Black history in Detroit

After black people got their independance, they started to migrate from the Southern states to the Northern states of America for a brighter future.
But in fact, black folks had to face much more difficulties than they expected when in the North of America.

When they settled down in Detroit, for instance, they had to face poverty, racial discrimination and segregation.
Although Southern states like Arizona are well known for their racism, Detroit’s history is linked with racism.
Henry Ford wanted to massproduce cars in order to make them affordable to a huge amount of people. Massproduction meant, of course, to the lowest expense and to the lowest salaries.
In many people’s mind, black people were viewed as inferior and deserved to become lower salaries.
Black workers used to live in a neighborhood sarcastically called « Paradise Valley », because it was a dark place with no green and no trees. It could rather be described as a hellhole. « Paradise Valley » corresponded to the East Side of Detroit.

The 1943 race riots

Recruiters from the Northern factories went to the South in order to make some publicity, promising high wages to the future employees, trying to convince Blacks and Whites to work for the new war factories. As a consequence, the migrations to the North increased so much that detroit was facing some housing problems. Food was rationed. In fact, people were working very hard and couldn’t even enjoy the benefits from the money they earned, because they had less time (they used to work 48 hours a week) and very few places for leisure time.
At this time, Detroit’s sarcastical name was the « Arsenal Of Democracy ». Segregation and racial discrimination ruled everywhere in Detroit.
Blacks were excluded from public housing programms except for the Brewster projects, they were treated unfairly by the police.
Whites also protested against Blacks working with them in the assembly line and during a strike, some people shouted out slogans like these :
« I’d rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work beside a nigger on the assembly line. »
Black men were armed to protect their properties.
On June the 4th, the Detroit Housing Commission had approved two sites for defense housing projects : one for Whites and one for Blacks.
Racial tension began growing to an unbearable level. Some Blacks began a « bumping campain » against white people : they wanted to protest against unfair conditions.
On June the 20th, 1943, the situation exploded. There were almost 10 000 people brawling in the street. Incidents happened at Belle Isle. The police was chasing only cars driven by Blacks. Fightings started. Cars were set on fire. A white woman was raped and murdered. Six Detroit poilicemen were shot.
Two back men, Leo Tipton and Charle Lyons spread the rumor that Whites had thrown a black woman and her baby off the belle Isle Bridge. The angry crowd moved to Woodward, breaking windows and looting stores.
The police was only dealing with black rioters and was criticized for its refusal to follow « shoot to kill orders ».

The police was praised by Detroit mayor Jeffries who made this statement that « he was rapidly losing his patience with those Negro leaders who insist that their people do not and will not trust policemen ».
Thurgood Marshall is the first person to make things move for black people’s rights in Detroit. With the NAACP, he assaile the city’s handling of the riot and pointed out the police’s responsibilities during the riots. Many policemen were watching whites overturn cars and burn without getting involved.

1967 race riots

The police is the main responsible of the second race riot in Detroit. Police through the Northwest side of Detroit to vice squad officers executed a raid on a drinking club in a predomantly black neighborhood located at Twelfth street and Clairmont Avenue.
People were partyingthere and the police tried to arrest everyone. The ploice was waiting for « a clean up crew » to transport the arrestees when a crowd suddenly emerged in order to protest.
After the police had left, a little group of men who were offended to have been kicked out of the club started some trouble and broke the windows of a clothing store. As a consequence, vandalism spread from the Northwest side of Detroit to the East side.

The main causes of the 1967 race riots were due to police abuse, to the lack of affordable housing, black militancy and demographic changes.
4 men police units called « Big Four » and « Tac squad » were looking for prostitutes to arrest or bars to raid. They were degrading black people verbally and physically. In 1962, they shot down a black prostitute, Shirley Scott and beat severely another one, Barbara Jackson in 1964.

Housing problems were worsening the situation too: Blacks used to live in the poorest parts of the town. When middle classes Blacks attempted to integrate white neighborhoods, white inhabitants of detroit started building a large wall along 8 Mile Road.
The destruction of “Paradise Valley” which was bulldozed, left a lot of bitterness and anger among black folks, because it used to be the heart of Detroit’s cultural and economical black community.

Racial tensions have been very strong through the years after the race riots till the early 90’s.

If you take time to look back at Detroit’s historical background, you will notice that racial segragation is part of its history.
Eminem’s story made me focus a real interest on Detroit City. You can hardly study Eminem’s life story without focusing an interest on black history in Detroit. Knowing the huge racial tensions the D-town has been through and Eminem’s will to be part of black people’s cultural landscape, anybody who calls the talented rapper a racist is an ignorant person.

I feel very concerned by black history as a white person, because my two kids are metis and I do also teach languages (German and English) in public schools. As a teacher, I think that my responsibility is also to inform white kids about black history, because most of the time, facts about Blacks and other ethnical minorities are often taught in demeaning terms.I had the occasion to teach about hip hop this year and to talk about black history to white kids who were really interested in the subject matter.

10 Responses to “Black history in Detroit”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Two good ones – detroitfunk.com and detroitblog.blogspot.com

  2. Anonymous says:

    where do u teach?

  3. anthony says:

    i am not a teacher a student shewsbury high school

  4. deborah says:

    Does anyone have any detailed info on Shirley Scott?

  5. John Trav says:

    Its very annoyig and hard to read this when there are many question marks all over the page.. please cahnge that.

  6. John Trav says:

    can someone clarrify for me what the problem was when they bulldozed “paradise valley.” i understand it was a place in the city where there was alot of black culture but weren’t they just complaining about how ugly it was there and how the blacks had to live in an unclean place. Wouldn’t it be considered good if the place was bulldozed and new houses were put up. (might even cerat job oportunities)

  7. V. says:

    I understand that you left this comment years ago, but I wanted to answer anyway. Detroit had a deep history of legalized housing discrimination and for sometime African-Americans were only allowed (legally) to live in about four neighborhoods within Detroit due to housing covenants (which explictly stated that non-whites could not reside in the majority of the neighborhoods in the city). Yes, Black Bottom/Paradise Valley was a place consisting mostly of substandard housing, but for many years it was the only place many blacks could call home and, additionally, there had been, for many years, a housing shortage (both within the Black community and in Detroit, in general). Even though the legality of housing covenants had been overturned in 1948 with the landmark Shelley V. Kraemer case, the autoindustry had already begun to decentralize in Detroit by the 1950 and Detroiters (both black and white) were struggling with increasing rates of unemployment. additionally, the government was subsidizing new housing to be built in the suburbs but would not subsidize integrated neighborhoods (which essentially forced blacks to remain within the city while jobs continuously fled and unemployment rates increased). If you couple that with the fact that the mayor decided to intiate urban renewal projects which would bulldoze the poorest of the black neighborhoods to make freeways and NOT provide any housing alternative, you can begin to see that the factors contributing to the riot were more complex than a bunch of unhappy, fickle-minded blacks protesting because they had nothing better to do. Additionally, not many alternatives were offered to those who had lost their homes and there was not much in the way of job opportunities for them. The majority of those living in the area were employed in low-wage work within the service industry, the only work many of them could get…and if you know anything about the legalized institution of employment discrimination in Detroit’s history, than you’d understand why such jobs were all that many African-Americans could get. The incident that actually sparked off the riot stemmed from the ongoing problem of police brutality. By 1967, the city was majority black but had a 92% white police force. They patrolled the black neighborhoods in gangs called Tac Squads and commonly beat-up, victimized, shouted racial slurs, and killed black teens and young black males. When the police raided a welcome home party for two Vietnam veterans and began to arrest party-goers, this is what sparked off the riots…after such a deep-seated history of institutionalized racism, lack of employment opportunities, and a stagnant economy within the city…it is easy to see why these people, who had no voice or representation in government, acted out the only way they knew how…in angry protest.

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  9. 4gendetroiter says:

    Detroit has a very rich history as far a black people are concerned. From the early 1900′s up to 2000. However, racism has always been a part of our history. But prior to intergration can you imagine what the black community must have look like in Paradise Valley? Anybody and everybody who was black in the entertaiment world, education, politics, religion, or even the street life all lived in the same neghborhood. Thats was what was so great about Paradise Valley. Any famous person who came to town stayed in the black community. Thats how is was in most major U.S. cities. But Detroit was special because in had the migration from the south because of the automobile factories.

  10. 4gendetroiter says:

    Several books have been written about Detroit’s rich black history. A good one to check is “singing in a strange land.” It the story of Rev C.L. Franklin move to Detroit from Memphis and starting his church on hastings street in the 40′s and it goe’s on into the 80′s. Good reading. By John Salvatore.