Black and white in downtown Detroit
Downtown Detroit, I submit, will continue to have venues and night spots that attract a large set of patrons that are either exclusively white or black. Have you ever been to Cobo Joe’s on Red Wings game night, or to Flood’s Bar & Floods Bar and Grille the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (or any other night)?
What’s interesting about this new spot from a historical standpoint is that it sits on the same city block where the Graystone Ballroom once stood. It was the popular white-owned venue of the 1930s and ’40s where blacks were relegated to patronizing only on Monday — “Colored Night.”
The Graystone, on the other hand, was also where Roy Lightfoot, the first official “mayor” of Paradise Valley, the popular African-American entertainment district, was crowned king of black Detroit in October 1936. City of Detroit clerk Richard Reading, a white man, pinned a shiny gold badge on Lightfoot’s lapel that night as 5,000 people, most of whom were black, stood witness.
The point is that even in Metro Detroit’s sometimes extreme world of black and white, there are shades of gray. I didn’t attend the recent opening of Punch Bowl Social, the new downtown game room entertainment night spot, but through photos posted on Facebook I gathered that there were at least some black folk in a sea of whites and people of other ethnic groups and nationalities.
A lifelong Detroit resident and one who lived in downtown proper for 11 years, the concern that I have about Detroit’s “rebirth” powered by downtown and Midtown gentrification: Will the city’s rich history of blacks making a way out of no way be acknowledged and appreciated as well as preserved and presented?
Thank God City Council members Barbara-Rose Collins and JoAnn Watson led the way several years ago to make Beatrice Buck Park and the Paradise Valley display in it a reality. Located in the area of downtown formerly known as Harmonie Park, it attracts lots of foot traffic as thousands go to and from Comerica Park and Ford Field to see the Tigers and Lions.
Had Collins and Watson not stuck to their guns, there may not be the same genuine opportunity for whites and others — and blacks too for that matter — to learn of Sunnie Wilson, Rollo Vest, Alberta Adams, Ziggy Johnson, the Gotham Hotel, the 606 Horseshoe Lounge, and summer vacations at Idlewild, the African-American resort located on the western side of the state.
Ken Coleman, Detroit