Visiting the Birwood Wall in Detroit

After the presidential election, I enjoyed watching teary-eyed Americans, many of who said they never expected this after struggling decades for civil rights.  What a great milestone.

A few days after, I biked down to the Birwood wall in Northwest Detroit.

From the Associated Press, May 17th, 2006:

The wall was built in the early 1940s when a developer wanted to build homes for middle-class whites but found that the U.S. government would not back mortgages because too many blacks lived in the neighborhood, said Blight Busters founder John George.

The developer proposed putting up a wall to show that whites and blacks would not be living together, George said. It worked, and federal officials approved the loans.

I just don’t understand how anyone thought this wall was acceptable.  And it’s also a reminder to temper those glowing stories of how Detroit used to be a paradise.  Walls like this wouldn’t get built in my vision of paradise.

The wall still stands today.  Parts of it are tagged, while others have been covered in an elaborate mural.

During my visit I spoke with one of the wall’s neighbors.  He grew up here and recalled how he used to walk along the wall when he was a kid.

We gave a fist bump to celebrate Obama’s recent victory.

I hopped back on the bike and headed home.


  1. Comment by Eric Malzahn on November 22, 2008 2:09 am

    I didn’t know this existed. Does it go North-South between Birwood and Mendota?

  2. Comment by Todd Scott on November 22, 2008 10:17 am

    Yes, that the correct location. It starts just below 8 Mile and runs to Pembroke (7.5 Mile). The mural is in the Alfonso Wells Memorial Park.

  3. Comment by detroitknowit on June 15, 2009 12:45 pm

    I think it rather funny that such a short little wall in length and in height can cause so much controversy. Its nothing more then a Six foot tall concrete fence between backyards. Its the height of a stockade fence. When you get to either end you can walk around it on to the next block.

    Why don’t people protest real issues of class separation going on today. Such as the large berms and secluded way the fringe suburbs are built. They’re less of new neighborhoods and more like fortress compounds. Where everything is made not to be walked to. When is the last time an apartment building, various size homes with street that don’t dead end were built in a single neighborhood in cities like Novi, Canton, Rochester Hills, Shelby Twp, Chesterfield ????

  4. Comment by Todd Scott on June 29, 2009 11:56 pm

    I would suggest that the bigger class separation today is due to transportation. Many parts of Metro Detroit are designed for those who have cars and can drive. There’s often no mass transit, nor are the communities walkable or bikeable. This affects housing and employment options.

    I also think the controversy with the Birwood wall lies more in the role the federal government played. I’m not sure the wall was built in the 1940s, though. On the DTE aerials, it looks like part of that land was army barracks during the 1940s. It looks like housing came about on the east side of the wall between 1952 and 1956.

  5. Comment by Irv Levy on January 19, 2011 6:42 pm

    I lived in that general area – did not know this wall ever existed. Shame on me! Shame on those who erected the wall. Nothing more to say on this shameful subject.

  6. Comment by Vinnie on February 23, 2011 5:03 pm

    Hey Irv, the only reason you never heard of that wall is because it only exists to separate the houses on the western boundary of the Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground from the playground itself. It’s easy to contrive a myth of racisim where non exists because anyone attempting to discredit the myth will automatically be labeled a racist……and nobody wants to have to deal with that label.

    Drive down to the playground yourself, as I did, and see for yourself…….It’s just a damn playground wall.

  7. Comment by Vinnie on February 23, 2011 5:33 pm

    As a follow-up to my previous comment, if the whites were so racist at that time, why would they even consider moving into an allegedly “black” community so long as a “wall” was erected to seperate them? That dog don’t hunt! This article is just another classic example of “race baiting”………

  8. Comment by Todd Scott on February 23, 2011 5:43 pm

    The Alfonso Wells Playfield did not exist when the wall was built. The DTE historic aerials photos from 1947 show the wall. There are townhouses where the park is today. The DTE aerials don’t show the park being created until 1967.

    Also, the wall runs well beyond the playground to nearly 8 Mile Road.

    Your theories are a complete bust.

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