The Rise and Fall of Ypsi’s Black Population
The earliest known black settlers began lodging in the wilderness of Ypsilanti, Michigan in the late 1830s. By the year 1850, seventy African-Americans made a living near the banks of the Huron River in the newly charted City, including several industrious families (e.g., the Morton Family, the Stafford Family, the Artis Family, and the York Family) that took residence on Adams Street. Two-hundred and twenty black people built homes, established small trading posts, and conducted business in the 1870s. The black community numbered around 400 in 1880 and over 600 by 1900, totaling ten percent of the City’s population. ¹
From 1901 through the 1960s the black community in the City of Ypsilanti continued to grow substantially. During the mid-1960s it was commonplace to see beautiful black faces in all of the City’s three wards, and neighborhoods.
In 1970, black people made up thirty-three percent of the City’s population, compared to today’s dwindling twenty-seven percent. City and community leaders have commissioned studies and task forces to reverse the trend in Ward 1, but to little avail. ²
Puffer Reds was founded on Michigan Avenue, downtown Ypsilanti in 1979. Lee Osler recorded “Back to Ypsilanti” in 1983. Hall of Fame athlete Tiffany Ofili grew up in Ypsilanti, graduating from Ypsilanti High School in 2005.
U.S. data shows that each year since 2006 the number of black residents (and other residents of color) in Ypsilanti proper continue to decline, while the number of people of noncolor increases. As Ann Arbor, the seat of the county runs out of capacity to accommodate employment and residential growth, people of color (including the shrinking black community) will have to counteract, and actively resist the pending land grab.
Conversations about the changing demographics in Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County (twelve percent of Washtenaw County residents are black) are never ending. ³