Black History: Special Delivery!!

Wailing Wall/8 Mile Wall
Wailing Wall/8 Mile Wall

The Wailing Wall of Detroit, MI (also referred to as 8 Mile Wall or Birwood Wall) is a concrete wall which stands 6 feet high and is a foot thick. The wall extends for approximately half a mile. It is a visible reminder of racial segregation in the City of Detroit. Following World War I, blacks migrated to Detroit in great numbers. Detroit was a major industrial center and at the time was home to a large immigrant population as well. Detroit’s industrial complex provided employment opportunities that drew many blacks from the South in search of a better life. They settled in segregated neighborhoods downtown such as Black Bottom and Paradise Valley as well as in the country-side which would later become Brightmoor and Wyoming Avenue on the Northwest Side of Detroit.

As Detroit continued to grow, it’s rural farmland was quickly being developed into housing developments. These housing developments were financed in part by loans from the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). However, the FHA would not give loans in neighborhoods that were deemed to be “undesirable” or “distressed”. These terms were used as code words that represented neighborhoods with a significant number of Jews and/or Blacks. As a result, the Wyoming/8 Mile area of Detroit remained largely undeveloped. Access to land in the inner city was rapidly being developed mostly for manufacturing companies. As a result, developers began looking at land near the Wyoming/8 Mile area in Northwest Detroit. In order to secure FHA loans for potential white buyers, developers would have to address the locations proximity to black neighborhoods that were already established in the area.  In 1941, a development company proposed the idea of building a wall to separate the new housing that would be built for whites, from the existing black neighborhood. It was mainly symbolic in nature. However, it served as a clear dividing line between black and white neighborhoods. This “symbolic” gesture satisfied the FHA, and it began to approve loans to build houses in the area.

Over time, the neighborhoods did integrate, due to the advances gained through the civil rights movement, the growth of the black middle class, and the eventual exodus of whites from the community. The wall still stands today, a visible memory of the impact of segregation and discrimination.

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