Black Bottom, Detroit

Coordinates: 42°20′26″N 83°02′27″W / 42.34056°N 83.04083°W / 42.34056; -83.04083
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 many consider the two neighborhoods to be separate.[1] Together, Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were bounded by Brush Street to the west, the Grand Trunk railroad tracks to the east, south to the Detroit River, and bisected by Gratiot Avenue. The area north of Gratiot Avenue to Grand Boulevard was defined as Paradise Valley.[2]

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).[3] During World War I, Black Bottom was home to many Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and the Great Migration influx of southern African Americans combined with redlining created a majority black neighborhood within Detroit.[4] As the Black Bottom grew, it soon became known as a lively area with jazz bars and nightclubs.[4] From the 1930s to the 1950s, residents in Black Bottom made significant contributions to American music, including blues, Big Band, and jazz.[5]

Despite the rich cultural and musical hub of Black Bottom, the neighborhood was plagued with urban poverty. Most of Black Bottom's residents were employed in manufacturing and the automotive factory jobs. Some black business owners and clergymen operating in the neighborhood were able to rise to the middle class,however many moved to the newer and better-constructed Detroit West Side neighborhoods.[4] Historical lack of access for the general population of African Americans to New Deal and Veterans Administration housing benefits combined with redlining segregated the neighborhoods from surrounding areas.

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.[4] Homes and businesses were demolished and residents relocated to outside neighborhoods.[2][6]


Lafayette Park Detroit redevelopment over Black Bottom

Historically, this geographical area was the source of the River Savoyard, which was buried as a sewer in 1827.[7] The river's flooding produced rich bottomland soils, for which early French colonial settlers named the area "Black Bottom".[8] Before World War I, European immigrants populated the area and built the frame houses that would later be razed for urban renewal.[4]

In the early twentieth century, European immigrants and blacks lived together in an ad-hoc integrated neighborhood.[4] Coleman Young, the first black mayor of Detroit, moved to Black Bottom with his family in 1923; he states his neighbors as Italian, Syrian, German, and Jewish. Young is quoted as having "loved that neighborhood."[9] Surrounding neighborhoods passed restrictive covenants prohibting blacks from purchasing or renting property in the adjacent areas, functionally confining residents to Black Bottom.[4] During the Great Migration, the area was primarily settled by blacks who established a community of businesses, social institutions, and night clubs. Detroit's Broadway Avenue Historic District contains a sub-district sometimes called the Harmonie Park District. It is associated with the legacy of Detroit's music from the 1930s-1950s.[5]

The area's main commercial avenues were Hastings and St. Antoine streets. Paradise Valley contained night clubs where famous artists such as Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, and Count Basie regularly performed.[10] In 1941, the city's Orchestra Hall was named Paradise Theatre. Reverend C. L. Franklin, father of singer Aretha Franklin, originally established his New Bethel Baptist Church on Hastings Street. Paradise Valley housed the Gotham Hotel, which was known as a safe and upscale hotel for African Americans. Gotham Hotel was demolished in 1963.[11] Black Bottom's business district contained doctor's offices, hospitals, drug stores, and other services.[12]

Black Bottom was one of the poorest and densest sections of Detroit, with a third of black Detroiters living within Paradise Valley.[4] Homes commonly held three to four families within the dwelling. Overcrowding, disease, crime, and vermin ran rampant within the boundaries of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley.[4] Income inequality and redlining contributed to deferred housing upkeep and maintenance, which further deteriorated housing conditions.[4]

Following World War II, two-thirds of the physical structures of Black Bottom had been classified as aging and substandard, lacking modern amenities, or sitting in significant disrepair.[4] The city government considered these areas slums and designated those remaining after the highway construction for clearance through a series of revitalization projects.[4] Areas of both Black Bottom and Paradise Valley faced destruction for the construction of medical and city-run institutions, as well as public housing projects.[4]" The passage of the Federal Housing Act of 1949 funded demolition.[13] The City of Detroit sent photographers out to document structures, the area dismissed as a "slum." The approximately 2,000 images document clapboard houses, churches, and corner stores; many of which appear in better repair than the formal descriptions. The photographs are now housed in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library.[14][13][6] By 1950, 423 residences, 109 businesses, 22 manufacturing plants, and 93 vacant lots had been condemned for one freeway project.[4]

The Federal Highway Act of 1956 funded the highway construction over Hastings Street and surrounding city blocks.[4] The highways, such as the Chrysler (formerly Oakland-Hastings) Freeway, bisected the rest of the Lower East Side, including Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. The Edsel Ford Freeway also cut through the northernmost part of Paradise Valley.[4]

The sites of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were replaced with private housing from the Gratiot Redevelopment Project.[4] The City of Detroit also supported construction of Lafayette Park, a modernist residential development designed by Mies van der Rohe, intended as a model neighborhood containing residential townhouses, apartments and high-rises with commercial areas. Many of the former residents of Black Bottom were relocated to public housing projects, such as the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects (a public housing project built near Black Bottom starting in the 1930s) and Jeffries Homes. Jeffries Home was demolished in 2001 and Brewster-Douglass demolished in 2008.[7][15][16]

In 2000, the final three structures of Paradise Valley were razed.[17] A Michigan Historical Site marker sign on the former intersection of Adams Avenue and St. Antoine St., currently near Ford Field, exists as the last physical marker of the neighborhood.[18]

Architect Emily Kutil plans to recreate the neighborhood virtually, using photos from the Detroit Public Library's Burton Historical Collection, through a website called Black Bottom Street View.[19] The website will purportedly also feature oral histories from past residents.

The University of Michigan and Olympia Development have announced a new project at 1400 S. Antoine St. (at the intersection of Gratiot Ave. and I-375) for a 190,000 square feet structure including [20] "residential units, a hotel, a conference center and a business collaboration and incubation space."[21] Project funders include Stephen M. Ross and Dan Gilbert. Professor Stephen Ward of the University of Michigan's Department of Afro-American studies has challenged the project; he signed a petition entitled "#UMichRegentrifiers: Invest in Detroiters" which has been created by a University of Michigan student opposing the project.[22] In September 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration awarded Detroit a $104-million Department of Transportation grant for the I-375 project in Detroit which would demolish the current 1.062 mile-long sunken highway to construct a proposed lower speed boulevard at street-level by 2024. This project will reconnect neighborhood streets cut off by the sunken highway for decades.[23]


Historically, the primary business district was in an area bounded by Vernor, John R., Madison, and Hastings, with Gratiot Avenue running through the district as a spoke on the "hub-and-spoke" road layout of Detroit.[8] [24] The business district included hotels, restaurants, music stores, bowling alleys, shops, policy offices, and grocery stores. There were 17 nightclubs in the business district.[25] The sunken I-375 highway passes directly over where Hastings Ave. once was.[26]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Black Bottom Neighborhood". Detroit Historical Society. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  2. ^ a b MacDonald, Cathy. "Detroit's Black Bottom and Paradise Valley Neighborhoods". Walter P. Reuther Library. Archived from the original on August 3, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2015.
  3. ^ Binelli, p. 20. "The name was not as racist as it sounds: the area was originally named by the French for its dark, fertile topsoil."
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Sugrue, Thomas J. (2005). The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. United States: Princeton University Press. pp. 23, 24, 47, 62, 196. ISBN 978-0691121864.
  5. ^ a b Baulch, Vivian (August 7, 1996). "Paradise Valley and Black Bottom". The Detroit News. Archived from the original on February 15, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood: See it then and now". Detroit Free Press. February 26, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Detroit Historical Society, "Black Bottom Neighborhood," Encyclopedia of Detroit. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  8. ^ a b Woodford, p. 170. "[...]i became the predominantly black residential section known as Black Bottom, so named for the rich, dark soil on which early settlers farmed."
  9. ^ "Bringing Detroit's Black Bottom back to (virtual) life". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  10. ^ "Paradise Valley | Detroit Historical Society".
  11. ^ "Gotham Hotel, Detroit, Michigan (1943-1963) •". March 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Wade Goodwyn; Christopher M Cook (directors) (2011). The Sprawling of America (DVD video). Great Lakes Television Consortium.
  13. ^ a b Michael Hodges (January 9, 2019). "Detroit's Black Bottom resurrected at Detroit Public Library". The Detroit News.
  14. ^ Amy Crawford (February 15, 2019). "Capturing Black Bottom, a Detroit Neighborhood Lost to Urban Renewal (Scenes From a Historic Community in Detroit Just Before Its Erasure)".
  15. ^ "Street near old Jeffries Projects named after Willie Horton | Roots (Community)". The Michigan Chronicle. May 24, 2019. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  16. ^ "Here's why the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects were built in the 1930s". March 17, 2015. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  17. ^ "Paradise Valley - MichMarkers". Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  18. ^ "Before Motown: A History of Jazz and Blues in Detroit". Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  19. ^ "Bringing Detroit's Black Bottom back to (virtual) life". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  20. ^ "Introducing the Detroit Center for Innovation world-class research and education in the heart of Detroit". Detroit Center for Innovation. Archived from the original on November 11, 2019.
  21. ^ Reporter, Madeline McLaughlin Daily Staff (October 30, 2019). "'U' announces $300 million innovation center in Detroit". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  22. ^ Gallagher, John (November 8, 2019). "Secret deal-making process for new U-M facility in downtown Detroit has downsides". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved November 11, 2019.
  23. ^ Beggin, Riley (September 15, 2022). "Federal grant funds a third of I-375 replacement project". The Detroit News. Retrieved September 21, 2022.
  24. ^ "".
  25. ^ Woodford, pp. 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."
  26. ^ Yen, Hope (September 15, 2022). "Buttigieg awards grant to tear down divisive Detroit highway". The Seattle Times. The Associated Press. Retrieved September 16, 2022.


External links[edit]

42°20′26″N 83°02′27″W / 42.34056°N 83.04083°W / 42.34056; -83.04083