DETROIT – Community leaders dedicated a historical marker to recognize Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood, Monday.
Redevelopment in the late 1950s to early 1960s of the Lafayette Park and I-375 replaced what was a predominately Black neighborhood.
Black Bottom was home to thriving Black businesses and growing Black families. Running from I-75 on the north, to Jefferson Avenue on the south, Grand Trunk railroad and Brush Street to the east and west.
Its name was born from the black rich soil in the area. Black Bottom residents were mostly renters but had a space to call their own. Not just the homes in the community but local businesses were also exclusively Black creating a network of self-sustainability and independence. Despite its strong African American presence, the neighborhood was also home to early immigrants before becoming exclusively Black.
“It was a first stop for a lot of immigrants coming in,” said William Winkel, assistant curator for the Detroit Historical Society.
“A lot of Jewish people lived in the neighborhood, Eastern European people lived in the neighborhood, Italians. It wasn’t until the 20th century where it becomes primarily a Black community, primarily the 1920s and 30s,”.
The election of Albert Cobo in the 1950’s began the downward trajectory for the life vibrancy of what was an area often referred to as Detroit’s Black WallStreet.
“Black Bottom was the most culturally rich, historically significant in the State of Michigan history,” said historian Jamon Jordan.
Once the neighborhood was razed by new development, Jordan says “it destroyed a headquarters of the African American community. It disrupted the black development in the city of Detroit.”
Demolished in the 1960s, the Black Bottom neighborhood was replaced by what is now known as Lafayette Park and I-375 highway.
Marsha Music’s connection to Black Bottom was through her late father, Jovan Battle, who came to Detroit from Macon, Georgia. “He was a records man. He owned a record shop on Hastings St. He played and sold the music of people who were coming from the south and who still had lived in Black Bottom.” Her father became the producer for the late Rev. C.L. Franklin and would later meet and record the first gospel albums for the late Aretha Franklin.
The historical marker designated by the State of Michigan will serve as a way to honor the legacy and resiliency of one of Detroit’s storied neighborhoods.
“I couldn’t be more honored to have this as my assignment,” said Robin Terry, Commissioner, Michigan Historical Commission and CEO of Motown Museum. “My great grandparents Barry Gordy Sr. came up from the south, they had the Gordy print shop and Booker T. Washington grocery store. So they were a part of this community. If we don’t tell our stories, someone else will. Our history will be lost.
The new historical marker was installed at the entry to Lafayette Central Park at 1400 East Lafayette Blvd.
The Michigan Department of Transportation plans to demolish I-375 to pave a new boulevard and business district, as part of a nationwide effort to rethink America’s cities.
The $330 million project will develop a six-lane boulevard that will include bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and green spaces.