black america | March 20, 2011

Ta-Nehisi Coates Profiles 'The Other Detroit'

In this month’s Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates profiles the Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods — “arguably the American black elite’s most majestic enclave.” Established in 1915 as a whites-only retreat from urban life, Palmer Woods became popular with upper middle class African-Americans after racially restrictive rules were lifted, in 1948, and prominent black community members — such as Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier — began to call it home. But, as with the rest of Detroit, Palmer Woods has lately, finally, succumbed to the weakened economy. Previously avoidable problems, like crime, are starting to pop up. Coates profiles a handful of its proud citizens who soldier on, cling to the dream, and see residency as “a political act.”

A fantastic view into a small corner of black America’s geographic, civic, and cultural history, Coates’ deceptively short dispatch — “I feel like I worked on this story for ten years” — echoes his earlier Atlantic profile of Michelle Obama and her formative years in Chicago’s West Side, capturing perfectly the complicated reality of what it means to be a black American today.

Read more about keynote speaker Ta-Nehisi Coates