The Erasure of Aretha Franklin's Hometown Of Black Bottom and Its Cultural Legacy

black men and women sitting around a table in a club
Via Flickr
Adé Hennis
March 14, 2024

Countless nationally famous artists performed in Black Bottom, an area of Detroit steeped in Black culture. But for Aretha Franklin, Black Bottom was more than just a place to sing; it was her home.

Built upon a riverbed and a sewer, Black Bottom was far from an ideal living environment. But with redlining limiting the options of thousands of Black newcomers during the Great Migration, they had to make do. And from the 1920s to 1930s, the community did just that.

“I never saw prosperity in the Black community—hell, in the city—as there was then. The money was practically jumping from pocket to pocket in those days,”  said Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Black Bottom had numerous successful businesses, and a church led by Pastor C.L. Franklin, whose daughter, Aretha, sang in the choir.

In the 1950s, the Detroit government destroyed Black Bottom to start an urban “renewal” project for middle-class white families and build a freeway. Many of the neighborhood’s Black residents were forced out and once-thriving businesses closed down.

The Black Bottom community rose from the marsh and built thriving businesses that supported and employed our people. That community proved that we can create our own opportunities even when the deck is stacked against us.

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