Urban Renewal and the Decline of Black Business in Mid-twentieth Century Detroit

Kendra Boyd

In my paper I will discuss two civilizing missions: one which used business as a means of racial uplift, and the other which sought to redevelop urban neighborhoods in order to construct modern cities in the mid-twentieth century. Most scholarship on the effects of urban renewal on communities has focused on the issue of housing and the displacement of residents. However, I contend that black entrepreneurs’ experiences with urban renewal highlight the ways urban planner’s vision of modernity truncated the progress of Detroit’s black business community.

At the start of the twentieth century, Booker T. Washington’s influential philosophy of pursuing racial uplift through accumulating wealth was widely accepted by African Americans across the nation. As blacks left the south for urban centers in the North and West during the Great Migration, they took with them a vision for achieving black economic independence, self-determination, and financial security though business. Though they faced obstacles, black entrepreneurs in Detroit were able to achieve considerable success from the 1920s through the 1940s. However, in the late forties city planners began planning freeway construction and urban redevelopment projects that would devastate the black business community in the 1950s and 1960s.