This hallowed land was early Detroit. First came the Indians, then Cadillac and French settlers with their Black and Indian slaves. These early Blacks were French speaking Catholics with French names. History recorded that our first Black inhabitant was an unnamed female given the last rites by Father Daniel in 1736.
When the British came in 1760, they brought slaves who were used as trade goods. During the Revolutionary War, Blacks including Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable, the founder of Chicago, were marched here as spoils of war.
The town burned down in 1805 and some Blacks were given "donation lots". As Detroit emerged from the ashes, freed slaves Hannah and Peter Denison sued without success for their children's freedom and fled to Canada. Later Peter Denison returned to this frontier town to lead the black militia.
In 1831, fugitives Thornton and Ruth Blackburn escaped to Detroit. Recaptured in 1833, Detroit's emergent Black community helped them to "make free" to Canada.
Second Baptist, Bethel A.M.E. and St. Matthew's Episcopal churches served as schools for Black children and havens for social and political protest. The colored Vigilant committee organized to combat racism. These same Black men helped fugitives flee to Canada on the Underground Railroad, crossing the Detroit River at many points, including near this site.
Black churches celebrated the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, and then the First Michigan Colored Infantry recruited courageous Black men for the Union Army.
After the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave Black men the right to vote. Local signs of progress included appointing Fannie Richards our first Black teacher in the Detroit Public Schools.
At the turn of the century, as Detroit's industry prospered, Black families pushed north to the Motor City desperately seeking better economic opportunities. Between 1920 and 1950 the population mushroomed from 6000 to 300,000. The Black community expanded north, west and east from the overcrowded neighborhoods in the nearby east side. In 1925 Dr. Ossian Sweet met with hostile reactions as he tried to better his living conditions by moving into an all white neighborhood. The resulting trial served to galvanize the Black community into action against racism.
The NAACP, Urban League, churches, unions, fraternal groups and Black press rallied to alleviate some of the agony of the Depression of the 1930's. An entire generation's hope for a better life was reflected in the triumphs of boxing champion Joe Louis, Detroit's Brown Bomber.
During World War II, even while Black men and women fought for democracy abroad, they faced discrimination at home. After the war, the U.S. Supreme Court
outlawed restrictive real estate practices and better housing began to be a reality.
In the postwar period, Black Detroiters sought their roots in the emerging civil rights movement. A new awareness of Black pride revitalized institutions and was celebrated in arts, humanities, religion and politics.
Meanwhile, population shifts, urban renewal, business and industrial relocation, an eroding tax base, and continued discrimination created a sense of hopelessness and despair. The resultant anger and frustration ignited the 1967 rebellion.
After the rebellion, a multi-ethnic and biracial coalition formed to address historic grievances and solve community problems. In 1973, the election of Coleman A. Young, our first African-American Mayor, symbolized the power sharing required to rebuild our city. As you can see around you, revitalization has begun. The struggle to revive Detroit continues and remains the responsibility of all.