Digitally Recreating Detroit’s Black Bottom Neighborhood

Jake Neher/WDET

Emily Kutil (right) and Marsha Music (left)

The Black Bottom neighborhood was once the epicenter of Black life and entertainment in Detroit. Black Bottom was one of the few neighborhoods where Black people and marginalized immigrants were allowed to live in the turn of the last century.

Located between the Detroit river and Gratiot Avenue, Black Bottom was eventually decimated to make way for I-375 downtown. A new project is underway to virtually reconstruct the old neighborhood using digitally uploaded photographs from the Detroit Public Library’s Burton Historical Collection.

Architect Emily Kutil and advisor Marsha Music spoke with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson about the beginning stages of the Black Bottom project and the importance of preserving the neighborhood’s legacy.

I found this massive collection of photographs of homes [from Black Bottom]. When I realized what it was, I just, sort of, downloaded them all,” explains Kutil.

The goal is to make a website that folks can navigate, kind of like Google street view,” she says.

Marsha Music, a native Detroiter and advisor on the project, understands the historical importance of the neighborhood and the significance of the photos.

To see these actual photographs…it belied the common narrative that said that Black Bottom was merely a slum,” says Music.

It felt like…unearthing the lost city of Atlantis,” she says.

To hear more of the conversation on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above. 

Image credit: Walter P. Reuther Library

About the Author

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

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