'Million Dollars Worth of Nerve' [Part II] with Ken Coleman

Jul 22, 2015

Ken Coleman.
Credit WWJ/Stephanie Davis

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. concludes his conversation with Ken Coleman, journalist and author of ‘Million Dollars Worth of Nerve: Twenty-One People Who Helped To Power Black Bottom, Paradise Valley and Detroit’s Lower East Side.’

The title 'Million Dollars Worth of Nerve' comes from Michigan Chronicle Editor Louis E. Martin, who quipped that he was sent to Detroit in 1936 with $135 and “a million dollars worth of nerve.”

Coleman is the popular author of ‘On This Day In Detroit, and ‘Soul On Air.’ On This Day in Detroit shares facts about events in Detroit’s African-American history, on the same date that those events happened. In compiling the information for his first book, On This Day: African-American Life in Detroit, Coleman’s research kept pointing him towards Paradise Valley and Black Bottom of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, then the political and cultural heart of Detroit’s black community.

Coleman decided to focus his next book on the rich life of these neighborhoods — Million Dollars Worth of Nerve, tells the story of Paradise Valley, Black Bottom and lower East Side communities; how they came to be; and the forces that caused their demise: systemic racism, desegregation, freeway construction and suburban sprawl…The story is told—in part—through personality profiles of 21 Detroit residents—all of whom are African-American.

Black Bottom was a predominantly African American neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, that was demolished and replaced with Lafayette Park in the 1960s. The Black Bottom and Paradise Valley area on the city's east side became known for its significant contribution to music including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The district reached its social, cultural and political peak in 1920. African Americans owned 350 businesses in Detroit, most within Black Bottom. It was located on Detroit's near East Side bounded by Gratiot Avenue, Brush Street, Vernor Highway, and the Grand Trunk railroad tracks. The entire district was destroyed in the early 1960s, One has asked the question over the years – was it urban renewal or Negro removal.

Ken Coleman is a native Detroiter. He attended Detroit Public Schools and later worked for DPS as a community relations officer. He has been active in Detroit media as a news anchor and as Editor for the Michigan Chronicle and Michigan Front Page. From 2009  to 2012, he served as a City of Detroit Charter Revision Commissioner.