Photo Essay Detroit Decay Art

Divisions, intolerance and a biased political process have influenced Detroit for several decades before and since the 1967 uprising. The idea for “Split” was born after meeting Detroiters who live behind the Wailing Wall, built in the 1940’s to separate white and black neighborhoods.

I found it compelling that these residents had such a blatant, physical reminder of racism literally in their backyards. This led me on a journey to learn more about how barriers of the past still haunt the city today. I wanted to let the people tell their city’s story themselves.

This photo essay is the result of research and dozens of interviews over the last five years that focused on the Wailing Wall and on the demolition of Paradise Valley, a culturally rich black neighborhood in the heart of Motown that was destroyed to build the Chrysler Freeway (I-75).

The lingering scars of housing segregation and other injustices relate to Detroit’s current crisis. Past struggles that have never been reconciled still trouble Motown. The story of Detroit is complex with no simple answers and “Split” aims to capture the stories of faith, survival and hope that remain.

See all 45 photos below, or click the first image to open a slideshow:

Nick Gregory is a teacher and basketball coach at Fenton Area Schools, as well as a prolific photographer and writer. His photo essay, "Split," was featured at the 2013 Grand Rapids Art Prize. It comes to Michigan Radio as a part of our series Summer of Rebellion: Looking Back at Detroit 1967.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Gregory has been a social studies teacher in Michigan since 2000 and he has been a National Writing Project Teacher consultant and a high school basketball coach since 2002. Gregory is an America Achieves Lead Fellow and he has exhibited photography related to Detroit and Flint social justice causes since 2011. Gregory, who has a Masters degree in Educational Leadership, believes that students need to learn from honest accounts of American history in order to tackle today's challenges. You can follow Nick Gregory on Twitter @CivicsEngaged or read his blog at

In Detroit, the devastating economic effects of deindustrialization continue to push inhabitants away from what was once the fourth-largest city in America.

New census data indicates Detroit's population dropped by a startling 25 percent in the last decade, from 951,270 in 2000 to 713,777 last year. That's a 60 percent decline from its 1950 peak population -- 1.85 million -- and the lowest count since the 1910 Census put the then-promising Motor City's population at 285,704.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, aware his state's manufacturing sector might be in permanent decline, has been on a campaign to reinvent his state. "We cannot cling to the old ways of doing business," he said in response to the newest census numbers. "We cannot successfully transition to the 'New Michigan' if young, talented workers leave our state." Chrysler has been on the campaign trail too, releasing a Super Bowl ad with Eminem titled "Made in Detroit."

A recent book called Ruins of Detroit depicts how Detroit's downturn has turned to decay over the last several years: Abandoned hotels, houses and schools line the streets as a reminder of the city's slow economic decline. The devastation takes on an eerie beauty, as captured by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. The book, published in 2010, depicts Detroit's urban landscapes over several years.

The photographs show once-lively structures of an American city, now remembered by its remains.

The entire collection of photos can be found in the Ruins of Detroit book, or at Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre Photography

Take a look at the ruins of the city:


Detroit In Ruins: Photos By Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

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