The Front Porch: A Space of Deep Meaning for African-Americans

Much more than just an extension of a house, the porch has long been a place of safety, intimacy, and communality.
December 7, 2018, 2pm PST | Camille Fink
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Front porches have played an integral role in African-American life, writes Audra D. S. Burch. "From the narrow shotgun homes of Atlanta to the dormer-windowed bungalows of Chicago, the front porch has served as a refuge from Jim Crow restrictions; a stage straddling the home and the street, a structural backdrop of meaningful life moments."

Burch highlights the work of architecture scholar Germane Barnes, who has explored the role of porches in communities across the country. In Detroit, Barnes collected stories from African-American residents about the front porch as a place for socializing, a symbol of economic prosperity, and the site of cultural and neighborhood empowerment.

The diverse experiences include the story of Shamayim Harris, who spent time on her front porch reflecting on the struggling neighborhood around her:

That was the quiet beginnings of what is now Avalon Village, a green development project birthed on Ms. Harris’s porch and inspired by her youngest son, Jakobi Ra, who died in a hit-and-run accident 11 years ago. The growing village, composed of 32 abandoned parcels, now includes solar-powered streetlights, a park, an educational center and a marketplace for women entrepreneurs.

Another profile describes how Cornetta Lane decided to reclaim the history and identity of her Detroit neighborhood, Core City, by organizing a bike event where participants stopped at porches to hear residents’ stories. "I never considered doing this without the porch," Ms. Lane said. "It is a natural place for convening. You sit on the porch and tell stories. Porches are built for storytelling."

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Published on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 in The New York Times
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