By Charles Sercombe
The city will have a permanent memorial park to commemorate the forced removal of African-American residents from their homes back in the 1960s.
During that period, city officials here carried out a massive housing demolition in neighborhoods that were populated predominantly with African-Americans.
It was done under the guise of “urban renewal” – which was a federally-subsidized effort to clear out blighted inner-city areas.
The former residents didn’t go quietly. They banded together and filed a class-action lawsuit against the city in the early 1970s.
The city eventually agreed to build 200 housing units, but the actual construction of the units was delayed decades because there was no funding in place.
It wasn’t until about 15 years ago the city received county and federal help to get construction going. Hamtramck is now only three houses away from completing the deal.
That is expected to happen this coming spring.
Recently, city officials agreed to set aside four city lots on Dequindre just north of Caniff (on the west side of I-75) and create a park there.
It is officially called the Sarah Sims Garrett Memorial Park. Garrett’s name was used on the lawsuit.
She and most of the original plaintiffs in the case are now deceased. Their descendants have been given first dibs on the housing.
Last Tuesday city officials, surviving plaintiffs and others gathered at the park for ground breaking ceremony.
“It is a wonderful, wonderful occasion,” said Bobbie Jordan, the wife of The Rev. Dr. Joseph Jordan, who helped initiate the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
Jordan died several years ago.
Mayor Karen Majewski said the settling of the lawsuit and the building of the park represent a “long path toward justice.”
The park is being constructed with city funding and work will begin next spring.
Below are the complete remarks by Mayor Majewski:
“On behalf of the City of Hamtramck, I welcome you all on this cold and snowy day. We all celebrate the creation of any city park, as an endowment for our youth and families, as an investment in a livable, welcoming city, as a resource for recreation and community cohesion.
“The new park we dedicate today is all of those things. Children will play here. Neighbors will meet here. Families will celebrate here. But Sarah Sims Garrett Memorial Park is also much more.
“This park, this ground, carries an historical legacy. And like all of history, that legacy is layered, and complicated, made up of loss and of redemption.
“Many of you here today have deep connections to that history, and continue to work to make sure that good emerges from injustice. This park is one more step toward that good.
“Yes, it will do all the fine things all parks do. But generations into the future, when residents and passers-by see this park, we all hope they also take a moment to learn of the wrongs done to the family of Sarah Sims Garrett and all the displaced families.
“That they contemplate the long struggle for justice, here and elsewhere. And that they take hope in our city’s, and our nation’s, ability to turn our faces toward the good, to recognize our failings, and to walk the long path toward justice.”
Nov. 30, 2018