Back in the early days (mid 40s and 50s) Royal Oak Township was a bustling black community with thriving black and white entrepreneurs. There was Jim Dolan’s, a white-owned store; McCauley’s Groceries and Meats (later becoming Steve’s). The Cockfield Funeral Home was servicing the area at the time. During the mid-1920s, the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) opened a store in the township. On the north side at 8200 West Eight Mile was Uncle Tom’s Bar-B-Q, operated by Thomas “Doc” Washington. The owners of other black businesses lived in the community, such as Charles J. Wartman Jr., editor of the Michigan Chronicle newspaper. The black executives eventually organized The Merchant and Professional Association.
Fr. Roberge wrote in the archives of being dismayed at how undeveloped, dismal, and full of despair the area seemed when he arrived in 1946. He compared life in the West Eight Mile Community to the missionary fields in Africa.
A year went by before a rectory was secured for the new missionary church. The acquisition of land continued until enough property was acquired by the diocese to permit the future establishment of a complete parish plant. The holdup was a lease on the land held by the United States government while maintaining temporary war housing units on it; units that blacks and whites and the archdiocese wanted out of there. The lease was on a yearly basis with the right of renewal. The hope was that when the contract came up, Uncle Sam would decline to renew it, and that would free up the land for expansion.
During the period from 1943 to 1946, it was apparently difficult for the archdiocese to build a church and school and rectory in the West Eight Mile Community due to regressive government policies that sprang up as it tried to acquire the land needed to accomplish the complete revitalization and evangelization
of the area. But according to Fr. Alvin Deem, it could have been accomplished in spite of these obstacles. The money was there, but the will was not.
To be continued…
(Excerpts from Our Lady of Victory, the Saga…Development of the West Eight Mile Community)
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