Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Black Conquest of Detroit, Part II: The Jews Played “Nice,” but Got Destroyed, Just Like the “Racist” White Gentiles



Michael H. Traison, attorney for Miller Canfield, grew up at 2019 Elmhurst in the 1940s and 50s (Photo by David Coates / The Detroit News)


Traison, at age 5 in 1950. His home was on the corner of Elmhurst and 14th, which is now a parking lot.

“By modern standards, crime was nonexistent….
“…his mother always left the back door, and occasionally the front door, unlocked.
“Elmhurst was a perfect street for families with children…
“In 1951, Elmhurst was a typical post-war Detroit street.”

Cameron McWhirter, Detroit News

[Previously, in this series:

“The White Devils Made Me Do It! Classic Detroit News Series Blames Whites for City’s Destruction.”

See also:

“Growing Up White in Detroit.”]

2: Life on Elmhurst in 1951 would never be better
By Cameron McWhirter
June 17, 2001
The Detroit News

That summer of 1951, the 1900 block of Elmhurst was lined with tall elm trees that shaded the street and sidewalks with a canopy of broad branches and leaves. The 17 houses, four four-family flats, four apartment buildings and two storefront/apartment buildings were full to capacity. The shops fronting 12th — Nino’s pizzeria, Olympia Candy Shop (known to the kids as Gussy’s), Black & White Cleaners, the Kosher butcher and others — were busy and thriving.

The assessed value of the block’s 28 parcels — about $200,000 — would never be higher. Its nearby schools would never be better. Central High School students regularly went off to prominent colleges out east, or to Wayne State, or to the University of Michigan. Roosevelt was considered one of the best public elementary schools in the country.

By modern standards, crime was nonexistent. Police walking the beat in the area coped with minor infractions: an occasional drunk outside the bar and juvenile monkeyshines. That year, 129 homicides occurred in the city of more than 1.8 million.

Phyllis Shiovitz Weeks, Harry’s daughter who was four in 1951, remembers the biggest problem on Elmhurst was a little girl who liked to bite other kids. Police came and talked to her parents, and things were ironed out.

Ed Gold, 60, now an attorney with Butzel Long, lived with his family at 1981 Elmhurst. He remembers his mother always left the back door, and occasionally the front door, unlocked.

Elmhurst was a perfect street for families with children, within walking distance of Central High, Durfee Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary only two blocks away. Beth Yehuda, the Jewish parochial school, was also a few blocks away. Jewish kids walked to school or to the playground or the butcher’s on 12th to pick up orders for their mothers.

And just down the street, B’nai David had been the cultural center of this part of Elmhurst since it opened in 1928. “On the High Holy Days, it was packed wall-to-wall,” said former state Judge Schlomo Sperka, whose father was the Rabbi of B’nai David in the early 1950s.

In 1951, Elmhurst was a typical post-war Detroit street. It was primarily white, like the city at the time. It was working class. It was crowded. And everyone wanted to get out, move up, make it. Part of the American Dream was a new, modern, suburban house.

“My impression was that it was a very bland Jewish neighborhood, not very rich at all, and it was a pleasant neighborhood,” Sperka said.

The Jews on Elmhurst, like most other Jews in the city, did not actively work to keep blacks out of their neighborhood. In other parts of the city, whites had attacked black homes with bricks or Molotov cocktails. White homeowners’ associations were filing lawsuits and petitioning city government to stop blacks from moving to their blocks in other areas of Detroit.

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