Black Bottom, Detroit
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Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, that was demolished and replaced with Lafayette Park in the 1960s. The Black Bottom–Paradise Valley area on the city's east side became known for its significant contribution to American music including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz from the 1930s to the 1950s. It was located on Detroit's near East Side bounded by Gratiot Avenue, Brush Street, Vernor Highway, and the Grand Trunk railroad tracks.
The French gave the Black Bottom area its name because of its fertile, dark topsoil. The name is not a reference to 'black people'.
The area's main commercial avenues were Hastings and St. Antoine streets. An adjacent north-bordering area known as Paradise Valley contained night clubs where famous Blues, Big Band, and Jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie regularly performed. In 1941, the city's Orchestra Hall was named Paradise Theatre. Aretha Franklin's father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin, first opened his New Bethel Baptist Church on Hastings Street. Hastings Street, which ran north-south through Black Bottom, had been an area populated by immigrants before World War I. With ethnic succession, by the 1950s it became an African-American community of black-owned business, social institutions, and night clubs. Historically, this area was the source of the River Savoyard, which was buried as a sewer in 1836. Its rich soils are the source of the name "Black Bottom". Detroit's Broadway Avenue Historic District contains a sub-district sometimes called the Harmonie Park District which has taken on the renowned legacy of Detroit's music from the 1930s through the 1950s and into the present.
Black Bottom endured the Great Depression, with many of its residents working in factories. Following World War II, the physical structures of Black Bottom were in need of replacement. In the early 1960s, the City of Detroit demolished the Black Bottom district as part of an urban renewal project. The area was replaced by the Chrysler Freeway (Interstate 75) and Lafayette Park, a residential development designed by Mies van der Rohe and intended as a model neighborhood. It combined 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.
Historically, its primary business district was in an area bounded by Vernor, John R., Madison, and Hastings. Gratiot Avenue passed through that business district. The business district included hotels, restaurants, music stores, bowling alleys, shops, policy offices, and grocery stores. There were 17 nightclubs in that business district.
- Marvin Gaye
- Berry Gordy
- Della Reese
- Smokey Robinson
- The Supremes (some members)
- Stevie Wonder
- Joe Louis
- Binelli, Mark. Detroit City is the Place to Be. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company (New York). First Edition, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8050-9229-5 (hardback version).
- Woodford, Arthur M. This is Detroit, 1701-2001. Wayne State University Press, 2001. ISBN 0814329144, 9780814329146.
- Vivian Baulch (August 7, 1996).Paradise Valley and Black Bottom.Detroit News, Retrieved January 15, 2013.
- Binelli, p. 20. In the footnote: "The name was not as racist as it sounds: the area was originally named by the French for its dark, fertile topsoil."
- Woodford, p. 170. "[...]i became the predominately black residential section known as Black Bottom, so named for the rich, dark soil on which early settlers farmed."
- Woodford, p. 170-171. "John R. on the west, and with Gratiot cutting through it, was the area's business district. It contained shops, music stores, grocery stores, bowling alleys, hotels, restaurants, policy offices, and seventeen nightclubs — all 170 Chapter Fifteen."