The Way It Was - Detroit, The Arsenal of Democracy


1942 During World War II, Detroit was dubbed the Arsenal of Democracy, as factories cranked out combat machinery day and night. However, the influx into the city of thousands of workers resulted in a severe housing shortage. Many whites lived in close quarters, but in the African-American community, centered primarily in the Black Bottom neighborhood on the lower east side, overcrowding was particularly acute. Even though construction of the Brewster-Douglass projects expanded in the early '40s, adequate housing for blacks remained a problem. This photograph depicts a gathering of African-Americans in Cadillac Square protesting unsuitable living conditions. In the early '40s, the federal government decided to build homes designated for blacks in northeast Detroit, at East Nevada Street and Fenelon Avenue. Named after the abolitionist and women's-rights crusader Sojourner Truth, the project would accommodate 168 families. Opposition in the overwhelmingly white neighborhood was immediate and intense. The feds changed course and opted for white housing. When protests from civil-rights groups followed, it was decided to revert to the original plan. A racial melee broke out in February 1942 when black families started moving in. The Detroit police had a tough time containing the fighting, and the state police and the Michigan National Guard eventually were mustered to restore order. But it served only to put a lid on a tinderbox of fomenting racial tension. In June 1943, a full-fledged race riot broke out in Detroit, resulting in 34 dead, hundreds injured, and property damage in the millions. Today, the Sojourner Truth buildings still stand, although they've been extensively modernized.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Web Exclusive: Meeting the Beatles

Fifty years ago, a Detroit-area teenager won a contest to meet The Beatles.

Rocking in Style

John Varvatos and Alice Cooper talk about their musical and fashion influences — and Detroit’s comeback

Well-Versed in Classics

DSO oboe player tools around town in a rare pair of turquoise 1962 Lincoln Continentals

All Dressed Up & Ready ...

Cobo Center is still a work in progress, but Auto Show visitors will notice a host of improvements

One Night Only: Steven Spielberg and John Williams at the DSO

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Makings of the Shinola Hotel
    When the Detroit brand’s first foray into hospitality opens its doors, it’ll offer customers...
  2. My Two Christmases
    An Armenian-Iranian, Detroit-based writer reflects on transposing the holiday across continents
  3. New Year’s Eve, Brooklyn Style
    Tips for celebrating 2019 from the pros at Brooklyn Outdoor
  4. Main Review: SheWolf
    Born in Detroit but inspired by Rome, SheWolf takes diners on a culinary journey
  5. The Art of Gifting
    Metro Detroit tastemakers from all walks of life offer a glimpse of what’s on their holiday...
  6. Comeback Catering
    Dish, in Detroit, pushes through hard times with consistently delicious food
  7. Meet the Makers: Tait Design Co.
    How an after-work hobby ascended to a booming business
  8. Precious Metals
    Layering necklaces, stacking rings, and placing bangle upon glitzy bangle: a definitive guide to...
  9. Food Recipe: Braised Beef Brisket
    Chef Aaron Lowen, of Empire Kitchen & Cocktails, shares one of his favorite holiday recipes
  10. An Hour with ... Ricki Friedman
    Founder, Break the Weight