5 Detroit sites recognized for role in civil rights movement, added to National Register of Places
Detroit’s significant role in the rise of the civil rights movement was recently recognized by the National Park Service with the listing of five historic local sites linked to the struggle for equality and the black community in the 20th century, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced.
Detroit locations include:
- Birwood Wall is located along the alley between Birwood Avenue and Mendota Street from Eight Mile Road to Pembroke Avenue. The 6-foot concrete wall was erected in 1941 as a physical barrier between two parts of the city and is a symbol of redlining that ensures that the parts of the city remain racially separated.
- New Bethel Baptist Church, 8430 Linwood St. New Bethel Baptist Church is known as the venue for Aretha Franklin’s musical career and for its association with Rev. CL Franklin and the leadership the church demonstrated in the 1960s. A gifted and influential pastor whose radio broadcast and recordings found a national following, he supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the initiator of the 1963 Detroit March for Freedom, the first major civil rights march in 1963 in nation history.
- Rosa L. and Raymond Parks Flat, 3201-3203 Virginia Park St. (now a private residence). After Rosa Parks notoriously refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, she and her husband Raymond moved north to escape the harassment in Alabama. The couple settled in Detroit and moved to the ground floor apartment of this maisonette in 1961, where they lived until 1988. During this time, Parks continued her activism and the apartment became a place for meetings and discussions about civil rights.
- Shrine of the Black Madonna of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church, 7625 Linwood St. This church is significant for its association with Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. (later Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), a civil rights activist, black nationalist movement advocate and organizer Community. The sanctuary became one of the largest and most influential black nationalist churches in the country. On Easter Sunday 1967, Cleage renamed the Central Congregational Church as the Shrine of the Black Madonna and unveiled an 18-foot mural of a Black Madonna and Child commissioned by black artist Glanton Dowdell. The mural became a landmark of the civil rights movement.
- WGPR-TV Studio, 3146 E. Jefferson Ave. WGPR-TV debuted in 1975, a decade after African Americans challenged the FCC for a lack of black programming. It was the first black-owned and operated television station in the country. WGPR-TV aired an Afro-centered news show, dance show, and public affairs features. In addition to an African-American perspective on news and current affairs, it offered black students and professionals career and educational opportunities behind the camera. The station was finally sold to CBS in 1995 when it moved to general programming and changed its callsign to WWJ. It has since been converted into the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum, which records the origins and influence of WGPR.
These five locations, nominated by Michigan’s Sate Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), join nearly 2,000 other locations in the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966.
“These locations are linked to both the struggles and the successes of the Detroit African American community during the volatile mid-20th century. The civil rights movement tried to demand equality for African Americans in both the North and the South, ”said Martha MacFarlane-Faes, deputy state commissioner for monument protection, in a statement. “In listing these websites, the National Register recognizes Detroit’s important role in the growth of the movement. They embody the multiple problems that the black community faced while working towards empowerment during this time. “
The nominations were part of a competitive African American Civil Rights Program grant awarded by the NPS to the Michigan SHPO. The sites were selected by a 14-person civil rights advisory committee that included local historians familiar with the city’s black history, as well as staff from SHPO and the city of Detroit’s historical designation advisory board. Ann Arbor’s Quinn Evans Architects were selected to research and prepare the nominations for each of the five locations along with a contextual document that discusses the Detroit 20th century movement in greater detail.
“On behalf of the officers and members of the Black Madonna Shrine in Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Calhoun Falls, SC Monrovia and Ganta City, Liberia, we are honored to have received this National Historic Landmark Award,” the shrine said Black Madonna Bishop Mbiyu Chui in a statement. “We continue to build on and expand on the legacy of our beloved Founder, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. He devoted his life and ministry to the mission of transforming urban ghettos into Christian communities to achieve equality, justice and freedom for his people at home and abroad. “
To be considered for entry in a national register, a property must be at least 50 years old, have historical integrity and be relevant to association with important people, events or architecture / design at the local, state or national level.