On this dayFeb 28, 1942

White Mobs Riot in Detroit

Image | Library of Congress

Before and during World War II, the city of Detroit, Michigan, was a hub for economic activity that attracted a large influx of new residents. Many newcomers were African Americans fleeing racial violence and inequality in the rural South, in a wave known as the Great Migration. Those who resettled in Detroit felt the city offered new opportunities for economic mobility.

Housing scarcity was a major challenge for growing Detroit, as new construction did not keep pace with the increasing population, and residential segregation created dangerous slums. Black families were banned from most public housing, restricted to over-crowded neighborhoods, and often forced to pay higher rents to live in dilapidated homes without indoor plumbing. They also faced hostility from the local Ku Klux Klan, police, and groups of white workers.

In June 1941, Detroit policymakers approved plans to build the Sojourner Truth Homes, a public housing project for African Americans, located in a white neighborhood. Over protest from local whites, construction was completed that year and the city authorized black families to move in starting February 28, 1942.

One day before, growing crowds of local whites marched through the housing project. On move-in day, only a few black families braved the harassment and intimidation. Some were struck with rocks. Police responded by halting the moves and arresting more than 200 blacks and only three whites. The new residents were displaced until April, when six black families moved in under the protection of 2,000 city and state officials.

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