Urban studies lecturer comments about Detroit's Wailing Wall

Jeff Horner, a lecturer in Wayne State University's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, commented in a story about the six-foot tall wall standing in Detroit's Birwood Street. Neighbors say the wall was built in the late 1930s with a simple aim: to separate homes planned for middle-class whites from blacks who had already built small houses or owned land with plans to build. It goes by different names.

For some, it's simply "The Wall." Others call it "Detroit's Wailing Wall." Many like "Birwood Wall," because it refers to the street and sounds like the "Berlin Wall." It's still a half-mile long, interrupted only by two streets, much as a developer envisioned it in the early 1940s. It couldn't separate people on its own-people and policies would see to that but it was enough to satisfy the Federal Housing Administration to approve and back loans.

A lot of white housing developments started spreading north and "pushing up against this black enclave on the far edge of the city," says Horner. By 1940, the gap had closed. A developer of a proposed all-white subdivision managed to hammer out a compromise with federal housing officials: The loans and mortgage guarantees would come in exchange for constructing a wall. "This is the closest thing Detroit has to the segregated fountains or to the white-only swimming pools of the Deep South," Horner says.

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