Advance Notice: Briefs

State historical marker serves a reminder of Detroit’s segregationist past

By: - October 11, 2022 10:26 am

A portion of the Birwood Wall in Detroit. | Ken Coleman

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, city of Detroit historian Jamon Jordan, longtime resident Teresa Moon and others helped on Monday dedicate the “Birwood Wall” Michigan Historical Marker at Alfonso Wells Park in Detroit.

“The wall is a reminder of institutionalized racial segregation in the United States,” the marker reads.

In 1941, a white real estate developer built a six-foot high one-foot thick, half-mile-long wall. The purpose was to separate his planned housing development for white residents from the already existing African-American neighborhood located near Eight Mile Road and Wyoming Street. 

Teresa Moon of Detroit at Birwood Wall Michigan Historical Marker dedication on Oct. 10, 2022 | Ken Coleman

At the time, available housing units were scarce, in part, because the nation was engulfed in the World War II effort. Residential construction essentially was paused some of the war years. Additionally, the city’s Black community doubled between 1940 and 1950, from about 149,000 residents to 300,000. 

The new housing project  was completed and had federal financing.  

“The history of the wall and policies that led to its building are important to understand the history of housing segregation and discrimination in Detroit and the nation. An installation that once stood for hate now stands as an artistic representation of moving forward,” according to the city of Detroit press release. 

Community-inspired murals now displayed on the wall depict vibrant images of civil rights icon Rosa Parks and Coleman A. Young, Detroit’s first African-American mayor, and many others.  

“It’s important because it is bringing attention to my community,” said Moon, who was raised in the neighborhood, beginning in 1959 and still lives there. 

By the 1970s, the neighborhoods on each side of the wall were predominantly African American.

Michigan Historical Commission member Brian Egen and Deputy State Historic Preservation officer Martha MacFarlane-Faes also attended the event.

“It’s a beautiful day and we are hearing about some serious history here. We acknowledge that at the Historic Preservation Office,” said MacFarlane-Faes.

In 2021, the wall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.