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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • YOU MEAN A WOMAN CAN OPEN IT?

Business Zoot: 1942

Business Zoot: 1942

February 1942. "Detroit, Michigan. Back view of a Negro dressed in a zoot suit, walking in the business district." Medium-format nitrate negative by Arthur Siegel for the Office of War Information. View full size.

 

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Trouble brewing

This is in the heart of the industrial district of the early auto industry. The Piquette Ave. plant, where Henry Ford designed the Model T and built the first 12,000 of them is three blocks northwest of this location.

In February 1942, racial tensions were flaring over the federal government plans to build housing for black war workers in a white neighborhood. Housing was in very short supply as some 50,000 blacks and 300,000 whites from the South moved into Detroit. It would explode the next summer in terrible riots, much of the violence happening right in this area. The mayor blamed young black "hoodlums" like the fellows here for the riots. The black community noted discrimination, police brutality, and ongoing white taunting. The real story is more complex and involves both sides being driven by wild rumors.

Not Even

The photo caption reflects a desire to associate the Zoot with its chicano and negro 40's origins, but misses the mark. If it were a Zoot suit, the slacks (modern:pants) would match! I believe we are looking at the back of an uber-spendy long-haired Vicuna overcoat. "If you want the best, head for the haberdashers in the negro neighborhood" my dad used to say.

It looks like

Hastings does not even exist, all that is there are vacant fields, rotting factory floors, abandoned factories, burned out houses and all intersected by I-75.

Gone but not forgotten

This was probably taken somewhere in the Black Bottom/Paradise Valley neighborhood of Detroit where the vast majority of the black population of Detroit lived at this time. The entire area was subject to urban renewal in the mid 1950's. Additional info can be found here and here.

Cool Jazz

Swingin' tunes, ladies and libation await at the Ace Bar across the street at 3678 Hastings. One of the hot spots in "Paradise Valley" along with the Cozy Corner and the Forest Club.

Not so sure

Looks more like a guy with an overcoat to me. The jacket fabric doesn't match the trouser fabric. The trousers lack the generous zoot cut. And, of course, we can't see if there's a reet pleat! (Actually own a zoot; it's a band uniform!)

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