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Further Reading on Black Bottom/Paradise Valley

Black Bottom/Paradise Valley Annotated Bibliography

Please use our compiled list of secondary sources as further insight and as resources available for your personal interest or additional research. Listed in alphabetical order.

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Detroit Black Writer’s Guild. 1998. Paradise Valley Days: A Photo Album Poetry Book of Black Detroit, 1930’s to 1950’s. Detroit, Michigan: Detroit Guild.

Summary: This poetry book offers insightful first-hand accounts of what life was like in Black Bottom. The poems in this book deal with topics ranging from the Jazz Age and Black Bottom’s famous entertainment district to Black Bottom apartments and residential living. This resource is paramount in understanding and contextualizing Black Bottom and what the predominantly Black community meant to its residents, as well as how they lived within its space in Detroit. Through the experiences that are detailed here, it’s apparent to readers that Black Bottom provided a unique, inspirational neighborhood for its residents. Furthermore, this work by the Detroit Black Writer’s Guild details the celebrated camaraderie experienced in the community, and how its residents made the best out of being forcibly pushed into Black Bottom as the only suitable area for Blacks to live at the time.

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Fine, Sidney. 2007. Violence in the Model City: The Cavanaugh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit  Riot of 1967. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

SummaryViolence in the Model City: The Cavanaugh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967 examines the civil unrest that took place on July 23, 1967 in the wake of a raid of an after-hours bar, known as the Blind Pig. The civil disobedience that took place this night–and for the week thereafter–led to 43 deaths, roughly 700 injuries, and $75 million dollars worth of damages. The riots were preceded by racial segregation, such as that exhibited in the siting of Black Bottom. This source is useful to the study of Black Bottom because many of the residents that once lived in there had relocated to this area that was involved in the 1967 riots.

This book would be extremely important to any study of Detroit, its people, and its historical landscape as the Algiers Motel Incident became a monumental point in Detroit’s history of built up pressure and oppression and for future decades of learning how to deal and solve the aftermath. Despite race problems and separation of Blacks to the Black Bottom community, Detroit had been considered a “model city” for America before this event. After the riot, Detroit would no longer be considered an ideal metropolis and Black Bottom in particular, would never have the chance to succeed again as its old community.

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Gallagher, John. “When Detroit paved over paradise: The story of I-375.” Detroit Free Press. December 14,2013. Accessed February 22, 2014www.freep.com/article/20131215/OPINION/3121500060/Black-Bottom-Detroit-I-375-I-75-paradise-valley-removal.

Summary: John Gallagher discusses how the freeways I-375 and I-75 destroyed Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood. He specifically focuses on how the Black Bottom community was truly a “paradise” in many ways for Black entrepreneurs because many were able to manage thriving businesses in this area and own them when no other place in Detroit would let them do so. He discusses how Black Bottom was the place in Detroit where Blacks could be serviced because many of the major businesses/institutions (i.e. hospitals and funeral homes) in other neighborhoods would not service them. This also prompted them to create their own institutions in Black Bottom, further stimulating their own economy. Gallagher uses the well-known Barthwell Pharmacy – a once prosperous chain of Black owned pharmacies in the Black Bottom community – as an example of the type of businesses that the freeways destroyed. This article argues that city planners must come to a point where they realize neighborhoods need to be protected and the maintained and not just be viewed as places without value that can be paved over.

This is one of the many articles that takes a retrospective look onto the damaging effects that introduction of freeways did all over the country within urban cities. Pieces such as this as necessary to understand the shift in thinking of such practices and also in how neighborhoods, homes, and lives – like those in Black Bottom – could be so easily erased.

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Gunrow, Francis. “Paradise Lost: Hastings Street Remembered”, TheDetroiter.com,          http://www.thedetroiter.com/JUN03/DIGGINGMAY.html (accessed February 20, 2014).

Summary: As Detroit becomes recently recognized again as a renaissance city of art and culture, Francis Gunrow looks back on Detroit’s past music history, especially in its most famous music neighborhood on Hastings Street. He chronicles the move of Black Bottom’s Jewish population westward, which opened room for African-Americans to move in and develop a self-sufficient neighborhood full of stores, businesses, and a solid economy. He talks about the clubs that lined Paradise Valley and hosted famous acts of the time like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald amongst homegrown talent. Gunrow discusses the side effects of urban renewal onto Black Bottom, such as federally granted public housing, freeways, and creation of the interstate, and how it altered the land of the neighborhood dramatically. According to Gunrow, over 3,500 dwellings were demolished, displacing thousands of residents due to these programs. He concludes this article by reminiscing on the last piece of Paradise Valley to exist today, which was recently just replaced by Ford Field.

Gunrow’s article truly shows some of the genuine soul and culture that existed in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley along Hastings Street during the 1940’s. It provides a nostalgic look at the important place the land and space held in people’s hearts, and by nature of his writing, still does today. This article includes photos of past and present, links to take a virtual tour of Hastings Street today, and lyrics to an old song that was song around (and was about) Black Bottom.

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MacDonald, Thomas Harrison. “Revolt,” in Divided Highways, ed. Tom Lewis (New York City: Penguin Books, 1999), 179-210.

Summary: The article tells the problematic story of New Orleans’ elevated expressway as a lens to look at the problems with expressways and their implementation across the nation. Originally, the river through New Orleans was a natural definition to everything in the city: roads, businesses, etc. Beginning in even 1946 (before Eisenhower created a national trend to build connecting interstates) there was a plan to create an elevated expressway along the river for the city. The expressway mirrored what many thought as a good way to keep up their cities as modern, alive, and up-to-date “with the times”. The expressway would also provide traffic relief to the French Quarter and benefit ease for businesses. However, the expressway soon created waste and fumes that irritated people in the city, among a series of other problems for residents. Throughout the article, the author tells readers the story of how after that, long held assumptions began to change in New Orleans and across America on issues such as these that were supposed to be helpful, but often damaged and destroyed ways of life and areas for people without power. At the end of this lengthy article, the author reveals that fighting the expressway along the river through New Orleans was nicknamed the “Second Battle of New Orleans” – as a nod to the British battle fought there over a century and a half ago – because it represented the next challenge for the city and an “urban civil war [that was] raging across America’s landscape”.

The importance of this article to Black Bottom is summed up in its first quote on page one that reads, “Transportation… has the power to destroy as well as build.” This article lets readers understand more clearly why Detroit was built up with the power of transportation, by allowing those from the suburbs easy access to the city & keeping it modernly parallel with other US cities, but also how Detroit was destroyed by transportation. Cars, highways through neighborhoods, allowing wealthier residents to leave to the suburbs, White flight, and lowering of property values were all things that transportation negatively affected in Detroit. Some of these effects were seen most profoundly in Black Bottom and that’s why this resource is good for understanding the role of transportation in changing the landscape and future of Black Bottom.

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Martin, Elizabeth Anne. “Detroit and the Great Migration, 1916-1929″, Bentley Historical Library, http://bentley.umich.edu/research/publications/migration/ch1.php (accessed February 14, 2014).

Summary: In this web article, Elizabeth Anne Martin chronicles main events in the history of Detroit from 1916-1929. Martin begins the article outlining the first Great Migration and the effect it had on both White and Black citizens and the areas they lived in, as the moved from various places in the South to Detroit, Michigan. Soon after, racial tensions grew as thousands of African Americans moved to work in the factory jobs in Detroit and started up communities there. Martin describes how current Detroit citizens felt about the surplus of people moving in and the tension that the “newcomers” brought with them.

This article is important to the study of Black Bottom because it shares insight on the influx of Blacks into Detroit and why/how they came to the area. It also shares a point of view of how White people and those already established and living in Detroit felt as the newcomers arrived. Despite many accounts of Blacks and Whites working together in the factories, this article shares the perspective of life outside the factories and how the first Great Migration changed Black Bottom for both its existing community and Black people.

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Peterson, Bill. “20 Years After Riots, Inequalities Still Burden Detroit’s Blacks.” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), July 28, 1987. http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/docview/139166470/fulltextPDF?accountid=14667. (accessed February 8, 2014).

Summary: Bill Peterson takes a critical view of how the 1967 Riot/Rebellion, which was initiated by African Americans who were tired of being oppressed, changed the city, its people, and its land dramatically. Peterson also discusses how despite the 1967 rebellion being the most destructive form of racial uprising that had happened in the history of the city, it has still not resulted in much positive change 20 years later. He quotes a Michigan State University study, which shows that the same racial injustices during the 1960’s are still present, that the gap between Blacks and Whites has widened, and that access to housing and jobs are still limited for Blacks. While there were some gains that were seen following the rebellion (i.e. more Black representation in city government and the police force) these advances seem to be eroding again, as many Blacks are still struggling to find hope and feel that they can gain Black progress in Detroit. The author also shows how the blame for the city’s woes is varied: some blame the mayor, others blame the rebellion, and some blame unconcerned executives operating in the city. The overall point is that the Black population in Detroit is in many ways trying to overcome the same injustices that led to their uprising 20 years ago.

While not directly conveying much about the environment or land of Black Bottom, this resource is great for gaining a better understanding of the social issues surrounding Blacks in Detroit’s history and how that has transcended into the future. As almost every Black city in the State of Michigan right now is under an Emergency Manager, many Black people in Detroit still lack hope today that their social, environmental, and economic injustices can ever be different or corrected for. It adds the necessary understanding on how to place what events happened to the physical community space of Black Bottom and Black people in Detroit with their viewpoints and history.

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Pulido, Laura. “Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, no. 1 (2000): 12-40.

Summary: Laura Pulido’s paper focuses on environmental racism and the “spatial relationships between environmental hazards and community demographics”. She notes that by defining it environmentally and spatially, it is easier to see the lack of acknowledgement of racism, despite it being heavily prevalent. Her paper wants to address this problem, and does so by demonstrating how racism in itself (such as White privilege, who lives where, who decides space and land use, etc.), has contributed to environmental racism whether it meant to or not. She uses Southern California and the City of Los Angeles as a case example to prove this range of racism across the urban landscape, as well as “illuminate the functional relationships between place”, specifically between industrial and residential zones. Often, with regards to environmental racism, the two areas are pushed together, whereas in affluent areas that notion of mixing homes and industry would never be considered. Finally, one the last large underlying themes for her entire paper is a deeper examination on the history of White privilege and its role in racism and environmental racism.

This paper is extremely important for looking at the history of Black Bottom, and for understanding the ways in which we can seek and use environmental history too. Because Black Bottom is a neighborhood mixed heavily with racism and issues of skin color and class, Pulido’s paper allows readers to better define how that racism plays in the physical land and environment of Black Bottom. This paper is also beneficial to the study of Black Bottom because it contrasts such ideas with those of White privilege and power, which also affected Black Bottom since those were the people who got to ultimately make choices that would eat away at the Black community established in Detroit. As a neighborhood that has often been studied for its social & race issues, this paper is a nice way to begin to transition that previous study of Black Bottom into a lesser known environmental historical study, which still focuses on the dominant racism of the area.

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Reindl, JC. “Detroit planners try a softer approach to urban renewal”, Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com/article/20130210/NEWS01/302100118/Detroit-planners-try-a-softer-approach-to-urban-renewal (accessed February 21, 2014).

Summary: In JC Reindl’s Detroit Free Press article, he talks about the new urban reform plan for Detroit. Reindl interviews Edward Hustoles, a city planner in the 1950’s who recalled the effect the urban reform plan back then had on citizens of Detroit. Reindl compares the new Detroit Future City blueprint with the problems of previous reconstructing. Reindl later lays out some of the ideas that this new plan has in store for the Detroit.

This article is important to understanding how urban planning is constantly changing in ideas, practice, and implementation, with a specific lens on Detroit and Blackbottom that will aid in any research being conducted on Black Bottom and urban environmental history.

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The Near Eastsiders. Detroit’s Near Eastsiders: A Journey of Excellence Against the Odds. Detroit: The Detroit Black Writer’s Guild for The Near Eastsiders, 2008.

Summary: This book, created by the contributions of African-Americans from Detroit’s near Eastside and the Near Eastsider’s Group, tells the true story of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in the years spanning from 1920-1960 from those who knew it best. This book chronicles the lives of those lived in the area, as well as their contributions to Detroit and the nation, all well providing personal memories and a greater look at what was going on in the nation and the world during each era. The book includes informational chapters on Black Bottom schools, churches, celebrities, Black-owned businesses, entertainment, the Detroit Police & Fire Departments, sports history, and more. The book includes over 30 pages of personal family photo galleries, testimonials, and personal recollections on what it was like to live, work, and grow up in Black Bottom.

This book is constantly recommended as one of the great resources on Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley eastern neighborhoods because those who lived there and truly knew what it held in the hearts and minds of eastside Detroiters wrote it. It gives a great background understanding on what Black Bottom meant as a physical space and as a place to live for those interested in looking at the area through an environmental historical lens. Even the introduction on the first page gives a small but informative overview of the entire 40 year span of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley all while enticing the reader to delve deeper into the personal stories and treasures to be found inside.

This book is also a great resource for maps and photos that can lend a better idea of the area and its location within Detroit, as well as its people and the places they lived, socialized, worked, and worshipped.

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Thomas, Richard W. Life for Us Is What We Make It: Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915-1945 (Blacks in the Diaspora). Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Summary: Thomas’ novel addresses the processes involved in establishing black communities in the City of Detroit between the years 1915 and 1945. Readers of this source are able to further their understanding of the creation of Detroit’s black communities during these years, and the aim of their siting. Black Bottom was created for a predominantly Black community in the same way that the communities written by Thomas were built. By understanding the establishment of black communities from 1915 and 1945, one could understand the connection to place that those in these communities had and, as a result, the connection residents of Black Bottom had to the land for which they lived on.

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Wayne State University. “Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley Neighborhoods.” Walter P. Reuther Library. http:/reuther.wayne.edu/node/8609 (accessed February 13, 2014).

Summary: This website was created by the Walter P. Reuther Library Publication Committee and it discusses how Black Bottom and Paradise Valley provided housing and entertainment for the city’s Black community. The inhabitants of the area migrated from the South in hopes to receive better wages by working in Detroit’s factories. The site goes on to give a history of how Paradise Valley became the “go to” spot for nightlife entertainment. There were clubs, bars, and restaurants and it became referred to as Detroit’s version of Las Vegas’ Broadway or New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. The website also discusses how the increased number of people coming to the area in the 1940’s put a strain on the housing in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, which was already inferior, and that this ultimately led to the neighborhood being targeted for “urban renewal”. This is important because along with urban renewal came many environmental factors such as freeways cutting through the neighborhood, residents being displaced, and the destruction of the Black Bottom community.

This website includes photos of local historical areas from both Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in Detroit.

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Williams, Jeremy. Detroit: The Black Bottom Community. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing, 2009.

Summary: This book discusses Black Bottom as a space for Blacks to make a home and a community within Detroit, and the reasons why black migrants that were forced to live in this former European immigrant community upon arrival in Detroit. Throughout its existence, Black Bottom became a center for successes and failures, but these experiences led Black Bottom to be a vibrant, flourishing community for its residents for a little while.

This book is a good resource for a general understanding of the Black Bottom community, including how it was developed, how it grew, what it became at it’s economical and social height, and how it started to decline. It serves as a good jumping off point for any research into the neighborhood and to give background context to more specific research.

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Yates, Peter. “Detroit Journal; When Life in the Projects Was Good.” The New York Times. (1991). http://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/31/us/detroit-journal-when-life-in-the-projectswas-good.html (accessed March 10, 2014).

Summary: Peter Yates tries to shift the location in which people place the words “housing projects” in their concept map by giving the audience a depiction of the progression and life of the Brewster and Brewster-Douglass Housing projects in Black Bottom Detroit, and he uses narratives from former residences to do so. In their first-hand accounts, they describe the projects as a paradise to live in with its amenities and strong, safe sense of community. Yates describes the rich culture in the buildings, mentioning notable names such as Diana Ross, Joe Louis, and Stevie Wonder. He then goes on to state the cities decision of destroying the Brewster Projects and a similar impending fate to befall the Brewster-Douglass Projects. He acknowledges and explains where the negative connotations associated with “housing projects” come from and how Detroit’s projects also eventually became dilapidated. However, he also emphasizes on the positives surrounding the initial idea of housing projects and how pivotal they were to the development of Detroit.

This resource is a great study tool for the study of public housing within Black Bottom because it shares insight and reasoning onto both sides of the story of public housing: that it was once considered a paradise and model community ideal, and that it is now considered a slum and place for low-income and low-educated people to reside. It shows the differences in thought between those who initially developed the projects and who managed those who would live there, until these ideas changed and the system began to run downhill. The environmental history story of Black Bottom could not be told without talking about its public housing and land use, and this is a wonderful resource to do just that.

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Other websites that may be of interest: