City StoriesMichigan

Detroit, MI

The Detroit Ghetto: The Rise and Decline of an American City

From East Side Detroit to West Side Detroit

In a city where if you can make it there then you can make it anywhere, the Detroit ghetto has created and produced a number of entrepreneurs, businessmen, and hustlers.

The story of Detroit includes the rise of a community, racism, and finally a decline of one of America’s largest cities.

History of East Side Detroit & West Side Detroit

To begin, the Detroit black population in the beginning was restricted on places they were able to live at, due to segregation.

With the days of segregation forcing the Detroit black population to be centered in one specific area, sections of the East Side Detroit became designated for the black community.

The main black communities were located in two areas, Paradise Valley and the Black Bottom with Hastings Street being the heart of the Detroit black population.

Paradise Valley was more of a black business and entertainment district and the Black Bottom was more of a community for the city’s black citizens.

While Hastings Street was the biggest black section of Detroit, blacks did live in other parts of the city like Conant Gardens, a small section of Hamtramck or around West Warren between Grand Boulevard and Grand River.

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A nightclub in the once famous Black Bottom. Courtesy of Knight Foundation/Flickr

One of the first housing projects to be built strictly for black families in the United States was the Brewster Homes.

The Brewster Homes were built from the late 1930s to the 1950s as additions that were added to the Brewster-Douglass Housing Project.

Other than the Brewsters, there were the Jefferies constructed in the 1950s and Herman Gardens built in the 1940s.

Detroit’s housing projects were mostly demolished, abandoned, or rebuilt by the late 90s and early 2000s.

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The Brewster Homes. Courtesy Bryan Debus & Flickr

The Detroit black population in the community grew during the early 1900s as southerners migrated from small towns in states like Alabama.

With the movement of African-Americans into Detroit the population equaled to over 100,000 by the 1930s.

With the help of employment opportunities in the automobile industry, as well the wartime positions that were available, the Detroit black population continued to increase over the years.


Racial Tension in the Early Days

Before the city became predominantly black, the Detroit black history story must touch on the amount of racial tension in the city.

When African-Americans first came to Detroit they would receive the lowest pay wages and/or the least important duties to perform.

When the job market slowed down, black workers were the first to be laid off and when it was time to be hired they were the first to be discriminated against.

The racial tension also caused a number of riots and protests within the community throughout the years.

The Sojourner Truth Homes, on the East Side off Nevada Avenue, was one of the city’s first racial protest.

As the need of housing was important to the city with workers living in overpopulated neighborhoods, the government decided to build two housing projects one for whites and the other for blacks.

The decision to place a housing project in a section that was next to the already black middle-class neighborhood of Conant Gardens brought protest within the white population of Detroit.

During the 1940s, black families were being sued whenever they attempted to move into a non-African-American community, until the Supreme Court saw it was unlawful to prevent people of living in a certain neighborhood due to race.

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Scene of the 1960s Detroit Riots

The biggest event in the Detroit black history story was the Detroit Riots during the summer of 1967.

After years of experiencing discrimination, the frustration led to a week long riot of destroying neighborhood businesses and battling the law enforcement.

After the riot, the population loss of Detroit increased, as well the loss of local businesses.

The decline of the city began with hundreds of families leaving the city for Oakland County during the 1950s and 1960s, making the majority of the residents to reside in the suburbs rather than the city of Detroit.

The movement eventually led to 8 Mile Road to become the racial dividing line between the Detroit ghetto and the suburban communities of Oakland County.


Streets of East Side Detroit & West Side Detroit

Between the 1970s and the 2000s, a new era of Detroit came into effect, in which the streets of the Detroit ghetto created a number of hustlers in the form of Young Boys Incorporate, Black Mafia Family, Pony Down, Cash Flow Posse, Dog Pound, and many more.

Before the 1970s, the Italian Mob had the most control in Detroit from the beginning of the Prohibition to the height of the heroin trade, with the Detroit Partnership, also known as the Detroit Combination.*

Even though there have been a number of affiliations in Detroit that include the Bloods and Crips after the days of homegrown old school gangs like the Errol Flynns, the claim of a neighborhood in the Detroit ghetto seems to be greater than any affiliation.

The Detroit ghetto of East Side Detroit has areas like Mack Ave, East Warren, 7 Mile / Red Zone, Chedda Ave (Chalmers Ave), Morang or Van Dyke.

West Side Detroit has areas like the Number Streets, Joy Road, P-Rock (Plymouth Road), Brightmoor, Fenkell or 5 Mile, 6 Mile, Puritan, the Dexter and Linwood section.

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Another section is the Southwest, which is more diverse with blacks, whites, and Latino’s in communities like Delray or McGraw Street.

As the years passed, many middle-class black families repeated the movement of moving into the suburbs like Southfield or surrounding areas.

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One of the biggest factors for the decline of Detroit was the closing of many factories and industries as employment opportunities moving further from the city center.

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With a lack of employment around the city and many people relocating out of the city, Detroit began to deteriorate as the city’s tax base declined, making tens of thousands of vacant lots and houses throughout the city.

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*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research.  Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.

Detroit History Sources: