African World Festival in Detroit, Michigan

African World Festival in Detroit, Michigan

Date Observed: Third weekend in August
Location: Detroit, Michigan

The African World Festival celebrates the richness, diversity and worldwide influence of African cultures through music, art, and food. The festival is produced by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History and is held in downtown Detroit on the third weekend of August each year.

Historical Background

The city of Detroit has a rich African-American history spanning as far back as the 1800s. Although it is unknown exactly when the first African Americans came to Detroit, the U.S. census of 1820 reported that African Americans made up 4.7 percent of the city's population. By 1837, Detroit had become an important stop along the Underground Railroad, with city residents helping multitudes of slaves escape across the Detroit River to Canada. Black Bottom, Detroit's first African-American community, was established in the mid-1800s on the banks of the Detroit River. Black Bottom soon became an African-American cultural center with the founding of social and political organizations, educational and recreational societies, churches and schools. During the Civil War years many southerners moved north, and by 1870 the city's AfricanAmerican population had increased dramatically.

To meet the military demands of World War I, the industrial manufacturing factories in Detroit recruited southern African Americans by advertising high-paying jobs for able-bodied workers. This triggered a massive migration of African Americans to Detroit that continued through the 1930s. A second influx of African Americans occurred during World War II as southerners again moved north looking for work. Detroit's AfricanAmerican population doubled during the 1950s and 1960s, and the city again became an important cultural center. The Motown Record Corporation launched the careers of many popular African-American superstars such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Jackson Five. During these years Detroit also became a focal point of the civil rights movement, making national news when violence erupted throughout the city in the 1967 riots. After this period of extreme racial tension, African Americans in Detroit focused on political activism and worked to elect African Americans to public office. By 1975, African Americans made up the majority of Detroit's population, and by 1990 Detroit was among the 10 U.S. cities with the largest percentage of African Americans. The 2000 U.S. census reported Detroit's population as 83% African American.

Creation of the Festival

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History (formerly known as the Afro-American Museum of Detroit) has produced the African World Festival since 1983. The African World Festival is modeled after the Festival of African Culture, an international event that was last held in Nigeria in 1977. More than a celebration of AfricanAmerican culture, the African World Festival honors all of the cultures that have evolved in the African diaspora - the descendants of African people who are now scattered all over the world. The festival promotes the ideals of the Pan-African movement that began in the 1920s. Championed by Jamaican civil rights pioneer Marcus Garvey, the Pan-African movement encourages the descendants of African nations to learn about the customs and cultures of their homeland (see also Marcus Garvey's Birthday). The African World Festival provides opportunities for people to see the connections between African people all over the world.


The African World Festival has grown to be Detroit's largest ethnic festival and one of the largest festivals of its kind in the U.S. More than one million visitors attend this free outdoor event each year.

The festival celebrates the music, art, and food of Africans and those of African descent, featuring arts and crafts, film screenings, poetry readings, lectures, and storytelling in African traditions. Local musicians as well as performers from around the world provide live entertainment focusing on African and African-influenced music from various eras, including blues, jazz, gospel, reggae, soul, and folk. African-American fraternities and sororities perform elaborately choreographed step shows, and African touring groups showcase traditional dances of Africa. Like the busy open-air markets found throughout Africa, the marketplace area gives visitors a chance to explore the wares of hundreds of vendors, many of whom travel to Detroit from Africa to participate in the three-day festival each year.

Contact and Web Site

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History 315 E. Warren Detroit, MI 48201 313-494-5800

Further Reading

Bates-Rudd, Rhonda. "Rhythms of the African World: Detroit Brings Out the Best of Art, Music, Clothing and Food to Celebrate Cultures." The Detroit News, August 18, 1999. Heron, W. Kim. "A World of Africa in Detroit." Detroit Free Press, August 26, 1983. Rich, Wilbur C. "Detroit, Michigan." In The African-American Experience: Selections from the Five-Volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History , edited by Jack Salzman. New York: Macmillan, 1998. Spratling, Cassandra. "African World Festival." Detroit Free Press, August 15, 2001. Sutter, Mary. "Black Fest Picks 'One' (American Black Film Festival 'On the One')." Daily Variety , July 18, 2005.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
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