Located in the infamous Eight Mile neighborhood of Detroit, it remains a blatant symbol of racism that stands today.
Often dubbed the city’s own “Berlin Wall,” the half-mile stretch of concrete was erected more than eight decades ago in 1941. Originally built to take advantage of discriminatory federal housing policies, it has served as a constant reminder of the area’s divisions.
Unlike the German parallel wall, the six-foot wall was not installed for physical segregation, but rather to satisfy a Federal Housing Association policy called “redlining,” which explicitly denied funds to black neighborhoods.
When white developers planned to build in the area in 1941, they were denied loans because it would be too close to a black neighborhood—inspiring the idea of building a wall loom to satisfy FHA regulations.
Fast forward 80 years, and the structure is still in place, albeit in renewed status as a historic landmark now adorned with colorful murals. Its presence appears to have divided Michigan society in more ways than one, as activists on both sides battle to tear down the controversial symbol or keep it as a reminder of its bleak past.
In 2006, a Detroit resident decorated the wall, a reminder of a bleak past
The idea of a “red line” originated from the color-coded maps used by federal development lenders, where “safe” neighborhoods were shaded blue or green while “risky” communities were red.
According to one of the signs installed by the wall after it becomes a historic landmark in 2022, the FHA saw the artificial barriers as a way to protect the value of white neighborhoods from “negative influences” such as “heterogeneous racial groups.”
Despite the policy being dismantled under the Fair Housing Act 27 years after the wall was built, the structure has remained standing, and the sharp racial divisions of the surrounding population saw the north side become majority white and the south side majority black.
Even as many white residents crossed Eight Mile Road in the ensuing decades, away from the unsightly concrete stretch and toward the suburbs, the wall persisted.
Jamon Jordan, a Detroit historian, said in an interview with Bridgedetroit After the wall was given historic historical status.
He noted the rapid rise of African Americans in Detroit after fleeing Jim Crow laws in the South at the turn of the century. Jordan added that despite newfound job opportunities, FHA policies left many left behind financially, even though they made “the same amount of money” as their white counterparts.
There will be people who will not believe you if you tell them that there was a segregation wall built in the United States, in the North, in the city of Detroit in 1941.
This wall is proof of that. This is why the wall is still important, and I would argue that it should not be destroyed.
The Wall venue in Detroit’s “Eight Mile” neighborhood has recently risen to prominence after being the location of the 2002 hit movie of the same name, in which rapper Eminem grappled with racial divisions while trying to launch a rap career.
The Eight Mile has a wall after it was the location of the 2002 film starring Eminem of the same name
The six-foot wall was built to appease discriminatory FHA laws that would allow white developers to receive financing for construction through black neighborhoods.
Despite the wall’s racist past, many – including the grandson of its founder – now argue that it should remain standing.
Since then, the divisive wall has been covered in colorful murals, including images of key moments in black history
according to NBC NewsThe idea for the wall was originally put forward by James T. Macmillan, who at the time was the patriarch of one of Detroit’s most illustrious families.
His grandfather, James McMillan, was a U.S. Senator from Michigan from 1890 until his death in 1902, starting a line of government officials and community leaders who endured throughout their lives.
When confronted about his family’s relationship with the divisive structure, Sandy McMillan, the great-grandson of the mogul, told the outlet he was “hard to hear.”
“With history,” he said, “you learn from the good and the not-so-good, and you don’t hide either.” “I see this as an important story to tell.”
When the wall was first introduced, the reason behind it was no secret—the Michigan Chronicle ran a front-page headline at the time reading: “Charge Wall Built to Separate Races.”
However, despite the fact that some are horrified that such a symbol of hate remains, others are now glad that the graffiti wall is still in place.
It is really important to remember this history of discrimination in this city. “It still casts a shadow today,” said Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit, after giving it a historic designation last year.
“The federal government very deliberately discriminated against African Americans.”
The front page of The Michigan Chronicle after the wall was installed described the structure as “built to separate the races.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said it was “important that we remember this history of discrimination in this city” after the wall was granted Historic Landmark status
Detroit historian Jamon Jordan has argued for keeping the wall standing despite its racist history
A sign was erected after the wall was designated as a historic landmark in 2022, noting that it was seen as protecting the value from “negative influences”.
“A lost history is one that can be repeated, so every time we do education, we make sure current and future generations are prepared,” added Rochelle Riley, Detroit’s Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship Officer.
The structure, often referred to in the neighborhood as the “Burwood Wall” or “Eight Mile Wall,” has seen some notable attempts recently to embellish its dark history.
Across its 2,200-foot stretch, the blank concrete was painted by Detroit artist Chaz Miller in 2006, who enlisted area residents to help cover it in colorful designs.
In stark contrast to her divisive past, the wall is now decorated with scenes from black history, including images of Sojourner Truth helping children through the subway, and Rosa Parks riding a bus.