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Sojourner Truth Housing Projects

Though not within Black Bottom, the 1942 Sojourner Truth housing projects heavily-impacted those within it, as the projects were met with increasing anti-Black racist hate crimes from white Detroit workers and played a significant role in the eruption of the 1943 riots. The Depression halted the flow of Black migrants from the south to the north, but migrations resumed at the onset of World War II. The Ford Motor Company increased its activity when it joined the war effort and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had recently signed Executive Order 8802, prohibiting racial discrimination in the defense industry. However, African Americans who migrated north during this period were not given adequate housing. This was due to redlining, itself overseen by Roosevelt’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, and especially covenants over housing deeds barring people classified by certain racial/ethnic groups from being rented to (Sugrue, 43-45). Because of this, Black Bottom became overpopulated and congested.

The 200-unit Sojourner Truth Housing Project was created to alleviate the migrant overpopulation in areas like Black Bottom, but immediately faced racist backlash from whites. To be constructed at Seven Mile and Fenelon, it was met by violent white mobs between June 1941 and February 1942 (Sugrue, 73). Detroit’s congressman Rudolph Tenerowicz convinced the mostly-southern Appropriations Bill Conference Committee to cave to the whites’ demands: the projects were restricted to white workers only (Williams 2011, 58). Black civil rights activists immediately resisted and contacted Eleanor Roosevelt, who persuaded the president and Detroit mayor Edward Jeffries to give the projects back to Black residents. Black war workers and families moved in on April 29, 1942 under police protection (Williams 2011, 59). Still, the racist violence continued as whites continued to target Black families and residents, sometimes with the backing and enabling of police. Contemporary photographs from the period show police officers leading beaten Black men away by force or harassing a Black married couple (Williams 2009, 106-110).

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