Tour the historic sites that shaped Detroit’s civil rights legacy

Detroit is one of the most important cities for African-American history in the country — and CultureShift is highlighting the city’s connection and role in the Civil Rights Era.

On Monday, the nation will be commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

But don’t let that stop you from marking the occasion over the weekend by touring key Civil Rights sites in Detroit.

“Detroit is one of the most important cities to understand African-American history in the country.” – Jamon Jordan, Black Scroll Network History & Tours

Before he marched on Washington, King delivered a version of his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at Cobo Hall, now known as the TCF Center. (Editor’s note: As of January 2023, TCF Center is now known as Huntington Place.) As a child, he visited the historic Second Baptist Church on Monroe Street in Detroit, and spoke at the King Solomon Baptist Church following the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

But the movement’s history runs deep in Detroit.

Jamon Jordan is a historian and former teacher in Detroit who founded the Black Scroll Network History & Tours about eight years ago.

“Detroit is one of the most important cities to understand African-American history in the country,” says Jordan.

CultureShift’s Ryan Patrick Hooper spoke to Jordan about this history and the echoes we see today.

Touring civil rights history in Detroit

Fannie Richards Home

Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
Sishir Buddharaju/WDET

Location: At Rivard St. near East Lafayette St.

Fannie Richards was Detroit’s first Black public school teacher, according to Jordan. In 1863, she opened a private school for Detroit’s African American children. Over 100 years later in 1974, her home was added to the historic registry.


Second Baptist Church

Shiraz Ahmed / WDET
Shiraz Ahmed / WDET

Location: 441 Monroe Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226

This church, located in Greek Town, was founded by leaders of the Underground Railroad and is the oldest church owned by African Americans in the Midwest, according to Jordan.

“Second Baptist Church is the first African-American church in the state of Michigan,” Jordan says. “The underground railroad [in Detroit] would be centered at Second Baptist Church.”

King spoke here several times, and even visited as a child when his father was a speaker.


Dr. Ossian Sweet’s Home

Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
Sishir Buddharaju/WDET

Location: 2905 Garland Ave. (South of Ford Freeway)

Dr. Ossian Sweet was an African American doctor who used firearms to defend his home against a white mob that wanted to force his family out. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow defended him in trial, resulting in eventual acquittal.


Northern High School

Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
Sishir Buddharaju/WDET

Location: 9026 Woodward Ave.

Northern High School was the site of a student-led walkout during the civil rights era, which resulted in the firing of the principal, vice principal and school officer, according to Jordan. The school closed in 2007 due to financial issues.


Rosa Parks Home

Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
Sishir Buddharaju/WDET

Location: 3201 Virginia Park

Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks lived at this location for 26 years.

“Many people know about Rosa Parks living in Montgomery, Alabama and refusing to give up her seat, but she lived in Detroit longer than she lived in Montgomery,” says Jordan. “She doesn’t stop being an activist when she comes to Detroit. She’s involved in fighting against housing discrimination and campaigning for Congressman John Conyers.”


St. Matthews Episcopal Church

Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
Sishir Buddharaju/WDET

Location: St. Antoine and Congress, later moved to Paradise Valley

St. Matthews was the third African American church in Detroit, founded by leaders of the Underground Railroad.


King Solomon Baptist Church

Sishir Buddharaju/WDET
Sishir Buddharaju/WDET

Location: 6100 14th St.

This national historic site had a prominent role in the civil rights movement. King spoke here following the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Malcolm X delivered his “Message to the Grass Roots” speech in 1963, one of his most influential speeches.

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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.