Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Eight Mile Road

Eight Mile Road was originally a dirt road that was designated as M-102 in 1928. Gradually, the road was widened and extended. Currently it exists in most areas as an eight-lane road, spanning more than 20 miles across metropolitan Detroit. Its more popular name is derived from the Detroit area’s Mile Road System. This system helps to identify streets running east-west throughout the region, beginning at the downtown intersection of Woodward and Michigan Avenue near the Detroit River. Hence, Eight Mile is approximately eight miles from the shore.

On a map, Eight Mile separates Wayne and Washtenaw counties from Macomb, Oakland, and Livingston, and Macomb counties. Today, Eight Mile exists as a physical dividing line, as well as a de-facto psychological and cultural boundary for the region. Serving as the northern border to the City of Detroit, Eight Mile separates the city’s predominately African American urban core from the more white, upper-class suburbs to the north. Over time, some of the region’s African-American population has migrated to communities north of Eight Mile, but the separation between those living south of Eight Mile and those living to the north still remains. Eight Mile marks, both physically and psychologically, a barrier between the region’s black and white residents.

Eight Mile Road also played a role in one of the most notable controversies of famed Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young’s administration during the 1970s and 1980s. When Mayor Young exhorted, “I issue a warning to all those pushers, to all rip-off artists, to all muggers: It’s time to leave Detroit; Hit Eight Mile Road,” his neighbors in suburban Detroit reacted with anger. Many leaders, and many more residents, accused the mayor of trying to send Detroit’s criminals into its suburbs and used the mayor’s statement as a reason to turn their back on the city. Even today, some residents living north of Detroit take pride in the fact that they never cross Eight Mile Road and venture into the city.

Along its most impoverished sections, Eight Mile Road has, for several decades, been a destitute, dangerous strip of suffering businesses and broken windows. It’s still a main artery for commuters and area residents –more than 1,500 businesses call Eight Mile home. However, it’s also not uncommon to find prostitutes, strip clubs and junkies patrolling the street at all hours.

The notion of Eight Mile as Detroit’s dividing line was catapulted into the national media spotlight through local rapper Eminem’s hit film 8-Mile. Drawing from his own trailer park childhood near Eight Mile Road, Eminem tells the tale of a white kid’s efforts to escape from the ghetto. Much of the movie was filmed in Detroit, showcasing a host of crack houses, vacant lots and burned-out buildings.

In 1993, the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, a non-profit organization, was formed to revitalize and promote Eight Mile Road as a transportation, business and residential corridor. The group continues its work with an eye to the Road’s rich history, as well as its bright future.

 


RELATED ITEMS IN THE COLLECTION

Moving the World's Largest Stove on Eight Mile Road, 1973

View all items related to Eight Mile Road