The story of the wall has been largely lost in larger narratives, such as the 1943 and 1967 race riots and Eight Mile Road. The wall ends, almost invisible, just shy of the thoroughfare that serves as the boundary between Detroit and its suburbs and symbolically represents the divide between black and white.
Race remains a flashpoint in a city beset by an interrelated stew of crime, corruption and high unemployment. And some accuse the state of further disenfranchising Detroit’s majority black population as Michigan’s governor recently declared a financial emergency in the city and the state took financial control.
Still, the wall is not forgotten. An artist descended on it several years ago with an army of about 100 fellow artists and community volunteers to create a vast, eye-popping mural with images and messages of equality and justice on a section overlooking a playground. And now, a faith-based nonprofit is giving work to men who have struggled to keep a job or a home, having them make sets of coasters that incorporate images from the wall and use materials from abandoned homes that were razed in the city. Every sale of a $20 set of coasters helps to make something good out of something bad.
“It’s recycling, giving jobs to people who are having a tough time with unemployment and, at the same time, creating a very nice piece of art that could and should lead to some great discussions about race in the city of Detroit and in our country,” says Faith Fowler, director of Cass Community Social Services and its Green Industries program.