In 1950, the first local television station, John Fetzer's WKZO, began transmitting into homes. The area also shared in the nation's 'cold war' fears, and the city built or designated fallout shelters, installed warning sirens and organized rehearsed disasters to prepare for possible emergencies. In 1957 and 1958 Kalamazoo was chosen as 'typical' of American cities and represented the nation in exhibits in both Great Britain and Germany, recognizing its similarities with other communities across the United States.
Kalamazoo also shared with the nation a growing racial unrest through the 1960s. Discontented with economic and social inequality, Kalamazoo's African-American leaders organized boycotts of Northside retailers over hiring practices and thousands marched downtown in the summer of 1963 protesting poverty and access to equal employment and housing. On December 19th of that year, Martin Luther King spoke at WMU's Read Fieldhouse urging a spirit of brotherhood between black and white, but by 1967 civil disobedience turned to rioting and hostility. In separate incidents in Kalamazoo's Northside and Downtown areas mob violence broke out, as well as at Central High School which housed the majority of the school district's black students compared to the predominately white Loy Norrix facility.
Meanwhile, peaceful upheaval was occurring in local government. Kalamazoo's first black City Commissioner, Arthur Washington Jr., was elected in 1959. A former head of the Kalamazoo NAACP, Washington served until 1966. Gilbert Bradley was elected the City's first black mayor in 1971 and in 1976 Robert Bobb was appointed the first black City Manager. The parallel drive for gender equality helped pave the way for Kalamazoo's first female Mayor, Caroline Ham, in 1981 and City Manager, Sheryl Sculley, in 1984.
On May 13, 1980 a tornado swept through downtown Kalamazoo damaging much in its path. Economic decline had already begun to ravage the community. Like many Midwestern cities so dependent on the post-war manufacturing boom, Kalamazoo struggled with the effects of increased unemployment combined with decreased revenue for both businesses and governments. As plant after plant boarded up or relocated, the City of Kalamazoo struggled to cope. In particular, the paper industry once prevalent along Portage Creek and the Kalamazoo River, all but disappeared from the area.
Globalization forced 'downsizing' and job losses at Upjohn, which had become the area's largest employer. The company started in Kalamazoo would eventually merge with Pfizer, then the world's largest pharmaceutical company. First of America bank was purchased by National City, an Ohio-based company. Global competition also caused great losses in the automotive industry, a bedrock of Michigan's economy. Like many others across the Midwest, the Fisher body Plant closed in 1992.