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Colorful Mural Wall That Divided Blacks and Whites in Detroit

I took a short trip to Detroit to locate the Eight Mile Wall. On the north side of Detroit, the six-foot wall known as the Birwood Wall, Wailing Wall, or Berlin Wall, was built in the 1940s to serve as a barrier to separate black families living on the east side from a housing development for white families on the west side. The wall is a 1/2 mile between Mendota and Birwood Street through the back yards of houses.

Black children who grew up in the neighborhood didn't know why the wall was built. Some asked their parents about the wall, but they didn't want to tell their children about the significance of the concrete segregated wall. Children, playfully, would walk on top of the wall, not understanding the purpose of the wall. It wasn't until they became teenagers that they knew why the wall was put up.

(Credit: USA Today)

(Credit: Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University)

Southern blacks migrated to Detroit around 1914. During that time, the city was booming with economic and industrial opportunities. When the European War, ended, blacks found jobs in mills and factories in cities in the north, including Detroit. Black families lived in segregated neighborhoods downtown Detroit such as Paradise Valley, Black Bottom, and on the west and north side of the city now known as Wyoming and Brightmoor Avenue. Developers would not provide loans to potential black homeowners unless there was a segregation wall.

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act abolished discrimination when renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance. Whites moved out of the neighborhood and moved to the suburbs.

Today, the Wyoming & 8 Mile neighborhood is majority black and the segregated wall still stands. In 2016, artists, Chazz Miller and the Motor City Blight Busters painted murals on the segregated wall. The mural depicts the struggles of housing, civil rights pioneers such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks.

The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office is working on making the wall a National Register of Historic Places with a historical marker at the site.

Whenever you plan to visit Detroit, stop by the wall. It's listed as a tourist attraction!!

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Angela Mitchell Hill
Angela Mitchell Hill

Wow! I was born and raised in Detroit and this is the 1st time learning of this. As always, gratitude to you Tammy for your service to our community and the world!

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