Michigan has a rich heritage in terms of the civil rights movement and black history, and efforts are being made to ensure that it is not forgotten.
Five Michigan projects recently received more than $ 1.4 million in federal grants under the National Park Service 2020 African American Civil Rights program to help restore sites and history related to the struggle of African Americans for legality. Three of those projects are based in Detroit, the predominantly black city in the state.
“It’s a wonderful place to live with so much history that people are so proud of and people know a lot about it,” said Melanie Markowicz, curator and executive director of the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership. “We want to make sure that we have a lot more understanding, not only in our community but also for everyone.”
One of the preservation projects includes $ 425,959 awarded to Second Street Baptist Church. It was the last stop for many slaves and black southerners on the Underground Railroad seeking refuge in Detroit before crossing the border into Canada, according to Markowicz.
“He certainly has this rich and rich heritage and legacy in this area,” said Markowicz.
The Second Street Baptist Church congregation was formed in 1836. The original one-story structure was completed in 1851, an additional two-story structure in the 1880s, and two more structures were added in 1926 and 1968.
In 2021, the building needs a lot of repairs. It has a falling roof, leaks throughout the third floor, the stained glass needs to be stabilized, and members of the congregation currently do not have access to hot water.
“There is this threat to its existence, so this money was absolutely essential for the survival of the Second Baptist Church,” Markowicz said.
The same can be said for the house of Albert Kahn, which is currently owned and operated by the Urban League of Detroit. The non-profit organization, which provides services and advocacy for communities of color, received $ 500,000 in grants.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is using the grant to restore the roof,” said N. Charles Anderson, President and CEO of the Urban League of Detroit.
Albert Kahn was a prolific architect known throughout Michigan and the country for his work. Besides his home, a few notable buildings designed by Kahn include the Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory, the Addison Hotel, and the Dodge Truck Factory.
Kahn died in December 1942. After being taken over by the Urban League of Detroit soon after, his house rose to prominence in the community for hosting thousands of events in the house’s ballroom, according to Anderson. .
However, the vibrant life that was once seen in the house has dwindled in recent years due to her worsening condition.
“We’ve tried to maintain it all these years and our goal is to restore it and restore it as a resource for the Detroit Urban League and the community,” Anderson said.
Related: Detroit-Based Projects To Document Michigan’s Role In Civil Rights Movement
The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Michigan Strategic Fund was another grant recipient, with a $ 50,000 grant to document the history of black housing in the city of Inkster from 1920 to 1970.
SHPO will conduct a survey of the following sites to determine eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places: Ford-Inkster Homes, George Washington Carver Homes Public Housing Complex, LeMoyne Gardens Public Housing Complex, and the Subdivision of houses built east of Inkster Road on Lehigh and Hopkins streets.
Listing on the National Register of Historic Places would allow these properties to participate in historic preservation incentive programs, including the new state historic preservation tax credit. This project will provide the basic information necessary to complete the nominations to the National Register.
Ford-Inkster Homes will make up the majority of the SHPO project, said Amy Arnold, preservation planner at SHPO.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Inkster housed African Americans working at the Ford River Rouge factory. Unable to find housing in Detroit, Dearborn and other communities with discriminatory housing policies, they settled in an isolated area in southwest Inkster, living in conditions of overcrowding.
In 1938, Henry Ford authorized the Ford-Inkster Project to improve housing for black Ford workers by building 500 homes, two schools, and a medical center.
Ford stopped aid in 1941 when black workers supported the unionization of the Willow Run Bomber factory. The United Auto Workers (UAW) then lobbied for the construction of a federal public housing complex in Inkster for black defense workers, which was built in 1943. By 1957 Inkster had a fully-fledged housing commission. black.
Separate housing was one of the main issues facing the black population during this time. Segregated housing involved setting up businesses, public housing, restaurants, schools and more with few available resources.
“They pretty much had to handle things on their own,” Arnold said. “What we need to do is bring some reality to this, people still think black housing is the ghetto.”
The other two Michigan projects that received NPS grants were: Russell Woods – Sullivan Neighborhood in Detroit and Malcolm X House in Inkster.
Arnold said it’s important for grants like the NPS to help bring these five projects to fruition.
“These are the types of programs that preservation can help support these black history resources,” Arnold said.
In 2020, Second Street Baptist Church suffered a partial structural collapse of the Modernist part of the building. Markowicz said it was difficult for them to muster the money to repair the damage themselves.
“Like so many nonprofits and places of worship, funding capital improvements is very, very difficult,” Markowicz said.
The rise of gentrification threatened the existence of sites of significance to the black community.
Albert Kahn’s home, located at the corner of Mack Avenue and John R. Street, is within walking distance of Tiger’s Stadium, Ford Field and Little Caesar’s Arena. A Whole Foods Market can be seen across the street and it was recently announced that a target will be built a short distance away.
“The goal is to keep the properties owned by African Americans in the downtown area under redevelopment, just to help us maintain a presence that is part of the visibility of this area,” Anderson said.
Markowicz believes these projects will help highlight not only the civil rights movement, but also the issues that the black community continues to face.
“We intend to explore difficult stories because these stories are extremely difficult and the fight for equality continues today,” said Markowicz.