5 Detroit sites recognized as historic for role in Civil Rights Movement

National Park Service deems Birwood Wall, WGPR-TV Studio, more as historic Civil Rights sites

WGPR-TV is significant as the first Black-owned and operated television station in the United States. Founded by attorney William R. Banks, the station debuted in September 1975, a decade after African Americans challenged the FCC on the lack of Black programming. WGPR-TV aired an Afro-centric focused newscast, a dance show, and public affairs features. In addition to providing an African American perspective on news and current affairs, it also afforded career and training opportunities behind the camera for Black students and professionals. The station was eventually sold to CBS in 1995 when it transitioned to general programming and changed its call sign to WWJ. The interior studio space retains a high degree of integrity from the WGPR-TV television station era. It has since been transformed into the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum which chronicles the origins and influence of WGPR. Photo provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. (Michigan Economic Development Corporation)

DETROIT – Five places in Detroit have been officially deemed historic for their role in the Civil Rights Movement.

On Friday, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) announced that the National Park Service recognized the following Detroit locations as historic Civil Rights sites:

  • Birwood Wall, located along the alleyway between Birwood Avenue and Mendota Street from Eight Mile Road to Pembroke Avenue,
  • New Bethel Baptist Church, 8430 Linwood Street,
  • Rosa L. and Raymond Parks Flat, 3201-3203 Virginia Park Street (private residence),
  • Shrine of the Black Madonna of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, 7625 Linwood Street, and
  • WGPR-TV Studio, 3146 East Jefferson Avenue.

“These places are associated with both the struggles and successes of the African American community in Detroit during the volatile mid-twentieth century. The Civil Rights Movement sought to demand equality for African Americans in the North as much as in the South,” said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Martha MacFarlane-Faes. “By listing these sites, the National Register recognizes Detroit’s significant role in the growth of the movement. They embody the wide range of issues the Black community encountered as it worked toward empowerment during this period.”

Related: Detroit’s historic WGPR-TV station helped amplify Black voices for decades

Learn more about the Detroit spots and their significance in the photo gallery below.

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The Birwood Wall is significant for its association with the federal policy of redlining that ensured neighborhoods would remain racially segregated in the mid-twentieth century. The wall is a six-foot-high solid concrete wall that stretches for three blocks. It was constructed in 1941 to physically divide two growing neighborhoods, one White and one Black. It is a rare surviving, tangible, human-scale example of the lengths to which the government, the real estate profession, private developers, and White residents were willing to go to keep neighborhood populations the same race. Redlining meant African Americans rarely qualified for federal mortgage loans and thus were denied participation in the American Dream of homeownership that characterized the postwar era. The wall can be publicly viewed from the Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground. Photo provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Officials say these five sites now join nearly 2,000 existing historic sites in Michigan that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The newly-selected sites were chosen by a 14-person Civil Rights advisory committee comprised of local historians familiar with Detroit’s Black history, as well as staff members from the State Historic Preservation Office and Detroit’s Historic Designation Advisory Board, officials said.

“On behalf of the officers and members of the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Calhoun Falls, S.C. Monrovia and Ganta City, Liberia we are honored to receive this national historical landmark designation,” said Shrine of the Black Madonna Bishop Mbiyu Chui. “We continue to build and expand upon the legacy of our beloved founder, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. who devoted his life and ministry to the mission of transforming urban ghettoes into Christian communities to bring about equality, justice and freedom for his people at home and abroad.”

You can learn more about historically-recognized Civil Rights locations in Detroit a the MEDC’s website here.

More: Stories celebrating Black history

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.