The NFL draft happening in Detroit is an important moment in league history. Here's why.

The NFL draft is in Detroit this week, and I don't think people fully understand the importance of this moment. What it means historically and racially. Let me explain.

In the book "When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties," author Richard Bak wrote this about 1950s Detroit:

"Although Detroit's Black population would pass 400,000 during the 1950s, until late in the decade there was no Black representation on city council, there were no Blacks playing for the Detroit Tigers, and policemen patrolled the streets in segregated squad cars. Detroit was the home of the modern labor movement and the membership of the United Auto Workers was one-quarter Black, yet there still wasn't a single minority on the UAW's executive board. When a local firebrand named Coleman Young Jr. visited the offices of The Detroit News, every reporter, editor, printer, and secretary he encountered was white.

"'I did stumble upon a couple of Black men mopping the floor in the lobby,'" the future mayor recalled in his autobiography, "'and when I asked how many Blacks worked in the building, they said, 'You're looking at 'em.'"

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Bak also wrote: "Intentionally or not, during the 1950s the Lions were a microcosm of the segregated Motor City. Between 1950 and 1957, there never was more than one Black on the roster at any given time. For most of that period, there were none. During a six-season stretch, from 1951 through 1956, the Lions fielded just two Black players − defensive linemen Harold Turner and Walter Jenkins − who appeared in a total of five regular-season games between them.

"Bill Matney, Russ Cowans, and other members of the Black press considered the Lions a historically racist organization. Just how fair that characterization was remains open to debate. It was true that the championship squads of 1952 and 1953 didn't have a single Black face in the huddle..."

There was also just one Black player on the 1957 championship team. His name was John Henry Johnson and he'd later be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Of course none of this is utterly shocking. The disgrace of segregation happened in many American cities. This country has long been soaked in hatred (and in some ways it still is). It's nonetheless remarkable to look back at how far we've come. The Lions also have a unique place in this history because of one remarkable fact.

Bak writes that the two championship teams in 1952 and 1953 didn't have a Black player on them "making the Lions the last team to win an NFL title with an all-white roster."

Over 70 years later, look at Detroit now. The city, the Lions and the NFL draft are so remarkably different. There was a Black mayor. The Tigers are integrated. There have been two Black presidents of the UAW. The Detroit News is no longer all white. The police are no longer segregated.

Now, the best player in Lions history, Barry Sanders, is Black. Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, whose father named his children with African and Egyptian names, is immensely popular and is Black. The team's general manager, Brad Holmes, is Black. Many of the players are.

Overall, the second most important event of the NFL calendar is the draft and it's in Detroit. The top overall draft pick is expected to be USC's Caleb Williams, who is Black.

The city, the team, the league, the draft ... all mostly shunned Black people in the past. Each of those entities is super-duper Black. Yes, definitely, we've come a long way. We've traversed the length of several galaxies.

It took three-quarters of a century to reach this point.

There are still disgusting things said about the city and some of the people that inhabit it, but the city has a glow that no one can take away. It started after the team won its first playoff game in 32 years by beating the Los Angeles Rams this past season.

The city ... the Lions ... the draft ... so much has changed. For the better.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 NFL draft in Detroit signals how far city and league have come