(NOTE: This is the complete text of a Twitter thread I wrote this morning.)
Thread. Since we’re talking about walls that can be seen as monuments to hate, let me tell you about the wall in Detroit, the last remaining tangible marker of America’s apartheid system.
Back in the 1940s, Detroit was one of the wealthiest and busiest cities in the world. Henry Ford and his automotive cohorts were recruiting thousands of workers, including many Southern blacks who left the Jim Crow South in the Great Migration, in search of a better life.
African-Americans found pockets of space in Detroit where they could build homes and businesses and communities. As whites ran out of space, those black neighborhoods were often destroyed and cleared so that roads and white businesses could be built where the barbershops and jazz clubs once stood. In north central Detroit, not far from Eight Mile, black families had carved out a neighborhood for themselves. However, a white developer turned his eye to the area just west of the black community.
He applied to the FHA for loan guarantees, but was denied because his proposed development was too close to the black neighborhood. He was determined and decided to try something extreme.
When the FHA labelled a neighborhood as risky and unworthy of loan guarantees, they drew red lines around the borders on the map. That’s the origin of the term “red-lining.” When the developer was denied by the FHA, he decided to build a wall in 1941, nearly half a mile long.
The Detroit Wall, also known as Detroit’s Wailing Wall, is six feet high and about a foot thick. After the wall went up, physically isolating the black neighborhood, the government decided to give the developer FHA approval.
It was a physical barrier separating the races and a monument to racial hatred that still stands. Whites left that area in the 1970s and so, for more than half a century, blacks have dominated the neighborhoods on both sides of the wall.
Yet, it still stands, as a reminder of how real racism is, how racism was supported by government policy, and how it does real damage to real people.
The wall is now decorated with colorful murals, paintings of kids blowing bubbles and Rosa Parks getting onto a bus. (Parks lived in Detroit for many years.)
The Detroit Wall is a monument to hatred, yes, but also to folly. To the toxic foolishness we sometimes engage in, all in the name of bettering our own community by hurting another. I highly recommend a visit.