Old Hastings Street

Old Hastings Street (1989)
Duration: 00:27:20

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Themes: Education and Families | Musical Roots and Branches | Poverty, Progress, and the Rise of African-American Businesses and Professionals |

Guests: Dorothy DeMorcia, Wardell Polk, Siliva Williams, Lyman Woodard
Host : Trudy Gallant
Producer : Tony Mottley

Summary: In addition to the recollections of panelists Dorothy DeMorcia and Wardell Polk, and the historical observations of exhibit curator Siliva Williams, the show features a fascinating selection of period photographs, including street scenes, local businesses and night spots, and a series of recollections by viewers who call in to the program.

Gallant begins by showing a map of the area - a strip about 6-8 blocks wide that stretched northward from the Detroit River to East Grand Boulevard, perhaps 2-3 miles. The museum exhibit covers the period from 1915 to 1945, a time when Detroit's black community - like the city itself - was booming. As Gallant points out, the city's black population went from about 5,000 in 1905 to more than 200,000 in 1946.

As the black population grew, so did black neighborhoods and the black-owned businesses that served those neighborhoods during those heavily segregated times. Blacks owned restaurants, nightclubs, groceries, barber shops and beauty parlors, clothing stores and hotels. "It came from the reality . . . that most of the institutions and other types of services were segregated at that time," Williams says. "And so it really forced blacks to develop a sense of self-reliance and really begin to build upon the resources that were in the black community."

Polk describes how his father and his father's five brothers, who moved to Detroit in 1917, began by taking jobs in Ford factories, but soon began establishing their own businesses such as shoeshine stands, barbeque eateries, and a grocery. Many budding black businessmen, he says, learned how to manage a business by working for Jewish proprietors of existing businesses in the neighborhoods. As whites moved northward in the city and then into the newly developing suburbs, blacks bought their houses and then their businesses. "That was the springboard from which many of our black entrepreneurs came," Polk says.

The panel also discusses how the area - and many of the black businesses that had thrived there - eventually fell victim to shifting patterns of integration in the 1950s and 1960s and construction of Interstate 75, which cut through the heart of the neighborhood and obliterated much of it.

The program is fascinating on a number of levels. The photographs provide a visual glimpse of a bygone era. The recollections of the panelists and callers - including well-known Detroit jazz musician Lyman Woodard - also give a taste of the family and community life of the area, as well as the neighborhood's role as a vibrant musical and entertainment center for whites as well as blacks. And it offers some insight into the development and significance of black entrepreneurship.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 15, File 3, The Black Family 1: Production Schedules – 1983-1984
Box 15, File 4, The Black Family 2: Notes/Research – 1983-1984
Box 15, File 5, The Black Family 3: Family Interviews – 1983-1984