Updated: Jul 25, 2020
When I think of Detroit, I automatically think of black history. Motown anyone? Detroit is literally the second blackest city in the USA with 78.8% of the population being black, right under Jackson, Mississippi and right above Birmingham, Alabama. Detroit is the only city on the top ten list list that is north of the Mason-Dixon line. Interestingly, it is also the largest city in the top 10. As a result, you cannot explore #Detroit without exploring #BlackDetroit!
Keep reading this blog post as I will answer some of the most common questions:
Is Detroit dangerous for tourists? How bad is Detroit?
How can I spend a day in Detroit?
When did African Americans come to Detroit? What is Detroit's Black history?
What does Detroit black travel look like?
What are some of Detroit's Black-Owned Businesses?
What is Detroit’s connection to the "Black Experience?" When did African Americans come to Detroit? What is Detroit's Black history?
Detroit was at the center of the Underground Railroad as it was often the last stop for fleeing slaves before crossing the river to Canada, which abolished slavery in 1834. Michigan was a free territory. However, many were afraid of being captured by slave catchers. As a result, they wanted to go over the border to Canada. As many as 200 Underground Railroad stops existed in #Michigan, many located in Detroit. There is a statue commemorating those stops by the river.
Interestingly, before World War I, Detroit had about 4,000 black people, 1% of its population. However, because of the war, employers in need of workers recruited African Americans from the South. Many moved as part of the first Great Migration in desperatio to leave Jim Crow South. As a result, between 1910-1930, the population skyrocketed from under 6,000 to over 120,000. By 1920, 87% of Michigan’s black population was born outside of the state, mostly from the South.
Famous black Detroit born people: Stevie Wonder, Big Sean, Anita Baker, and Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross
Traveling While Black in Detroit
DISCLAIMER: In an effort to shed light on a lens that I travel everywhere with, I decided that it was important for me to explicitly talk about My Black American Traveler Experience. I want to stress that everyone has their own experiences and biases when traveling to any country. Therefore, my experience may not be your own. In specifying the Black American identity, I acknowledge that while there are some commonalities in experiences as Black people, there is also privilege that comes with being an American. I am supplementing my thoughts and experience with a demographic context as I think it is important in order to paint the whole picture of #travelingwhileblack
My Expectations in Detroit
Extra Black! I thought most people I would come across would be Black. I expected to experience nothing but #Blackculture in Detroit.
My Reality in Detroit
Treatment & Safety: I was treated well in Detroit! Great hospitality. Super kind people. Unfortunately, there were certain areas where more Black people are concentrated that looked sketchy and deserted. As a result, I would find myself taking more precautions. For example, the Raven Lounge had many black people hanging out. However, it is on a deserted street about 10 minutes driving away from Downtown. Once I entered the lounge, everyone from the bouncer to the waiter were super nice. They even offered us free food from someone’s birthday celebration. It felt like home.
Language: In terms of language, Detroit is in the United States, so that was not an issue at all.
Vibe & Culture: Black culture surely does exist but not in the way I anticipated. I felt I had to seek out Black culture, especially because most things Black such as #Blackowned restaurants or Black history museums were further away from the Downtown area.
Visibility: Although Detroit has a lot of Black people, it was interesting to notice the clear segregation that still exists. For example, while venturing Downtown, I came across a lot more white and non-Black people wandering around except in one black-owned restaurant, Floods. Downtown is where new businesses are emerging as well as new apartment developments. The friend whom I was visiting was a Black woman who lives downtown and her roommates were also Black natives. They were probably one of the few Black people that I saw living in that apartment building. However, I did see large amounts of Black people in areas further away from Downtown. For example, the Raven Lounge had many Black people hanging out. However, it is located on a deserted street about a 10 minute drive from Downtown. Other examples include many of the Black businesses that are located in the historic area, The Avenue of Fashion, which is about a 15 minute drive from Downtown.
I had the fortunate opportunity to speak to a few Black Detroiters: A supreme court judge and two lawyers (who are twin brothers). All three of them are prime examples of the grit that many Detroiters have. Hearing their stories was inspirational. It was clear that there are many struggles growing up in Detroit -- racial segregation, which then leads to HUGE disparities in education, health care, and even response time of first responders -- many obstacles to overcome. However, they have overcome those obstacles and returned to Detroit, wishing to do better for their city.
Black Stats in Detroit
Detroit is one of the most racially segregated cities in the USA. Even though Black people continued to move to Detroit from the 1940’s-1970’s, they faced exclusion. Blacks makeup only 13% of the state's population as a whole, but account for 79% of Detroit's population!
As of 2018, Detroit is literally the second blackest city in the USA with 78.8% of the population being Black, right under Jackson, Mississippi and right above Birmingham, Alabama.
Overall: My experiences overall in Detroit, especially Black Detroit, made me fall in love with the city as a whole!
How can I spend a day in Black Detroit?
Here is a day-long itinerary that can help you experience Detroit Black Travel through experiencing #blackownedbusinesses:
MORNING: Eat brunch at Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles
I discovered this place through Travel Noire as I was looking for black brunch spots in Detroit. Interestingly, the spots were much harder to find than I thought. However, Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffle is a must! This was probably my favorite spot to eat during my time in Detroit. If I had time, I would have returned. Owned by former NFL player Ron Bartell, this spot is perfect if you are looking for chicken and waffles as well as some delicious soul food. All the items on the menu have creative names such as “WHAT UP DOE” which is the 3pc fried chicken, 2 waffles, grits & 2 eggs w/cheese. YUM! They even serve Kool-aid! My mouth is salivating just thinking back to the food. It is worth a trip away from Downtown Detroit to what felt like a more local Detroit in the historical area The Avenue of Fashion.
AFTERNOON: Visit some Black History Museums!
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History: This museum was founded in 1965 by Charles H. Wright, a practicing gynecologist who wanted to preserve African American history after visiting a memorial to Danish World War II heroes in Denmark. He started off opening the “International Afro-American Museum” in a house he owned and featured the inventions of Elijah McCoy as well as masks from Nigeria and Ghana he got while visiting there. The following year, he turned it into a traveling exhibit around the state. Today, it features more than 35,000 artifacts and archives, making it one of the world’s largest permanent exhibits on Afican-American culture.
I truly loved the interactive exhibit, “And Still We Rise: Our Journey through African American History and Culture.” It felt similar to the National Museum of African American History and Culture where you can walk through an interactive timeline of history from the painful Middle Passage to the inspiring Civil Rights Movement.
Motown Museum: Have you really gone to Detroit if you haven’t gone to the Motown Museum? I think it is a good experience for everyone to check out at least once on a Detroit trip because Motown originated here. Nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A." -- literally the first thing you see when you walk up -- this museum is located at the record label’s former administrative building and recording studio before it moved to Los Angeles. This is not like a regular museum, where you can wander as you please. Instead, you take a guided tour through the house where you learn how the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy. started it all and also get to see memorabilia from various artists.
LATE NIGHT: Dinner and live music at one of the following spots
Floods Bar & Grille: Looking for some tasty soul food and happy hour drink prices? Look no more. Floods Bar & Grille is your spot! I ordered a soul food platter with fried chicken, fried shrimp, mac and cheese and French fries. I found it pretty tasty and the mac & cheese was made just how I like it! Their drinks are strong, if that is what you are looking for. Later in the evening, there is live entertainment. Many people come with their families or come to celebrate special occasions. It is clearly a go-to spot for Black people in Downtown Detroit, especially because there are not really any Black-owned spots in the immediate Downtown area.
Raven's Lounge & Restaurant: If you are looking for some late night entertainment and authentic blues music, come to Raven’s Lounge & Restaurant. It is a very intimate, laid-back spot that offers South soul food, drinks and live blues acts from Thursday - Saturday from 9 PM - 2 AM. It is clearly a great spot considering that it has been around since the 1950’s and is Michigan’s oldest Blues Bar. It is also one of Detroit's last live blues venues. When we went, the street was deserted. However, the place itself was full because there was a birthday party being celebrated. It felt like being part of a family as they invited everyone to eat food offered for the party, whether you knew the person being celebrated or not. This place is a secret gem that you would typically find from locals or from REALLY doing your research like I did. Make sure to have cash for the small cover charge!
Hope this helped you see that Detroit is the New Black!