During a time of segregation in the US, there was one destination in Detroit where people from around the world, no matter their color or culture flocked to for a great time. That was “Paradise Valley,” where thousands of African Americans thrived and owned over 300 businesses. It was located in an area known as Black Bottom.
“Different immigrant groups came and lived in this area from the 1800′s all the way until it was destroyed. However, by the time we get to the 1930′s the largest group that would be living in the area that was once known as Black Bottom were African Americans,” said Jamon Jordan, an historian for the city of Detroit.
Black Bottom spread across about a 3-mile radius area in Detroit just east of downtown since the 1700′s. During the great migration to the city between 1910 and 1930, Black Detroiters dominated the area, and thrived.
“All the types of businesses that African Americans would need, tailors for people who need clothes, clothing stores would have been here, the furniture shops, the restaurants, the bakeries,” Jordan said. “There were doctor, dentist and law offices; just about any business you can name, over 350, mainly Black owned.”
Some businesses were located in Black Bottom, but most located on Hastings Street in an adjacent area known as Paradise Valley. It was a place that during a time of racial segregation, would bring everyone together, especially when the sun went down.
“The 1920′s, 30′s and 40′s the popular music form is jazz, big band, swing jazz, that is the Beyonce music of the 1920′s through the 1940′s so if you want to hear that kind of performing you gotta go to the Black area,” Jordan said.
The nightlife in Paradise Valley not only brought all cultures and races together, it was the place to go for the who’s, who in the entertainment industry. People would come from around the world to enjoy the nightlife, but that jubilation would be short lived, and slowly the music would be silenced, Paradise Valley and Black Bottom would soon be something of the past.
“So it begins to lose a lot of their White patrons after the 1943 race riot then definitely about time we get to the destruction of Black Bottom in 1949 Paradise Valley is severely suffering now because many people who would have been there customers and workers were displaced by the destruction of Black Bottom,” said Jordan.
The Urban Renewal plan known as the Gratiot Redevelopment, approved by the mayor and city council in the 1940′s, began the process of building new development in this area, while displacing Black Bottom residents and Black business owners.
The Paradise Valley area now houses big developments like Comerica Park and Ford Field. The former Black Bottom neighborhood is made up of high-rise buildings and condos. Where thousands of Black Bottom residents lived is now Lafayette Park. In the shadows of the buildings is a new walking exhibit launched by the Detroit Historical Society and Design Core Detroit, which tells the stories of those residents from their words and those of their descendants.
All the displays are interactive. There are QR codes on each display you can scan to get more in-depth info.
To see the vibrant nightlife of Paradise Valley in Black Bottom watch the video above.