Explore Detroit’s historic African American neighborhoods — bulldozed for “progress” — through photography at the Detroit Public Library Saturday. The Black Bottom Street View exhibition is a photographic re-creation of the neighborhood using the Burton Historic Collection’s collection. The event opening includes a panel discussion and conversation about the history of Black Bottom. Members of the public are invited to share their stories and learn out about the future of the exhibition.
Professor and architect Emily Kutil beautifully stitched together a series of photographs from Burton Historical Collection archive of every house in a large area of Detroit’s largely forgotten Black Bottom neighborhood. Black Bottom, along with Paradise Valley, was the historic heart of Detroit’s African American community. The neighborhoods were largely demolished to make way for new highways and infrastructure.
The Black Bottom Street View exhibit opens Saturday, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. in Strohm Hall (on the 3rd floor) of the Detroit Public Library’s Main Branch. The exhibit and program are free and open to the public. The exhibition will be on display through March 17.
Details from Black Bottom Street View:
Black Bottom, along with Paradise Valley, was the historic heart of Detroit’s African American community. The photos were taken from 1949 – 1950 by the City of Detroit as part of the eminent domain process. In the early 1950’s, the city demolished the neighborhood, calling it “slum clearance.” Ten years later, the city demolished Hastings Street, Black Bottom’s business district, and built I-375 in its place. Together, the Burton’s photographs show a snapshot of life in Black Bottom right before it was demolished.
Black Bottom Street View will map the Burton’s photographs, so that visitors to the site will be able to explore the neighborhood digitally and contribute histories, memories and photos of their own. The site will include a searchable database where families can look up homes by family name and address.
Black Bottom Street View will also be making a book and an exhibition, as well as hosting events in Detroit.
We are very grateful to have received a matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of its Knight Arts Challenge, to do this work.
Emily Kutil is an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, a freelance designer, and a member of We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective.