Detroit Historical Society launches interactive Black Bottom walking tour

Tour will be running through 2022

Black & white photograph depicting a view along Winder Street, looking east from Hastings Street. To the left is Little Mack's Confectionery Grocery. Parked cars line the street. Several men stand on the northeast corner. Dated April 25, 1960. (Detroit Historical Soceity)

The Detroit Historical Society is debuting a new, interactive exhibit honoring the history of Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood.

“Invoking the Spirit: Detroit’s Black Bottom” will open on Sept. 15 in Lafayette Park, in partnership with Design Core Detroit and Octane Design for the 2021 Detroit Month of Design, with community partnership from Bailey Park Neighborhood Development Corporation and Black Bottom Archives.

The self-directed walking tour is told through the lens of former Black Bottom residents and their descendants.

Experience the tour anytime by walking through Detroit’s Lafayette Plaisance Park (1592 Antietam Ave, Detroit, MI 48207). It will be on display through 2022.

Each stop on the tour is indicated by a colorful marker with historical photos, information and QR codes. To explore further, just scan the code with your smart phone. Some elements can be accessed using any mobile device (no smart phone needed).

Tourgoers will be in ‘conversation’ with Black Bottom residents through oral histories, images, video and everyday neighborhood narratives from the ones who knew it best – the neighbors.

Black Bottom was a predominately Black neighborhood in Detroit that was demolished for redevelopment in the late 1950s, and was replaced with the Lafayette Park district and I-375. (Read more here from DHS)

Related: Historic marker pays tribute to Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood


Future of I-375 and Black Bottom

From Local 4′s Larry Spruill: Thousands of cars drive the stretch of freeway everyday either heading into, or leaving Downtown Detroit.

It runs through an area called Black Bottom, which once stretched from Lafayette Park to Hastings. When it was built I-375 cleaved apart and all but destroyed the vibrant Black community of Black Bottom.

Read: Remembering Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood

Historian Jamon Jordan with Black Scroll Network for History and Tours said many don’t know the history behind the busy freeway, or the area that surrounded it.

Jordan said the influential area had Black-owned businesses, restaurants and movie theaters.

“I-375 was built due to the 1956 Federal Interstate Highway Act. Many of these interstate highways would destroy, disrupt and wipeout African American business districts and African American residential communities,” Jordan said.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced that there are plans to pave over I-375 and turn it into a Boulevard. That would make the area more residential and business-friendly.

However, MDOT is still waiting for federal approval to begin the project. The project has been discussed for years and wouldn’t even begin until 2027.

A mile-long stretch of freeway leading into Downtown Detroit has long been a point of controversy dating back to when it was built.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.