Michigan Town Fulfills a Long-Awaited Promise to African American Families

Imagine growing up in the same town for your whole life, and then abruptly being thrown out for reasons unbeknownst to you. Sallie Sanders, now 60 years old, was that little girl who grew up in Hamtramck, Michigan. Her family was thrown out of the town when she was just 10 years old for simply being on the wrong side of the color line. In fact, in 1971 a federal judge found that the old manufacturing town had deliberately used urban renewal projects during the 1950s and 1960s to eliminate “black neighborhoods” from its two square miles, which ultimately led to the displacement of hundreds of African American families.

In order to remedy the situation, the judge, Damon J. Keith, ordered Hamtramck to build new housing for the displaced families. While Hamtramck agreed, they never actually built any housing for decades. But now, Hamtramck, faced with one of the most devastated state economies in the country, is changing its tune and finally fulfilling a long-awaited promise. Sadly, many of the original families are no longer living, so the affordable housing will go to children and grandchildren instead. So far, about 100 houses have been completed for rent or sale and another 100 are on their way.

Beyond the long-awaited buildings, Hamtramck has changed in other ways, too. Specifically, according to the Census Bureau, Hamtramck represents Michigan’s most international and diverse cities. And with the increased diversity, there has also been a change in attitudes about how to remedy past mistakes. Ms. Sanders recently moved into a new ranch-style house on the same street where her family originally lived, with the keys handed over by Governor Jennifer Granholm herself.