Detroit – Black Bottom. The name Black Bottom had nothing to do with who lived there. The original French farmers named the neighborhood because of its low elevation and the rich dark soil which they found to be good for farming.
The name Black Bottom had nothing to do with who lived there. The original French farmers named the neighborhood because of its low elevation and the rich dark soil which they found to be good for farming.
Before the Great Migration, in the late 1800’s, Black Bottom was a mixed community of Irish, Italians, Germans, Romanians as well as Russian Jews as well as African-Americans.
Usually these groups settled in smaller communities within Black Bottom, such as the Germans who live mainly near Gratiot, in an area known as “Little Berlin.”
Employment for African-Americans in Black Bottom was difficult, as most men had to compete with the various immigrant groups who were often seen as more hirable then blacks.
Women often worked as Domestic servants, which meant a life of long hours and six-day work weeks with little to no time for a social life.
One of the groups that helped African-Americans find jobs, and adjust to life in the North was the Detroit Urban League. The Urban League did everything from job placement to social work.
Those African-Americans who were able to find jobs in the Auto industry were often placed in the most undesirable jobs, such as working in the foundry or in the paint shops.
Housing was one of the major issues in Black Bottom. The housing had always been crowded together in the neighborhood, but with the arrival of African-Americans, landlords raised rents to people who had nowhere else to go.
In addition, some of the housing became condemned by the city, which caused the housing shortage to become even more acute.
Closing these buildings was designed to revitalize the neighborhood but the buildings were never rebuilt, which in turn became a blight.
The eventual solution to the housing crisis was to build public housing. However, since whites used their political connections to block projects from being built in or near their neighborhoods, the only place to build was in areas that already had black residents.
When they were completed in 1941, the Brewster Homes had 941 housing units, available to residents who were employed and met earnings requirements. One resident who moved in, in 1950, described it as “dying and going to heaven.”
Despite the shortage of housing and the discrimination in the job market, Black Bottom became a thriving African-American community.
By 1920, African-Americans owned 350 businesses in Detroit, all located inside Black Bottom. The community included doctors, lawyers, restaurants, tailors, dentists, drugstores, grocers and real estate agents.
Hastings Street was the heart of Black Bottom, which ran south to “Paradise Valley” the entertainment district.