In 2009, the national spotlight burned brightly on one of Detroit's most dynamic African-American destinations, the Motown Museum, as mourners came in droves to pay their respects to King of Pop Michael Jackson after his unexpected death. The museum houses the studio that helped catapult Jackson and a number of other African-American artists such as Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder to super stardom.
The world watched as faithful Jackson fans gathered around the quaint front approach of the museum, leaving gifts and mementos at a makeshift shrine to the pop icon. "People were shocked by his untimely death and wanted to pay tribute to a star of his magnitude," says Audley Smith, the museum's former CEO, of the Jackson fans that made the Motown pilgrimage. "Visitors represented people from all over, all races and all classes – the rainbow nation that Michael Jackson spoke to and on the behalf of."
Among other memorabilia, the museum displays the white jeweled glove and black fedora hat that have become so closely associated with Jackson's persona.
Black History in Detroit
Setting The D's culturally deep musical contributions aside, the city is also one of several communities that served as a gateway to freedom for runaway slaves seeking refuge in Canada. And no place tells the full story of slavery quite like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
A visit to the And Still We Rise: Our Journey through African American History and Culture exhibit starts out with a walk through African markets with life-size figures and realistic sounds that give one a sense of a close-knit community. The experience then entrenches museum-goers in the grievous process of enslavement, including a holding cell, the Door of No Return display and a replica slave ship. Next, the stories of African-American triumphs, including escapes to freedom, followed by more recent successes of local African-Americans, fill the exhibit.
The immersive experience is both emotional and interesting for many visitors, remarks Edd Snyder, former Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing for the museum. "People who come here are usually overwhelmed by what they see," he says.
Every year, the museum hosts an assortment of community events that are enjoyable for the whole family, including the African World Festival, which takes place the third weekend in August; Noel Night, on the first Saturday in December; and Kwanzaa.
Additional slavery, Underground Railroad experiences, and black history can be found at other metro Detroit stops:
Soul Food in Metro Detroit
In addition to touring, theater and shopping, you'll no doubt at some point become hungry for a hearty soul-food meal. One great place to do that is Beans & Cornbread in Southfield, where you can enjoy such southern staples as ribs, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. While you're there, you might also want to sit back and sip on a relaxing drink at Sidebar, the restaurant's wine and martini bar, which offers domestic and imported wines and bottled beer, and a unique selection of cocktails and martinis, as well as daily specials such as $5 Peach Martinis and $1 fried chicken wings.
African American Arts & Culture
To experience African American arts, music, culture, and literature, look no further than these metro Detroit locations:
- The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), which features five galleries dedicated to African-American artists such as Hale Woodruff, Betye Saar and Gilda Snowden.
- Detroit's Plowshares Theatre, Michigan's only professional African-American theater company. Audiences experience history and entertainment rolled into one, notes Gary Anderson, producing artistic director for the theater.
- Another can't-miss is the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore, one of the nation's largest and oldest African-American-owned bookstores with locations in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. It carries literary materials, a wide assortment of African clothing, handcrafted jewelry, artist prints, African-American collectibles, greeting cards and gifts. The bookstore is also home to the Karamu Art Gallery and the African Holocaust Museum.