Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan demolished for redevelopment in the early 1960s and replaced with the Lafayette Park. It was located on Detroit's Near East Side and was bounded by Gratiot Avenue, Brush Street, Vernor Highway, and the Grand Trunk railroad tracks. Its main commercial strips were on Hastings and St. Antoine streets.
An adjacent north-bordering neighborhood was known as Paradise Valley. The two were not, however, considered to be the same neighborhood. Historically, this area was the source of the River Savoyard, which was buried as a sewer in 1827. Its "bottom" and rich marsh soils are the source of the name "Black Bottom."
Hastings Street, which ran north-south through Black Bottom, had been a center of Eastern European Jewish settlement before World War I, but by the 1950s, migration transformed the strip into one of the city's major African-American communities of black-owned business, social institutions and night clubs. It became nationally famous for its music scene: major blues singers, big bands, and jazz artists—such as Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie—regularly performed in the bars and clubs of Paradise Valley entertainment district. It is also where Aretha Franklin's father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin first opened his New Bethel Baptist Church on Hastings Street.
Black Bottom suffered more than most areas during the Great Depression, since many of the wage earners worked in the hard-hit auto factories. During World War II, both the economic activity and the physical decay of Black Bottom rapidly increased. In the early 1960s, the City of Detroit conducted an Urban Renewal program to combat what it called "Urban Blight." The program razed the entire Black Bottom district and replaced it with the Chrysler Freeway and Lafayette Park, a mixed-income development designed by Mies van der Rohe as a model neighborhood combining residential townhouses, apartments and high-rises with commercial areas. Many of the residents relocated to large public housing projects such as the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects Homes and Jeffries Homes.
Black Bottom, Detroit
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, United States. The term has sometimes been used to apply to the entire neighborhood including Paradise Valley, but in fact, the two neighborhoods were considered separate. Together, both Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were bounded by Brush Street to the west, and the Grand Trunk railroad tracks to the east. Bisected by Gratiot Avenue, the area known as Black Bottom reached south to the Detroit River. To the north to Grand Boulevard was defined as Paradise Valley. Although the name "Black Bottom" is often erroneously believed to be a reference to the African-American community that developed in the twentieth century, the neighborhood was actually named by early French colonial settlers for the dark, fertile topsoil found in the area (known as river bottomlands). During World War I, Black Bottom was home to many Eastern European Jewish immigrants, but with the Great Migration and influx of southern African Americans, it became one of Detroit's most lively black neighborhoods. As the Black Bottom grew, it soon became known as a lively and bustling area filled with jazz bars and nightclubs.  From the 1930s to the 1950s, residents in Black Bottom made significant contributions to American music, including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz.  Despite the rich cultural and musical hub of Black Bottom, however, the neighborhood was plagued with urban poverty. Most of Black Bottom's residents were employed in manufacturing and the automotive factory jobs. Although some black business owners and clergymen operating in the neighborhood were able to rise to the middle class, they quickly fled Black Bottom and Paradise Valley for the more attractive Detroit West Side neighborhoods.  For the remainder of black residents, lack of access to New Deal housing benefits and segregation by way of redlining ensured entrapment in Black Bottom's subpar housing conditions.
In the early 1960s, the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods were demolished for the purpose of slum clearance and to make way for the construction of I-375.  Although the city's urban planners promised new public housing projects in replacement of Black Bottom, these developments were never affordable or open to Detroit's black residents. The once-thriving business district of Black Bottom was also bulldozed, ceased to exist. Black Bottom, as it used to be, exists now only as a symbol for both resilience and tragedy. In the face of deeply unjust housing practices and concentrated urban poverty, the neighborhood's African American residents created and maintained a lively and successful community, only to be later pushed out by city urbanization and highway construction.