Detroit Eight Mile Wall, once used to separate blacks and whites, becomes historic

The Birwood Wall once separated the races in Detroit.

“It’s really important to remember that history of discrimination in this city. It still casts its shadow today,” Mayor Mike Duggan said.

This wall from Eight Mile Road to Pembroke Avenue, built in 1941, was used to separate black and white neighborhoods. This allowed a white developer to obtain Federal Housing Administration home loans that were unavailable to blacks due to redlining.

“The federal government very intentionally discriminated against African Americans,” Duggan said.

The wall, also known as the Eight Mile Wall and the Berlin Wall, still stands, and on Monday it received a historic dedication and marker, a reminder of its place in history and in the present day.

“History lost is history that can repeat itself, so every time we educate, we make sure current and future generations are prepared,” said Rochelle Riley, of Detroit Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship.

African Americans fled Jim Crow south, settling in Detroit, where they worked side by side with whites in auto factories.

“Earning about the same amount of money, equal income, but because white people get FHA-backed home loans, within a few decades we would have a wealth gap,” said the Detroit historian Jamon Jordan.

Jordan said the gap still haunts society today, with roots in housing discrimination. The same is true of educational inequalities and environmental racism.

“We live with the legacy of it all, but we also live with the legacy of people who, despite everything, kept moving forward,” Jordan said.

People like Alfonso Wells, after whom this park is named, are among the activists who protested and helped end segregation.

“The wall never made a difference to us because that time was past, as it is now. It’s been 81 years since that wall was erected,” said resident Teresa Moon.

FOX 2 and Detroit Blight Busters worked with the community to beautify in 2006 painting the wall, once a symbol of segregation and now a show of strength for a community determined not to be forgotten.

“It’s about the dedication and persistence of this community,” said Janese Chapman, of the Historic Designation Advisory Board.

About Mitchel McMillan

Check Also

Businesses urged to step up fight against climate change

With growing climate uncertainties and growing financial needs for climate change adaptation and mitigation, Commonwealth …