Burneice Avery’s family migrated from the South to Detroit in the early 1900s with many other African American families to escape violence and prejudice and to obtain employment in the factories. Avery’s family moved to the area known as Paradise Valley and Black Bottom before moving on to the 8 Mile Wyoming area – farmland apportioned for blacks. Ms. Avery recalled how families built their homes a piece at a time when they had enough money to purchase materials.
The Federal Housing Administration, FHA, did not provide government backed mortgages to African Americans and as a result, a concrete wall – half mile long, one foot wide and six feet high – was erected by a neighborhood developer in 1940. This wall was a clear indication to FHA that blacks were not allowed in the neighborhood and subsequently loans were approved for whites who moved in. Shortly thereafter, residents led by Burneice Avery – who remained an 8 Mile resident and became a Detroit school teacher – had to defend their homes from being declared a “slum area” and demolished as part of a urban renewal project, and fought for funding from FHA to build temporary and permanent housing.
1967 Detroit Rebellion
A police raid of a “blind pig” – an afterhours drinking club – located on Twelfth Street and Clairmount Avenue, sparked a rebellion that lasted for 5 days and resulted in 43 dead, hundreds injured, thousands arrested, and millions of dollars in property damages. The Detroit Riot of 1967 was the culmination of years of social, political and economic problems including police brutality, lack of affordable housing, urban renewal, economic inequality, and black militancy. Some witnesses recall how it was a liberating moment for African Americans while others recognize that there has not been a change because homes were not rebuilt, there was an increase of white flight and block busting, and desolation of neighborhoods continued.
About 18 years ago, while driving home with my baby, two young white men in a Black Chevy Chevette were driving on the opposite side of the road in oncoming traffic. As our two cars passed, the driver deliberately tossed a lit cigarette it through my window and yelled a racial slur at me, calling me a “black bitch.” In an attempt to prevent the cigarette from burning my baby and maintaining control of my vehicle while driving, I received first degree burns on my left arm and my back in the process. While they laughed, my first response was to turn around and chase them, but I quickly thought this would only ignite the situation further, so proceeded home. I was so angry because I did nothing to warrant the assault, I didn’t know them and our safety had been threatened. Living in a very diverse neighborhood (bordering Dearborn and Redford) for many years, I didn’t think that there was that big of an issue with racism. This incident, by far, was an eye-opener and the worst experience of racism I’ve ever had to experience.
Sonya is a life-time resident of Detroit and currently works for a not-for-profit agency.
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