Along Detroit's Eight Mile Road, a stark racial split
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In cities like Warren the racial contrast is remarkable. The small subdivisions just north of Eight Mile look almost like replicas of the neighborhoods on the south side in Detroit. The streets on both sides are lined with small, largely well-kept houses populated mostly by blue-collar workers.Skip to next paragraph
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But color line remains marked. When a Warren high school put up new basketball hoops here and blacks began coming north to use them, the district's response was to take the rims down. The school said neighborhood complaints about noise were the reason, but many suspected subtle racism.
However, whites who live in the area maintain they face complicated issues. Even if they harbor no racial animosity, they say they are hostage to the environment. Because area whites don't want to live near blacks, the arrival of a single black family in their neighborhood means their property values will likely drop.
And, of course, the long-standing racial tensions here also mean blacks are not particularly interested in living near whites - particularly in some areas.
Sipping a cup of coffee at a mall food court, Rosie Willoughby, who is black, says the racial tensions in the area are at times daunting.
"We all have to get along," she says. "And I think a lot of things have gotten better. I don't think there is as much harassment as there used to be in those areas. But the truth is, I don't go to those places too much. I'd rather just stay in Detroit and mind my own business."
Many blacks, even those with the money to leave the city of Detroit, decide to do the same thing.
While the picture often painted of this city by the national media is one of utter devastation, there are pockets that look as though they were preserved from the 1950s, where large, well-kept homes remain and black families live.
When black families do move out into the suburbs they often face unique challenges. Kenneth Mitchell, who is black and grew up in a house just south of Eight Mile, now lives in a large home in the city of Sterling Heights, which is 91 percent white, with his wife and two young sons, seven miles out from Detroit. "We've got great neighbors and everyone knows the kids," he says. "Overall it's been wonderful."
Mitchell moved back to the area three years ago after living in a Los Angeles suburb where "people lived where they wanted" and race issues were largely nonexistent. He was determined to live the same way when he moved back to the Detroit area. "This is the most racially charged area I have ever seen," he says. "People don't talk about it, but it hangs over everything. But I don't want to live that way."
Still, Mitchell faces problems. One neighbor refuses to let his daughter play with Mitchell's sons. And Mitchell's own relatives, who still live in Detroit, tell him he shouldn't have moved out of the city.
"There is this thing that goes back years and years and years, that when you cross Eight Mile you've got to watch your back," he says. "For some of them it's been so long they now have no desire to cross Eight Mile." He shakes his head and smiles. "It's going to take time. It's going to take a long time."
Looking around this city there are signs of hope that Detroit's history of segregation may eventually wear down.
Cliff Schrepp, of the Fair Housing Center, says he's beginning to see changes.
On Woodward Avenue in the downtown area, for instance, young whites are moving into lofts and condos. The computer company Compuware is building its new world headquarters in that vicinity. That may draw young, creative computer workers to the booming spot where, increasingly, blacks and whites eat, drink, and dance together.
Some of the city's grand old areas - Indian Village, Palmer Woods, Edison Park - are also starting to take on a multiracial diversity.
"I've had some listings in those areas and we're starting to get some young white couples interested in moving down there," says Ms. Libbett, of the real estate board. "We're starting to get some people looking to live in a more diverse area."