On special Black History Month editions of the Talking Michigan Transportation, conversations about the Michigan Department of Transportation’s project to transform the I-375 freeway into an at-grade urban boulevard, reconnecting neighborhoods to the east with downtown Detroit.
In this episode, retired Detroit Free Press reporter and editor Bill McGraw talks about what he learned in his reporting about the history of the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods on the city’s east side. Black business owners and residents were displaced as city administrations dating back to the 1940s pursued an urban renewal plan that included eventual plans for a freeway through the neighborhood.
McGraw explains how a once thriving Black business district on Hastings Street, with banks, hospitals, clothing stores, restaurants, and other service providers, was destroyed to make way for development that largely benefitted white developers and residents.
One Detroit Free Press story (paywall) describes in rich detail what was lost:
"One of many notable establishments was Sunnie Wilson’s sprawling Forest Club, at Forest and Hastings. It featured a 107-foot bar, bowling alley, banquet hall and a two-story roller-skating rink. Beginners went upstairs."
Later this week, another podcast episode will feature a conversation with Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who has strong family connections to the neighborhoods, and he talks about what the project means to him. We’ll also talk about a major economic development announcement this week that he participated in with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as Ford Motor Co. unveiled plans for a $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Marshall, Michigan.