents understand how the majority of their taxes are spent. It’s not just on this name, it’s on the one entity that takes up a disproportionately large amount of our tax dollars, which is the police. The police have actual power and have been proven to cause more harm to the city than a single ballroom name change."
In response to the defenders of Hubbard, Lal simply said, "Orville Hubbard is dead. Why are you guys still sucking up to him?"
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Dearborn resident Sheela Law spoke at the meeting. That is incorrect. The resident in question is named Sheela Lal. The story has been corrected above.