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Paradise Valley


AUTHOR: Detroit Black Writer’s Guild

Editor Herbert Metoyer

Cover design: Herbert Metoyer

Produced by Cane River Media

ISBN: 1-888754-02-8

Price $35.00 + ($5.00 Shipping & Handling)

DESCRIPTION: Hardback with colorful dust jacket. A photo album poetry book of Black Detroit from the 1930’s to 1950’s when "Paradise Valley" was one of the most prosperous Black business and entertainment districts in the country. This poetry book takes a nostalgic look back into Detroit’s past at a time when showgirls, tap dancers, and jazz greats took center stage. This book features more than 200 timeless photographs and the work of 56 poets.

Publisher’s COMMENT: This book is destined to become a classic and should be in every library and on the coffee table of every American home.   Browsing this book gives you a warm fuzzy feeling and leaves you with a comfortable sense of well being.

REVIEWS:

In the Free Press on Friday, you’ll get a glimpse of an amazing new book, "Paradise Valley Days"…. I’ve had an advance look at this historical treasure. Between more than 200 historical photos and the lyrical words of 56 Detroit poets and writers, one can hear, smell, and feel paradise Valley and sense the times. (Detroit Free Press, Tuesday July 21, 1998)
  •  
  • A new book on Detroit’s Paradise Valley captures a time of star-studded music-making and round-the-clock revelry. This is a two page article with photographs of the editors (Detroit Free Press, Friday, July 24, 1998).
  • "Paradise" revives Black Mecca. Writer’s Guild compiles memorable book of photos. …By the 1960’s, urban renewal projects and the Chrysler Freeway destroyed the neighborhood that was once filled with black-owned businesses, clubs, and hotels. Today the rich memories of a paradise lost live on in Paradise Valley Days, a new book by the Detroit Black Writers Guild (Book review, 2/3 of a page, Detroit News, Wednesday, February 17, 1999 and Friday, February 19, 1999)
  • Paradise Valley, Southfield author (Herbert Metoyer) chronicles birth of Detroit’s Black cultural pulse. (Article is 1/3 of the front page. Southfield Eccentric, Thursday, February 18, 1999)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Introduction
  • Section IThe Journey. (Photographs and poetry depicting the great migration of Blacks to the North.)
  • Section IITheir Destination. (Photographs of the neighborhood augmented by poetry. Includes article, "The Great Black Strip" by Toni Jones, reprint, Detroit Free Press January 7, 1973.)
  • Section IIIThe People. (Photographs of some of the people who lived during that time.)
  • Section IVThe Entertainers. (Beautiful photographs of showgirls, comedians and musicians. Contains a story written by one of the entertainers.)
  • Section VMilitary/Sports. (Old soldiers and sports figures like Joe Louis. Includes an article about a Tuskegee Airman who was shot down during World War II and captured by a German Officer who spoke fondly of his adventures in Paradise Valley while attending The University of Michigan.)
  • Section VIThe Struggle. (Covers the race riot of 1943 and other items related to the struggle against oppression.)
  • Section VIIThe Legacy. (Priceless photographs of some of the old buildings that were once part of the "Valley". They were taken just weeks before the area was cleared in 1998 to make way for Detroit’s new Stadium complex.)

EXCERPTS:

PARADISE VALLEY

by

Peggy A. Moore

In its heyday, back in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, Paradise Valley, a Black Mecca that was located on the lower east side of Detroit, dazzled and attracted more weekend visitors to her door step than did Greek Town or China Town during the same period.

Paradise Valley came of age during the height of segregation in Detroit. Legal "Deed Restrictions" prohibited a Negro from renting or owning property in all but the most wretched parts of the city — all on the lower east side. Back then, a Negro could be thrown in jail for being caught in any area west of Woodward Avenue.

It was in this climate that Negro businessmen like Charles Roxbourgh, Irvine Rhone, John White, and others took a somewhat condemned area bounded by Gratiot, Vernor, Brush, and Hastings and carved out "Paradise Valley."

At that time, Negroes had no political power. No one that looked like them was allowed to sit in the mayor’s office or hold a seat on the "Common Council." For this reason, the citizens of Paradise Valley got together, erected their own City Hall, and elected Roy Lightfoot as their first mayor.

Did you know that before integration came to Detroit, Paradise Valley actually had more Negroes in business than any other city in the country?

This was due largely to the fact that Negroes who worked for the automobile industry earned fairly decent wages and they had a lot of money to spend. There were also many Railroad Porters who called Detroit their home, and they, too, were well paid.

As a result, businesses flourished. On St. Antoine Street there was Watson’ Realty Co., Donald F. White Architect, Long’s Cut-Rate Drug Store, Law Offices of Lewis-Rowlette-Brown; Biddy’s Chicken Shack; Wilson’s Modern Laundry; Wayne County Better Homes; Pekin Restaurant; Biltmore Hotel; Modern Barber Shop; The Pryor Hotel, and many others. By the way, most of the businesses used Richard Austin, who later became Secretary of State for Michigan, as their accountant.

All of these businesses were solvent, meaning that they operated profitably. And while all black businesses had to put their money in white-owned banks, none of the banks in the city at that time would hire a black in any position except that of a janitor.

On weekends, especially during the summer months, taxis ran almost non-stop between the train and bus stations transporting travelers and visitors into the city. Some to visit friends and family, and others who came just to relax and have a good time. A great majority of the visitors came from the south to get a taste of big city life.

At night, cocktail lounges, dance halls, showbars, and restaurants all came alive with dazzling lights, swing bands, sultry singers, dancers doing the Black Bottom, Jitterbug, or Hulley Gulley, and jazz and blues artist all on center stage. It was a time for "Zoot Suits," long watch chains, and wide brimmed Stetson hats.

In many ways, Paradise Valley was not unlike Harlem in New York. No Negro musician worth the salt in his bread would ever think of coming to Detroit City without visiting the "Valley." And it was there that you would find giants like Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Louis Armstrong, and all the other Hep Cats....Paradise 

Valley Remembered

 

Like an unassuming lady

abducted and vaguely abject

She stands at the crossroads of the city;

wheedling winds attack her back

And on her cold shoulders

chattering brown birds and gulls relax.

Unblinking — like a peculiar marble statue

she’s bathed in soft velvets of twilight

Winking street lights splash colors rhythmically

on roofs of speeding vehicles on the go.

And on damp asphalt her sober, expressionless face

seems to assume an absorbing glow.

Her fiber, capricious breezes cannot whisk away,

like submissive leaves that fall at her feet and soon decay.

Her spirit struggles through broken branches and objectively hovers

over the wild flowers that dress her jagged pathway.

Gilded messages scribbled on her crumbling walls

render lucid clues and hints

of the essence of her yolk

belated... and bemused.

1997 James Neal Ware

The Great Black Strip

Before the freeways were built, even before the riot of 43, there was a strip in Detroit called Paradise Valley, and it was swinging all night long...

By TONI JONES

Free Press Staff Writer

Count Basie’s band wailed "After Hours" thinly from the juke box, but the small gathering in the Garfield Lounge of the Randora Hotel hardly heard. The faces and clothes were 1972, different. Drinks were more expensive. And the music didn’t croon live and bittersweet as it did 30 years ago. Gone were the handsome, smooth talking sporting men dressed in Al Capone suits with money in their pockets and beautiful women on their sleeves. Gone too were the big bands, the long shiny chauffeur-driven limousines, the high-ceilinged dance halls with their crystal chandeliers and the chorus girls in puffed sleeved satin dresses with low cut backs, floppy brimmed hats and cigarette holders.

The Randora Lounge at 98 Garfield now comprises almost all that’s left to suggest the frenzied night life and the people who made this part of Black Bottom distinctly and uniquely Paradise Valley. The valley burgeoned in the early 30’s along and around Adams and St. Antione shortly before, after — and some because of — the legalization of whiskey in 1933.

 

 

Bag Woman

 

These are my bags

I carry my dreams

My hatred, my nightmares

Stuffed and folded

Stacked, and twisted, and crushed.

My bags are my fate

Holding dreams upon dreams

Defeat, honor, and love stuffed in between.

A bag of dreams dragged upon my feet

Buffed up, then layered down

Beaten slowly

Smoothed swiftly.

A bag of love held close to my heart

Crushed, torn into bits

Wet with tears

With fragments of kisses

Touches of love

Soft glances

Unforgiving and cheated.

A bag for the nighttime

Full of fear

Loneliness and hunger

A remembrance of your smile

To be needed, shared, and loved.

Their heaviness covers my soul

They guide my destiny

They will never leave me

But you did....

1994 Evelyn L. Rhodes.

END: