Black History in Detroit: Paradise Valley and Black Bottom Markers

Modified: February 24, 2023 | Story by Biba Adams | Photos by The Historical Marker Database

Black Bottom was a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan demolished for redevelopment in the late 1950s to early 1960s and replaced with the Lafayette Park residential district and a freeway, according to the Detroit Historical Society. 

However, some historians believe that the name of the neighborhood predates its most well-known residents and may be derived from the rich, black soil where Indigenous people and French settlers farmed a variety of crops. 

While the neighborhood no longer exists–there are markers and other historic elements that remain in its wake. 

Most recently, a new marker on East Lafayette Boulevard was erected to commemorate the site and many notable Detroiters who lived there. Including Coleman Young, Detroit’s first Black mayor; legendary boxing champion Joe Louis, and Ralph Bunche, the first Black recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Other markers near the neighborhood include the Fannie Richards Homesite erected in honor of Detroit’s first Black public school teacher. An innovative teacher, Fannie Richards was instrumental in the integration of schools in the state and she taught the city’s first kindergarten class.

Another marker denotes the former site of St. John’s Presbyterian Church  which was the first African American Presbyterian congregation in Michigan. 

The Glimpses of Detroit’s Riverfront History Markers are dedicated to the Many Names of Detroit, the great Shipyard, and Immigrant Workers who worked in the city. A fifth stone simply reads: “I have taken my people out in the roads and in dark places, and looked at the stars of heaven and prayed for the southern man to turn his heart.” -Benjamin Singleton, a Black man who guided runaway slaves through Detroit to Canada in the 1850’s

Also visit the Frederick Douglass-John Brown Meeting site which is dedicated to the place where two ardent anti-slavery leaders met on March 12, 1859 to discuss methods for abolishing enslavement. 

Paradise Valley was a nearby neighborhood that arose as a commercial center for Black-owned businesses in the 1930s. According to historians, the neighborhood featured medical offices, retail stores, restaurants, hotels, and performance venues. 

The Valley was located near the downtown area and the marker commemorating its existence is located on St. Antoine near Beacon Street—not far from what is currently Ford Field.

Also near Paradise Valley is the marker commemorating St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church which was instrumental in the Underground Railroad and is where the Detroit branch of the NAACP was organized. 

A beautiful park that honors the life of Beatrice M. Buck lives on Randolph Street downtown. Buck made it her life’s work to preserve the history and culture of Paradise Valley. The marker notes that during its height, Paradise Valley was an extraordinary community that is only rivaled by the Harlem Renaissance. The marker features one of Buck’s favorite sayings, “Hold on to what you have, learn to appreciate what you have and take care of it.”

The Parker’s Alley marker is relatively new. It was erected in 2019 and honors the accomplishments of four African Americans who became Detroit’s first black landowners- Elizabeth Cooper, Pompey Abbott, Hannah Ashley, and Thomas Parker. The site is at the intersection of Grand River Ave and Parker’s Alley and is near the beautiful Shinola Hotel. 

These markers are just a few around the city that celebrate the accomplishments and existence of African Americans who helped make our great city what it is. They, like many others, fulfill the goals laid out in the Michigan Historical Markers legislation which is to unite people from various regions of the state through improved dissemination of information about historic resources and places.

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