Over 300 Black-Owned Businesses Once Thrived in Detroit's "Paradise Valley"

Comparing today's black business ownership in downtown Detroit to the "Paradise Valley" era is like a candle in the sun - it doesn't even out.

Black businesses once boomed in the downtown Detroit Paradise Valley entertainment district, from the 1920's through the 1950's. Paradise Valley, was home to over 300 black-owned businesses ranging from drugstores, salons, restaurants to theaters, nightclubs and bowling alleys. Paradise Valley’s Black-owned nightclubs and jazz clubs were extremely popular and hosted big name artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

Former Detroit Republican Mayor Albert Cobo at the time was a corporate executive, real estate investor, and segregationist who campaigned on a platform of "Negro removal," which was a pledge to force black people out of predominately white neighborhoods. In addition, Cobo denied federal funding for black housing projects, and when the city's Civil Rights Commission called him out, he disbanded the board. He also dismantled the city's public housing program and forged a close alliance with anti-civil rights activists and white neighborhood associations.

Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were subsequently destroyed in the 1960s due to the construction of freeways and other urban renewal policies. In as early as 1949, the National Housing Act gave funds for cities to begin “renewal and slum clearance” and these projects disproportionately targeted Black neighborhoods and business districts.

"The Cobo era was marked by the wiping out of African American neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal," Mayor Duggan said during a press conference after the official name-change of Detroit's Cobo Convention Center to the TCF Center. "I don't believe our civic center with its name should be celebrated here."

Detroit's history of systemic racial and economic segregation has shown itself through practices like redlining, predatory lending, general disinvestment, gentrification, displacement, lack of economic opportunity, inequitable access to recourses, and exclusion.

While there are more black-owned businesses opening up in today's downtown, can you imagine how Detroit would be now if racist former mayor Cobo didn't hate from his political position.