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Ann Arbor 200
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Black Women in the Workplace

In this video complied from dozens of interviews from the Living Oral History Project, Black women speak about their experiences working in Washtenaw County, including the various obstacles they had to face in hiring and on the job.

The Living Oral History Project is a partnership between the African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor District Library, providing a permanent home for 50+ interviews with Black community members collected over the past decade.  The collection continues to grow with interviews added each year.

Ann Arbor 200

The Road Not Built: Ann Arbor’s Packard-Beakes Bypass

During the 1950s and 60s, construction of new roads and highways throughout the United States was booming. Suburbs were growing faster than cities, and new traffic patterns were needed. But in many cases these new building projects divided or demolished Black neighborhoods. Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were vibrant cultural and musical centers where most of the city’s Black residents lived. City planners demolished these neighborhoods in the 1950s to make way for the Chrysler Freeway and Lafayette Park. 

The Old Neighborhood

Ann Arbor has its own story of a neighborhood that was almost divided. In 1966, voters approved a $1 million roads bond issue for the Packard-Beakes Bypass. The proposed new route would keep commuter traffic off Main Street. Instead, that traffic would go through the predominantly Black neighborhood north of downtown. Dozens of family homes would be razed. Longtime residents know this area as the Old Neighborhood or North-Central Ann Arbor. Many now call it Kerrytown.

Street map of downtown Ann Arbor showing bypass route
Ann Arbor News, April 1, 1972

Ann Arbor’s neighborhoods were mostly racially segregated until the 1960s. Redlining prevented non-white residents from buying homes outside of certain areas. Most Black residents lived north of downtown and south of the railroad tracks. A junkyard and slaughterhouse operated next to the neighborhood park. Despite these conditions, Black families created a tight-knit community there. They built homes, churches, and a community center.

The Packard-Beakes Bypass was not the first attempt by the city of Ann Arbor to clear out this Black residential area. By the mid-20th century, city leaders were looking for ways to revitalize downtown. They wanted to remove Black-owned businesses on Ann Street and make the area more attractive for white consumers. They latched onto Urban Renewal as a way to do so.  

Urban Renewal

Urban Renewal was a federally funded effort to clear large tracts of land in U.S. cities for new construction. Neighborhoods with older or deteriorating buildings, often in Black or immigrant communities, were targeted for renewal. “Slum clearance” was a common phrase used by city planners. Black author James Baldwin famously called Urban Renewal “Negro removal,” and the name rung true for many families who lost their homes.

In 1955, Ann Arbor City Council president A. D. Moore identified the North-Central neighborhood as a prime candidate for Urban Renewal. “Our largest area touched by blight is bounded by Main, Ann, Detroit and Depot St. It is an old area, with many old buildings.” He also argued the Black business district on East Ann Street was ripe for removal. He said, “these [structures] have outlived their day, but no one can afford to buy them, raze them and replace them.”

Street map with North-Central neighborhood highlighted
A 1956 Urban Renewal Plan

The Council brought in federal commissioner James W. Follin for advice. By 1956, a formal proposal for Urban Renewal surfaced in Ann Arbor. Mayor Samuel J. Eldersveld and planning director Ray C. Eastman outlined a 75-acre area of the city for revitalization. But residents of the Old Neighborhood were cautious after seeing the devastating effects on Black communities across the nation.

Reverend C. W. Carpenter of Second Baptist Church warned that Black residents wanted renewal, but not relocation. Some homeowners would be pressured to take on high mortgages for renovations they could not afford. At least 249 families would be displaced and 172 residential structures demolished. Residents attended special City Council meetings in March and July of 1958. Most agreed with Rev. Carpenter, who stated, “We will fight this thing from the lowest court to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

A year later, City Council passed the Urban Renewal plan by a 6-to-5 vote. But Mayor Cecil O. Creal vetoed the plan. Creal had been on a special committee studying the effects of proposed Urban Renewal in Ann Arbor. He was concerned that the City Council was implementing a plan without voter approval.

Packard-Beakes Bypass

The Packard-Beakes Bypass project ushered in another decade of debate over the Old Neighborhood’s future. Soon after Creal vetoed Urban Renewal, city planners proposed a new traffic plan to create a protected shopping area downtown. The proposal rerouted heavy traffic from Main Street to surrounding neighborhoods.

Southbound traffic coming towards downtown on Beakes Street would be routed to First Street and then Packard. Heading north, another one-way connector would use Ashley, Kingsley, and Division Streets. Main Street would be closed to traffic between William and Huron. The estimated cost was $1 million, including purchasing property in the impacted areas and building the connectors.

Voters approved the Packard-Beakes Bypass in a 1966 roads bond issue that included several other road improvements. The city hired realtor Wendell Hobbes to acquire right-of-way for the project. As of Spring 1969, seventeen homes were slated for demolition. City Administrator Guy C. Larcom noted that several parcels would need condemnation proceedings. 

Article headline "Street Work Razing Set"
Ann Arbor News, March 18, 1969

Families who owned homes in the path of the proposed route were served notices and offered compensation for their property. Some property owners recall being intimidated into selling. Shirley Beckley lived at 115 West Kingsley. Her house and two next to it were in the direct path of the proposed connector between Beakes and First Street.

“The city came,” she remembers. “My mother had since died so I was living there with my stepfather and my kids. They said he had to sell the house to them because they were going to do the Beakes-Packard Bypass. Now, we didn't have a choice, they said. If he didn't sell, they would condemn it and take it.”

Model Cities

After the demolition of many family homes, the Packard-Beakes Bypass project hit a roadblock. In September 1969, Model Cities asked the city to temporarily halt the project. The new city program had conducted a survey of neighborhood residents that indicated widespread resistance to the Packard-Beakes Bypass.

Ann Arbor's Model Cities was a program funded by the federal government to rehabilitate the Old Neighborhood area. The purpose of the program was for residents to become involved in decisions affecting their welfare, including housing and development. But the announcement of $112,000 in federal funding came late in 1968, when planning was already underway for the Packard-Beakes Bypass.

Street map showing two possible routes of Packard-Beakes Bypass
Map of Proposed Packard-Beakes Bypass, February 1972

The Model Cities Policy Board asked the city to suspend work until it had completed its own plan for the neighborhood. Ann Arbor’s Planning Commission granted the request, and demolition work stopped. The project stalled for nearly two years as multiple groups argued over the best way forward. 

Model Cities proposed an alternate route for the bypass that followed the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks rather than cutting across the Old Neighborhood. They suggested routing traffic along First and Ashley and building a connector to Main Street near Depot Street. This long-range plan would have solved traffic flow issues more effectively than the proposed Packard-Beakes Bypass. However, city officials balked at the estimated $30 million price tag. Other suggested alternatives such as the closure of Beakes Street met resistance from property owners.

Voters To Decide

Eventually, several organizations banded together to urge City Council to back the original Packard-Beakes Bypass route. A motivating factor was the construction of Briarwood Mall, which threatened to draw business away from downtown. On January 31, 1972, after over two hours of debate, City Council voted 7-4 to approve the original route. First Ward councilman Nerris Thomas voiced his opposition, saying, “We’re about to reject the plea of Model Cities to have a right to determine their own destiny.”

article headline with picture of car crossing bridge
Ann Arbor Sun, February 18, 1972

Despite the green light from City Council, the completion of the Packard-Beakes Bypass required additional funding. The $1 million bond from 1966 had already been spent on property acquisition. The city added a $935,000 roads bond issue to the April 1972 ballot. The future of the project rested in the hands of voters. On April 3, the people of Ann Arbor rejected the measure by a nearly 2-1 margin. 

Residents of the Old Neighborhood whose homes were demolished for the bypass project never saw it completed. Although the neighborhood was not divided by busy roadways, their own homes were gone. The city retained the parcels and sold them at a profit. Many of the lots, including Shirley Beckley’s former home, now feature high-rise condominiums and other evidence of gentrification.

Additional Resources by AADL

There Went The Neighborhood: The Closing of Jones School

AACHM Living Oral History Project Walking Tour

 

Ann Arbor 200
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There Went The Neighborhood: The Closing of Jones School

As part of Ann Arbor 200, the Ann Arbor District Library and 7 Cylinders Studio (7CS) have produced a documentary film about the closing of Ann Arbor's Jones School. In 1965, the Board of Education closed the majority-Black school. Ann Arbor joined a nationwide trend of school desegregation during the Civil Rights Era. But for these young students, the loss of a neighborhood school foreshadowed changes to their close-knit community. Gentrification came to Ann Arbor on the heels of desegregation.

In the making of this film, 7CS filmmakers and AADL archivists interviewed over thirty former Jones students and Black community leaders. They shared memories of Jones School and "The Old Neighborhood"—the areas now known as Kerrytown and Water Hill. A filmed walking tour, studio interviews, and historical photos form the core of the film. Run time is approximately 40 minutes.
 

The AADL Archives has many additional materials to explore relating to these topics, including a history of Jones School and dozens of Ann Arbor News articles that appear in the film:

Old Neighborhood Reunion Participants Share Memories, August 1996 Photographer: William Jordan

Old Neighborhood Reunion Participants Share Memories, August 1996 image
Year:
1996
Published In:
Ann Arbor News, August 18, 1996
Caption:
Let to right, Shirley Beckley of Ann Arbor, Whit Chapman of New Orleans and Claude Baker of Ann Arbor look through newspaper clippings from a time when they all were neighbors and went to school together at Jones School.