Detroit Historic Sites
Detroit has numerous black historic sites, including several Downtown, that echo its importance to the Underground Railroad. It was the meeting place of two great abolitionists and many other sites of religious and economic importance in the 20th century as well.
Frederick Douglass-John Brown Meeting Marker
DESCRIPTION: Abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown met with several Detroit residents at this site on March 12, 1859, to discuss methods for ending slavery in America; while Douglass sought an end to slavery through political means, Brown believed revolution was the way to end the system; 8 months later, Brown would die for his beliefs after the famed Harper’s Ferry Raid in West Virginia
ADDRESS: Congress Street at St. Antoine Street, Detroit, MI MAP
Underground Railroad Station Marker
DESCRIPTION: Site of a barn built in 1846 by Seymour Finney, a station superintendent; ample hiding space in the barn assisted hundreds of people at several crossing points along Jefferson and across the Detroit River to freedom in Canada
ADDRESS: Griswald Street at State Street, Detroit, MI MAP
Nation of Islam Founding Mosque
DESCRIPTION: In 1930, W. Fard Muhammad appeared in Detroit and founded the Nation of Islam, with this site as the first mosque; in 1931, Elijah Poole met Fard here, replaced his slave with Muhammad and was trained by Fard; in 1934, after severe police harassment, Fard mysteriously departed; Elijah Muhammad to continue building the Nation of Islam at this site until he moved the main mosque to Chicago; the NOI’s Detroit mosque #1 has since moved to two other locations
ADDRESS: 11525 Linwood Avenue, Detroit, MI MAP
Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel
DESCRIPTION: Built in 1929, it spans the Detroit River, connecting Detroit with Windsor, Canada; the bridge is North America’s #1 international border crossing and the longest suspension bridge in the world; Canadian approaches to the bridge were designed by African American Cornelius Langston Henderson, Sr.; Henderson is also credited with supervising construction of the steel tubes that enclose the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel (opened 1930) the only vehicular international underwater border crossing in the world; almost a mile long and only 75 feet below the surface of the Detroit River, the tunnel has been recognized as one of the great engineering wonders of the world; both residents of Detroit and Windsor and visitors to the area use the tunnel via car or Tunnel bus to enjoy all that both cities have to offer
ADDRESS: Ambassador Bridge, Detroit, MI MAP
DESCRIPTION: This Beaux Arts-style building became the center of black professional activity in 1936 when the owner, Metropolitan Life Insurance, allowed African American patrons into this building to make insurance payments; soon afterwards African American doctors, lawyers, judges, public officials, and officers of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters leased office space; it remained vibrant until desegregation in the 1960s began the exodus to Detroit suburbs
ADDRESS: 1308 Broadway Street, Detroit, MI MAP
First Independence National Bank
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1970, it is the largest African American owned bank in Michigan.
ADDRESS: 44 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI MAP
20 Grand Lounge Historic Site
DESCRIPTION: When Motown perfected their stage acts before touring, this was the spot to see the Temptations, Supremes, Four Tops, Marvelettes, Smoky, and Marvin. A line of luxury cars deposited guests at the lounge on those nights. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of the nightclub property. Though it reopened as the New 20 Grand Motel, the property has since been destroyed.
ADDRESS: 2100 West Warren Avenue, Detroit, MI MAP
DESCRIPTION: Though built in 1919, it known as the Paradise Theatre from 1941-51 and recognized as a peer to Chicago’s Regal Theater, New York’s Apollo Theater, Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater, Washington’s Howard Theatre and Baltimore’s Royal Theater on the Chitlin’ Circuit. The Paradise drew folks from all over to hear a bevy of some of the greatest Jazz performers of the day like Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and numerous others. The theater remained in the Jazz forefront until 1951, when it succumbed to the decline of the Jazz popularity. The new Orchestra Hall stands today as a reminder of those glory years, and is a place to enjoy tributes to great Jazz composers. Now it is home to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
ADDRESS: 3711 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI MAP
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1936, it is a franchise of the Chicago Defender newspaper owned by Robert Sengstacke Abbott. Papers were originally printed on the Chicago press and shipped overnight to Detroit before Sengstacke made it a completely local paper. Key contributors in the growth of the paper to 25,000 circulation by 1944 were John Sengstacke, Lucious Harper, Louis Martin and Longworth Quinn. The first office was located at 1729 St. Antoine Street, Detroit, MI MAP
ADDRESS: 479 West Ledyard Street, Detroit, MI MAP
Dunbar Memorial Hospital
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1918, by a group of African American physicians in 1918, it was the first hospital to serve Detroit’s African American community; this building also served as the city’s first black nursing school; in 1928, the hospital moved to a larger facility at Brush and Illinois; that same year, Michigan’s first African American state senator, Charles Diggs, Sr., moved into the home with his family; Diggs’ son, Charles, Jr. would go on to become Michigan’s first African American member of the U.S. Congress; listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and open for free tours
ADDRESS: 580 Frederick Street, Detroit, MI MAP
Dr. Ossian Sweet Residence
DESCRIPTION: In 1925 Dr Sweet, a prominent physician and graduate of Howard University Medical School, purchased this two story brick house; a mob of whites attacked his home in an effort to prevent integration of the neighborhood; while he and 9 associates defended his house in the ensuing melee’, a neighbor was killed and Dr Sweet was charged with murder; the NAACP asked famous trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow to defend Dr Sweet; Darrow was successful in this nationally publicized murder trial where a citizen’s rights to defend their property was upheld by the courts
ADDRESS: 2905 Garland Street, Detroit, MI MAP
Orsel McGhee Residence
DESCRIPTION: Many African Americans who live in the suburbs owe a debt to the McGhees; in 1944 next door neighbors, citing a restrictive covenant against non-whites, filed suit against the newly moved-in McGhees; McGhee was represented in a lengthy legal battle by the NAACP and its imminent attorney, Thurgood Marshall; after the Supreme Court heard the case in 1948, restrictive housing covenants were legally abolished
ADDRESS: 4626 Seabaldt Street, Detroit, MI MAP
Incorporated in 1846, this is Detroit’s oldest non-church cemetery and the final resting place for many of the city’s most influential African Americans of the 19th century. Abolitionist George DeBaptiste and William Lambert (treasurer and manager of the Detroit terminal of the Underground Railroad) and 14 members of the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War are buried here.
ADDRESS: 1200 Elmwood, Detroit, MI MAP
International Monuments to the Underground Railroad
Designed by renowned African American sculptor Ed Dwight, two bronze monuments grace both sides of the U.S. Canada border, as a memorial to the thousands of former slaves who escaped through Detroit to freedom in Windsor via the Underground Railroad; the Detroit monument features eight bronze figures gesturing over the river towards Canada; in Windsor you’ll find a 22-foot sculpture of former slaves celebrating their newfound freedom
ADDRESS: Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI MAP
Riverfront Civic Esplanade, Windsor MAP