One man’s last goodbye before historic Brewster Projects demo

Colbert Prince poses with photo of self and friend (Steve Neavling/MCM)

Colbert Prince didn’t know how else to say goodbye.

Gingerly holding an enlarged black-and-white photo of himself and his best friend when they were 10 years old, the 63-year-old walked into the view of cameras Monday after Mayor Mike Duggan announced the final stage of demolition at the historic Brewster-Douglass housing projects near downtown Detroit.

Brewster_1284One last time, Prince wanted to show off the great life he had growing up at the Brewster Projects in the 1950s and 1960s.

As a towering claw dug into one of four remaining high-rises, Prince forlornly posed as cameras chronicled the beginning of the end for the nation’s first publicly funded housing project for black people.

“This is my roots right here,” Prince said, clutching a photo that showed one of the high-rises in the background in 1960. “A lot of history is coming down. It’s hard to watch.”

Prince remembered when the red-brick ruins were teeming with life. He ice-skated, swam, played basketball and made his first friends.

“It was a big community back then,” he told me.
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“You don’t see that anymore. This was a special place.”

Brewster has a rich, tragic history.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an outspoken advocate of racial equality, was at the groundbreaking and said the new apartments represented a grand achievement for human rights. At any given time, between 8,000 and 10,000 residents lived at the Brewster projects.

But a drawn-out exodus left the housing units vacant in 2008. Since then, the buildings have crumbled.

Thieves have gutted everything of value, tearing apart floors, ceilings and walls for metal. The grounds are covered in trash, glass and furniture dropped from the top floors. The adjacent recreation center where Joe Louis learned how to box is falling apart. Tennis and basketball courts are cracked.

The city is looking for investors to buy the property, which is next to historic Brush Park.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.