Brewster Homes, 1946

The Way It Was
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Photograph by Spencer & Wyckoff, courtesy of the Emil Lorch Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

1946

Today, the word “projects,” as it relates to housing, often carries a pejorative tone. But when many were built in the 1940s and ’50s, they were places of pride for residents — and a welcome relief from the crammed dwellings they had previously called home. There were only about 6,000 African-Americans living in Detroit in 1910, but that number swelled to 120,000 by 1930, and grew steadily after that. Most lived in congested, older areas on the lower east side. In the late 1930s, the low-rise Brewster Homes, the nation’s first federally funded housing project for blacks, opened. Situated in the area near Brewster Street and St. Antoine, they were built for the “working poor,” and potential residents had to have proof of employment to live there. The vast majority of residents were African-American. This photograph shows a tidy Brewster playground (notice the woman in the background with a broom). In 1952, a cluster of six high-rise towers opened, and the conglomeration became known as the Brewster-Douglass Projects. Three young women who later became known as the Supremes met there in the ’50s. In a 2005 interview with Hour Detroit, Supreme Mary Wilson spoke of her fond Brewster memories. The original low-rise homes were torn down in the ’90s and replaced with townhouses, now called New Brewster Homes. Two of the high-rises also were razed since then.


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