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In Detroit, a colorful mural stands as a reminder of the city's 'Segregation Wall'

July 22, 2017


A wall — known as Detroit's Wailing Wall, Berlin Wall or The Birwood Wall — was constructed in the 1940s, integration was not the goal. "There's no mistaking why this wall was built," says Jeff Horner, senior lecturer in Wayne State’s department of urban studies and planning. "The urban uprisings in the 1960s gave rise to the Fair Housing Act of 1968," he says. "Until that time - until I was 7 years old - it was perfectly legal to discriminate against somebody of color. You didn't have to sell them their house if you didn't like the color of their skin. You didn't have to rent to them." The wall was basically there to delineate the white side from the black side. It was there, says Horner, “To keep black people from moving into the white neighborhood." Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the population of Detroit grew, buoyed in large part by southern blacks moving north for factory jobs during the Great Migration. But when a developer wanted to build housing for white people adjacent to this neighborhood, the Federal Housing Authority wouldn't guarantee loans for houses with black neighbors — unless there was a segregation wall. "Ultimately what resulted," Horner says, "was this so-called compromise to build a wall that separated the undeveloped part of Detroit from this already established black neighborhood that was in the city, that had been here since the 1920s - what's referred to as the 8 Mile and Wyoming area."