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… :)

28 Comments on Sincerely yours, Richard W. Reading

  1. Reading was apparently a template for more modern Detroit Mayors. Upon taking office, at a time when Detroit’s deficit was high and the subject of enormous public concern, once of his first acts was to purchase an outrageously expensive limousine for his personal use.

    Upon his conviction on involvement with the city’s numbers racket, he cried out, “This is the greatest injustice since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ!” So at least he had the ego necessary for the job.

    Courtesy of the Metro Times at

  2. I never New my Great Grand Father Richard.It Was Always A sore spot With My Dad.At least I now…..My Affection For Gambing Is Hereditary.Lol

  3. Well this is indeed interesting. Although I have heard this story many times, I have not ever run into anyone else with a connection to it until now. My grandfather was Bernard McGrath, the Chief Deputy Sheriff and Undersheriff of Wayne County. He was the “key witness” who testified for the state against Reading and the others.

    Just curious, what do you all think of the current Detroit situation as compared to the situation outlined above?

  4. My grandfather was the “key witness”, Bernard McGrath. He was the Chief Deputy Sheriff and Undersheriff of Wayne Co. at the time. I have known this story for a long time, but until now have not run into anyone else connected to it. Nice to meet you!

  5. Hi. My grandfather was Bernard McGrath, the “key witness” for the prosecution. He was the Chief Deputy Sheriff and Undersheriff of Wayne Co. at the time. I have known this story for years, but until now have never run into anyone else connected to it. Nice to finally get the chance.

  6. Whoa! Sorry about the multiple posts! I posted the first one and it didn’t appear after a few minutes, so I tried again. That didn’t appear, so I figured that the site required cookies to be on. I turned them on, and posted a third time and *BAM!* all three posts appear simultaneously. Isn’t technology wonderful? *Gaak.*

  7. My grandfather was Peter (Simcheck) Szymczak, he was the city controller of Hamtramck in the late 30’s. He was city clerk, treasurer and ran for mayor in the 40’s & 50’s. All I know is that sometime before WWII he left and joined the army and 11 out of 12 guys went to jail. Since he was an accountant and Hamtramck in famous for re-electing criminals, I think he was number 12. Does any one know where I can find info on who was indicted and why in the great “One Man Grand Jury Trails”.

  8. Amazing to see all the descendants of those involved posting here. My grandfather was Jack Carlisle, a reporter for the Detroit News who did a series of stories that led to Reading’s expulsion.

  9. I am the great grandson of Richard W. Reading. I believe I could add to this story a great deal if anyone is interested. My understanding is that he was never convicted of the bribery/influence peddling charges brought against him, but rather an unrelated tax evasion charge that was likely politically motivated.

    Although I don’t necessarily have the facts, I do have the family’s perceptions and beliefs about what happened.

  10. Kwame Kilpeople, your ass is next. Stop playing childish games and frontin for folks that don’t gave a damn about bloted lying, low down ass. Nobody gives a damn about who you slept with, however we do care about why you covered up your wife (poor Carlita walked in, but damn she has 2 boyfriends herself) beating the shit out of Strawberry, after you got busted with your pants down around your ankles. If you think nobody knows who medical insurance was used to treat Ms. Strawberry, guess again. The security detail that work/worked for you have big mouths and are all about the pillow talk, pretty much like yourself.

  11. Ok, I was so sure that Kwame wasn’t the only crook that held the office of Mayor. Still, ya gotta go Kwame!!

  12. I read the Reading material above – in connection w/ Kwame, and whether a sitting mayor of Detroit had ever been indicted (apparently, no. Not even Dick Reading, who wasn’t indicted until he was ex-mayor Reading) – I googled Dick Reading and McCrea and up came this Time Magazine article from 5/6/1940:

    Detroit Houseclecming
    Monday, May. 06, 1940

    Homer Ferguson is a quiet, mild-mannered Scotsman with unruly grey hair, nearsighted, friendly blue eyes, and a keen mind which he is never in any hurry to make up, or afterwards change. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s Law School, he taught school, studied medicine and dentistry before he decided he wanted to practice law. From that point his career ran in a straight line.

    In 1929 the Governor of Michigan appointed solid, able Mr. Ferguson a circuit judge. In his judicial routine Homer Ferguson won the respect of lawyers and colleagues alike. There he was doing his quiet job, when the noses of the circuit court sniffed a decidedly gamy smell curling up from Detroit and suburban Hamtramck. The police blandly assured them that everything was O.K., but the circuit court decided to poke around, appointed Judge Ferguson (under a peculiar Michigan law) to sit as a one-man grand jury and find out what was making the stink.

    Pompous, handshaking, smiling Richard William Reading was mayor. While Mayor Reading held Detroiters’ hands, Judge Ferguson held patient, unnoticed hearings, bided his time. Last January a new administration moved in, stumbled over some decaying policemen and began fumigating the police department. Judge Ferguson decided then that the time was ripe. First gobbet of muck he forked up was a million-dollar conspiracy among city and county officials, policemen and gamblers to operate a baseball pool. Among those he accused: Wayne County’s fighting prosecutor (“I’ll be in there sluggin’ in the people’s interest”), Duncan Cameron McCrea.

    Righteously indignant, Mr. McCrea attempted a raid on Judge Ferguson’s grand-jury chamber, alleging that witnesses had been tortured until they squealed. The judge’s guards slammed the door on McCrea’s deputies, stuffed the judge’s records into a vault. Next day. Judge Ferguson produced a second dripping forkful. Gambling dens, bawdy houses, running wide open in Detroit and Hamtramck, had long enjoyed official cooperation, said he. Among many officials, he specifically indicted Prosecutor Duncan McCrea.

    Frantic was the scurrying in Detroit. Judge Ferguson slapped a bond on all those he had accused (including Mr. McCrea), held them for trial, continued his hearings. Last week he came up with the biggest gobbet of all.

    On a charge of conspiring to protect and operate policy houses (which did an estimated $10,000,000 annual business in Detroit and have been operating unscathed for more than ten years), Judge Ferguson indicted 151 persons, including ten police lieutenants, 34 sergeants, 37 patrolmen, six detectives, Negro John Roxborough (comanager of Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis), pompous ex-Mayor Dick Reading—and Prosecutor McCrea.

  13. Being the Great Granddaughter of Richard Reading I can only say that we the family all know the “real” story as to what really happened and who framed my Great Grandfather.

  14. According to my birth cerificate I am the daughter of Richard W. Reading Jr.. My grandfather was Richard W. Reading, the Mayor of Detroit. My mother is Judith Seymour. Anyone with anymore inforatuon please try and contact me ASAP. I would really like to know about my father I was born in 1942.

  15. According to my birth certificate I am the daughter of Richard W. Reading Jr. I was born in 1942 . My grandfater was Richard W. Reading, Mayor of Detroit. If anyone as anymore information about my father I would like it if you would contact me.

  16. strange how many of his childrens children…children are posting on this page.
    andrew….is there anyway you can connect kristen and judith here?

  17. I am really disappointed that I have not heard a thing from my posting on your web-site, I think you should provde e-mail address, so I could contact Kristen or any of the other relatives, I would like to know about my father and other relatives that I might have. I am an only child without any relatives on my mothers side, and she will not talk about my fathers side.

  18. My grandfather was Joseph A. Lewandowski, Mayor of Hamtramck 1934-36. He was indicted around the same time (I have old newspaper articles about it all). He was found not guilty but several others were found guilty. Can share some information if anyone is interested. email address is

  19. My family grew up next door to the Readings, I think. On Rutland Road. My mom lived there starting in 1932, bought the house from her Dad, and we moved out in 1970. Heard the “nod and wink” stories about the mayor who lived next door. Story goes that my Grandpa used to let the police park in our driveway to “protect” the mayor. My Mom has passed, but her brother and sister are still local in the Detroit area.

    Can anyone confirm? And further, where do we find out about Mayor Reading? Story “on the street” was that there was money in the walls!

  20. Richard Reading was my great great grandfather. My father, Dennis Reading, inherited the 8 large books full of news clippings about Richard Reading when Dennis’s father, Clair Reading, passed away. We still have all of the books and I think my father even made electronic copies. I can see the books right now in our basement sitting stacked on the shelf. They are pretty decent sized books.

    My email address is
    Please feel free to email me if you would like my father’s email address or about obtaining a copy of the clippings for historical purposes.

  21. My grandfather; Elmer B OHara, was the Wayne County Clerk, Michigan State Democratic Chairman, and a Repesentative to the Democratic Presidential Convention of 1932. I am confident that he was part of the group indicted and convicted in connection with Mayor Reading. My late grand mother and other family members who might have had knowledge of the facts and backgound shared very little with the grand children regarding our grand father. If anyone out there has any information regarding my grand father and his role in the Reading administration please let me know. I am not getting any younger and would appreciate some insights before I croak.

  22. My Great uncle and my Grand Father were part of the management of Joe Louis. Mayor Reading according John Roxborough was instrumental in protecting Joe Louis from other gangsters. Ollie Madden of New York’s Cotton CLub tried to Muscel in on Joe Louis’s contract with John Roxborough before the Primo Carnero fight in 1935. Mayor Reading was able to unite all of the different ethnic groups into a cooperative or non viiolent interaction with eachother. He was the city clerk and holder of the seal of Detroit for a long period of time before he became Mayor. In this position he forged a diverse base of economic cooperation. The Joe Louis Arm that sits in Detroit has Mayor Richard Readings Spirit within it.

  23. My mother, who recently passed away, is Dorothy McGrath. Her father was Bernard McGrath. I am assuming jonderson is Jon Anderson. Hi ya Jon! Please reply although your posting was a long time ago.

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