Black/Land Stories: Claiming Land by Regenerating Tradition

This is the second in a series of Black/Land stories  that illustrates the unique and complex ways black people self-define their relationships to land.  

Claiming Land by Regenerating Tradition:  Vera Smith and Betty Evans

Vera Smith and Betty Evans are sisters and organizers who grew up in Detroit’s Black Bottom/ Paradise Valley neighborhood, former farmland that was once the heart of Detroit’s black community. As they shared memories of being displaced from Black Bottom, they remembered regenerating the Black Bottom community traditions to carve a familiar relationship to a new place.

Betty :

Here’s what I remember about the evening: The (adults) had one of those old recorder things and we would dance. The kids would dance. The grown people would dance. The house had a porch on the back of it, and no grass … it just was dirt. There were clotheslines where everybody hung out their clothes when they washed them. In the evening, all the people, all the adults would sit on the porch and talk. Now, I can’t tell you anything they’ve talked about because we were not allowed to approach that area once they sat out there on the porch and started talking, so that was their time. … They were talking freely with each other and probably talking about things the kids didn’t need to hear and know.


But I made a connection with while you were talking that was this porch life. When we came to Kendall as kids, we created a porch life. When we moved over to the northwest side (of Detroit) , there were a lot of kids on the block. We were all right around the same age. So the Junior Block Club, the kids, would gather at our house and we talk. They would come gather at the end of the day after school day was over [until] dinnertime. We would play and mess with each other, tell each other great stuff and just have fun. It was a fun time. We were playing games.


Yeah, until my father came home and we would have to get off that porch. Especially if there was a boy there!


It occurred to me just now that we emulated the relationship, porch life, the way people related to each other with that kind of porch life thing, when we moved to another place. We could stay out until the porch light or street light came on. The kids would end up at our house almost every night. And so, what you would start to hear once it got dark and the streetlight came on is parents calling their kids up and down the street. “Kenny, come home!” It struck me that when we were in Black Bottom that the adults did the same thing, but on an adult level, so we were emulating that.