DETROIT (WXYZ) — It’s an elite honor usually reserved for celebrities with Detroit roots, but this weekend the name of a woman you may not have heard of - Dr Rosa L Gragg - is on a sign above the street that refused her because of the color of her skin and it’s inspiring a new generation.
Dr. Rosa L. Gragg was a trailblazer. In a time when legal racism created barriers, she fought to educate and empower women. Literally showing them that when one door closes, no matter how unfair or just plain wrong, you find another door. If you can’t find another door, you build one.
Stevie Wonder, Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin all have Detroit streets named after them. Now, Dr. Rosa L Gragg is the latest name to receive that honor. Gragg is not famous but her contributions to the city of Detroit are just as significant.
“She paved the way for women of color in this community, in this neighborhood – really around the country,” says Mary Sheffield, council president pro tem for the City of Detroit.
Gragg consulted with multiple U.S. presidents and dignitaries.
“She was an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., a true civil rights activist, she fought for equality and justice,” Sheffield said.
But it’s what happened in the 1940s at a house on the corner of Ferry and Brush that makes the new honorary street name so special.
In 1941, as president of the Detroit Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Dr. Gragg chipped in to buy a clubhouse. It would be a place to hold meetings and educational classes for women.
After taking a second mortgage out on her home and selling her car for the down payment, the sale of the home on Ferry Street was approved. But the excitement soon faded.
Other homeowners quickly made it known that African Americans weren’t allowed on Ferry Street and there would be no exception made for the women’s club. That meant the clubhouse couldn’t be used and it’s vision for empowering women wouldn’t come to fruition. But Rosa Gragg didn’t give up.
“She did not take no for an answer, she continued to fight,” Sheffield said.
Gragg decided to remove the front door on Ferry Street, replace it with bricks and build a new door on the side of the house on Brush Street. She then petitioned to have the address changed to Brush Street, where African Americans were allowed.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table you create your own seat and I feel like Dr. Gragg is an example of that she did not let ‘no’ stop her," Sheffield said.
The clubhouse still stands today, as a symbol of inclusion. The home is now called the Detroit Association of Women’s Clubs. It continues to educate and empower women in Detroit 80 years later.
The street that once rejected Dr. Rosa L Gragg, will now forever bear her name and inspire generations to come.