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The significant places associated with historically Underrepresented Communities in the state of Michigan and beyond represent a particularly fragile class of resource. Many important buildings and sites have been lost as a result of urban renewal and aggressive blight removal programs and demolition related right-sizing that addresses population loss, economic hardship, and years of neglect. As the resource pool is diminished, the cultural legacy and story that the remaining places portray rise in importance.
In 1990, the National Park Service (NPS) acknowledged that the nation’s historic preservation programs lacked diversity. To rectify the omission, NPS published a number of Theme Studies to help all Americans document their histories and tell their stories. In the ensuing years, the National Park Service established a National Historic Landmark Civil Rights Framework, and published detailed studies of additional chapters in the civil rights story by evaluating the long history of issues regarding equal access to public accommodations, education, housing, employment, and voting rights.
In 2014, Congress began appropriating federal monies to the Historic Preservation Fund for the establishment of competitive grant programs to specifically assist underrepresented communities as they identify, document, register and rehabilitate their associated historic resources.
In 2016 the Michgian SHPO applied for and received a Historic Preservation Fund grant to document 20th Century African American Civil Rights sites in Detroit. This built on earlier work to better document the history of Idlewild, a Black resort community in rural Lake County. Participants in Michigan’s 2020-2025 Statewide Historic Preservation Plan workshops identified diversification of the state’s historic preservation programs as a top goal and under that directive the civil rights sites initiative has expanded statewide. To date, Michigan communities have received more than $3.8 Million in federal grant funds for underrepresented communities historic preservation projects.
Is there a site significant to your community you'd like us to know about? Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the details. There are many stories yet to be told!
Historic preservation is a way of understanding history through the very places where events happened, and people stood. How can historic preservation benefit underrepresented communities, who have often been marginalized in National Register nominations and other activities?
The Michigan SHPO is committed to recognizing the history of the state’s underrepresented communities, growing the number of diverse nominations submitted to the National Register, and connecting individuals, non-profits, and local groups with preservation incentives and resources. This bulletin explores some of the opportunities available to help tell a fuller story of Michigan's history.
Explore our Community-Centered Historic Preservation Projects
Michigan State Historic Preservation Office rolls out Detroit Civil Rights Bike Tour
The Civil Rights story in Detroit is a story of perseverence and passion. Our new interactive Civil Rights Bike Tour around the city of Detroit highlights many historically significant sites that played a role in the civil rights movement in Michigan’s largest city. Encompassing 20 different stops in total, the tour is nearly 17 miles in length but can be easily broken into shorter segments.Explore Tour
Civil Rights sites join the National Register of Historic Places
The Birwood Wall is significant for its association with the federal policy of redlining that ensured neighborhoods would remain racially segregated the mid-twentieth century. The wall is a six-foot-high solid concrete wall that stretches for three blocks. It was constructed in 1941 to physically divide two growing neighborhoods, one White and one Black. It is a rare surviving, tangible, human-scale example of the lengths to which the government, the real estate profession, private developers, and White residents were willing to go to keep neighborhood populations the same race. Explore the Birwood Wall National Register nomination.
New Bethel Baptist Church
New Bethel Baptist Church is significant for its association with the Reverend C. L. Franklin and the extensive leadership the church showed during in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Franklin was a gifted and influential pastor whose radio show and recordings attained a national following. He was a supporter of the non-violent activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the originator of the Walk to Freedom march held in Detroit in 1963, the first major civil rights march in the nation’s history. New Bethel Baptist Church it is also the venue where singer Aretha Franklin began her musical career. Explore the New Bethel Baptist Church National Register nomination.
Rosa L. and Raymond Parks Flat
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a White passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, she changed the course of civil rights history. Her strength and courage led to the Montgomery bus boycott organized by a new, young activist, Martin Luther King Jr. and focused national attention on discriminatory practices. To escape the harassment she faced in Alabama, Parks and her husband Raymond moved north eventually settling in Detroit, where she had family. They moved into the ground floor flat of this duplex in 1961 and lived there until 1988. During this time, Parks continued her activism and the flat became a place for meetings and discussions on civil rights. She served as an aid to Congressman John Conyers Jr. and participated in numerous civil rights events while advocating for equal treatment under the law for African Americans around the country. Note that this house remains a private residence. Explore the Rosa L. and Raymond Parks Flat National Register nomination.
Shrine of the Black Madonna
This church is significant for its association with the Reverend Albert B. Cleage Jr. (later Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman). Cleage was a nationally known civil rights leader, a champion of the Black Nationalism Movement, and a fiery community organizer in Detroit. He advocated for unity among African Americans, and championed separatism over integration. On Easter Sunday 1967, Cleage shocked the Black community when he rechristened his Central Congregational Church in Detroit as the Shrine of the Black Madonna, and unveiled an 18-foot mural of a Black Madonna and child commissioned from Black artist Glanton Dowdell. The Shrine became one of the largest and most influential Black Nationalist churches in the country and the mural an iconic symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. Explore the Shrine of the Black Madonna National Register nomination.
WGPR-TV is significant as the first Black-owned and operated television station in the United States. Founded by attorney William R. Banks, the station debuted in September 1975,a decade after African Americans challenged the FCC on the lack of Black programming. WGPR-TV aired an Afro-centric focused newscast, a dance show, and public affairs features. In addition to providing an African American perspective on news and current affairs, it also afforded career and training opportunities behind the camera for Black students and professionals. The station was eventually sold to CBS in 1995 when it transitioned to general programming and changed its call sign to WWJ. The interior studio space retains a high degree of integrity from the WGPR-TV television station era. It has since been transformed into the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum which chronicles the origins and influence of WGPR. Explore the WGPR-TV Studio National Register nomination.
This project is partially funded by the African American Civil Rights and Underrepresented Communities programs of the Historic Preservation Fund, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Michigan Strategic Fund. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior or the Michigan Strategic Fund, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products herein constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Department of the Interior or the Michigan Strategic Fund.