Chene Street cuts through the east side of Detroit from the Detroit River to the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant at the Hamtramck border. Once one of the city’s most vibrant commercial corridors and home to hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses, many of them run by immigrant families and African Americans, Chene Street was the main artery for the neighborhoods that radiated along its length, as well as their link with each other. It was at the heart of family, work, and social life for thousands of Polish Catholic and European Jewish immigrants, as well as for African Americans migrating from the south. Many of them came to fill the 100,000 automotive industry jobs within walking distance of its neighborhoods. Today, virtually no signs of those neighborhoods remain. Chene Street and its surrounding blocks are among the most devastated and depopulated in the city.
The Chene Street project is developing a comprehensive social and commercial history of the neighborhood that conveys what it felt like to live and work there. To date, the project team at the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy (IRLEE) and the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies has accumulated nearly three hundred oral histories from Polish, Jewish, and African American residents and business owners; scanned tens of thousands of photographs and other documents, including ethnic newspapers, church bulletins, personal papers, and other ephemera; and tracked individual real estate parcels to provide the foundation for a revealing and richly detailed portrait of Chene Street and its arterial residential and mixed use neighborhoods from 1890 to 1990. In addition to the University of Michigan staff and faculty, the project team has included over 35 U-M students, both undergraduate and graduate, many of the former coming from the University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
Since 2002, the work of the Detroit Chene Street History Project has resulted in numerous conference and community presentations and the development of an upper-level university course which uses Chene Street as a model for studying Detroit history. The Detroit Chene Street History Project website, developed in collaboration with the College of LS&A and the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, provides access to selected multimedia resources, including photographs, newspaper clippings, advertisements, documents, interviews, film clips, and musical recordings, offering a digital infrastructure for understanding and interpreting the complex historical, social, cultural, and economic processes that intersected to create today’s Detroit. In addition, the project has launched a “Humans of Chene Street” Facebook page that posts neighborhood family histories with interview excerpts and photos.
- Marian Krzyzowski, Director, IRLEE (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Deborah Dash Moore, Frederick G L Huetwell Professor of History; Director, Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan
- Karen Majewski, Ph.D., Project Manager, IRLEE
- Sandra Arlinghaus, Adjunct Professor of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan
- Ann Larimore, Professor Emerita, Geography and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan
National Consulting Faculty:
- Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University
- John Bukowczyk, Wayne State University
- Angela Dillard, University of Michigan
- David Schoem, University of Michigan
- Thomas Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania