Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Conant Gardens Historic District

The Conant Gardens Historic District is bounded by Nevada and Conant streets, and Seven Mile and Ryan roads in Northern Detroit. The land on which the district is located once belonged to Shubael Conant, an abolitionist and the founder and first president of the Detroit Anti-Slavery Society in 1837. The area was not very densely populated until the 1920s due to the boom of the automobile industry. During this time, the area was to be developed for white collar Ford workers, but there was a lack of interest. However, the boom also led to a large, prosperous African American population, who could not find neighborhoods in which they could safely live, due to violence and covenant restrictions.

Around 1928, a number of African American people realized that they could live in the Conant Gardens area due to its small population and its lack of deed restrictions for African Americans who wished to purchase property. Subsequently, many middle class African American families fleeing the inner city built their own homes in Conant Gardens or moved into preexisting homes in the area. Because the area was segregated, the Federal Housing Administration approved federally backed loans for the area after 1934.

During its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s the neighborhood had a more suburban feel, as it was far away from the more industrial areas of Detroit and surrounded by open fields. The neighborhood had single family detached houses, many of which had large lawns along quiet, tree-lined streets. The neighborhood was the most prosperous of Detroit’s black neighborhoods and held highly educated residents. By 1950, Conant Gardens had the highest median income of all of Detroit’s black neighborhoods.

In February of 1942, in an attempt to protect their investments and status, the neighborhood association vigorously, but ultimately unsuccessfully, protested against the federal government’s plan to build the Sojourner Truth Housing Project near the neighborhood, allying with the nearby white homeowner’s association. Tensions escalated and in the end Mayor Jeffries had to mobilize more than 2,700 local and state police and Michigan National Guard troops to guard the first six black families moving into the Sojourner Truth project. This conflict fed the brewing racial tensions in the City of Detroit and was one precipitating factor in the outbreak of violence the following summer which came to be known as the 1943 Detroit race riot.

Today, the Conant Gardens neighborhood association that was created during that era is still in existence.