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THE HISTORY OF ECORSE

    Ecorse, formerly known as “River Aux Echorches,” is a city ofWayne County, Michigan.  It is located on the Detroit River seven miles S.S.W. of Detroit. Ecorse is an industrial and residential community. 

    Ecorse has a very colorful background, which dates back in history as far as 1763.  It was then that the great Pontiac and another allied Indian chief called Wyandotte meet to form the famous plot to rid the Midwest of the trespassing white settlers.  It was also known as a favorite burying ground of the local Indian tribes, who dwelt along Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

    The original name, “River Aux Echorches,” is derived from the early French settlers who named the city “The River of the Barks.” The city was named that because the Indians gathered there by a small stream, which is now the Ecorse River, to strip bark for their canoes.  The French later lay claim to the development of Ecorse.  Presently, their influence has largely disappeared from the community leaving only certain street names such as Bondie, Bourassa, Cicotte, Labadie, LeBlanc, and Salliotte, as signs of their culture.  White settlements were made during the period between 1784 and 1797.

    The settlement at “River Aux Echorches,” was on outgrowth of the settlements as Detroit and Sandwich, Ontario.  The first new nationality added to this French community was the Goodell family.  Elijah Goodell was born in England in 1758, and came to Michigan in 1799.  In 1818, he purchased a farm in Ecorse Township on the Detroit River from Louis Leduc, and settled there.  James Goodell inherited his father’s farm in 1820 and in 1822 he married Angelique Salliotte, a granddaughter of the original J. B. Salliotte

    Around this period, “River Aux Echorches,” which had come to be known as Grandport, was incorporated as a village under the name of Ecorse.  Alexis M. Salliotte was the first president, who was followed by many other good men. Alfred C. Bouchard, our ninth president, held office longer than any other president, which was a period of five and one-half terms. His sixth term was interrupted by his death in September 1928.

    On July 5, 1923, the first steel was rolled at the Michigan Steel Mill, and a new era dawned in the downriver community.  At that time, five hundred men were employed in this new industry.  Other industries came to Ecorse during the late twenties and early thirties. 

    Ecorse became a city on September 19, 1941 and adopted a City Charter on January 27, 1942W. Newton Hawkins was the first mayor of Ecorse.  After becoming a city, the population grew larger and larger.  At the present time, most of the nationalities that make up our national pattern can be found here.



AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY 

              IN ECORSE

    Long before 1941, when Ecorse became a city, it was an integrated community, so it’s only right to discuss the black history as it was lived in the early days.  Apparently, no exact date can be pin-pointed as the time African- Americans first settled in the Ecorse area, but we do know there were a small number of black families living in Ecorse prior to 1919.  

    At that time, the city was not segregated as to residency, though local prejudice made it felt in other areas of life.  One local citizen, whose family moved to Ecorse in 1919 from River Rouge, remembers life as good and bad.  The schools were integrated and he attended schools Two, Three, and Four, later known as Ecorse High School.  While he recalls some instances of truly unjust treatment and real prejudice, he also remembers seeing young people, white and black, mingle as friends and co-conspirators in youthful pranks and adolescent adventures. 

    Social life was centered on church activities, ball games, and movies. However, pleasures such as movies were governed by the Jim Crow laws, and blacks were seated in a separate section of the theater.  The same rule was observed in public transportation, where blacks were required to sit in the back of the buses.

    At that time, only a few firms were willing to hire black men.  These were Ford Motor Company, Whitehead and Kales, the Ryan Foundry, and later Great Lakes Steel.  No women at all were hired in the industry.

    Early schools in Ecorse were integrated as to students, but all teachers were white, the School Board contending no qualified Black instructors were available.  Black children attended schools Two and Three and were taught by white teachers in basement classrooms, were often damp and poorly heated.  These conditions led to an epidemic of bronchial and respiratory ailments.  Dr. Milton advised the parents to take their complaints to the School Board. Clarence Oliver and Roland Gadton were spokesmen for a delegation to the Board from the Black community. On their arrival, the board declared the meeting adjourned.  When the delegation demanded to be heard, fire hoses were used to drive them away from the premises of School One, where the meeting took place.

    Shortly after, Dr. Milton spoke with the Board and threatened to institute a lawsuit against the School Board as a threat to the children’s health.  He suggested that a school be built where Black children could be taught in their neighborhoods, by black teachers.  An agreement was made to build the school, which became known as Miller School.

    When the Great Depression struck in 1929 into the 30’s, whites and blacks were laid off in all industries.  However, without the protection of a union, black employees were the first to go, regardless of seniority.  Ecorse was still a village at the time and a local welfare center was set up.  Assistance was available to all, yet it primarily dealt with black because of job prejudice. 

    Approximately 500 to 600 blacks lived in Ecorse in 1941, when it officially became a city.  Under President William Vosine, conditions had begun to improve, and with the election of the first mayor Newton Hawkins, the trend continued.  Vosine, who later became mayor, was responsible for the first post office and the construction of Ecorse Public Library.

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