Helen Newberry Joy Middle School

Joy Junior High School was at the center of the push to integrate Detroit’s schools in the 1960’s. Planning for Joy School, named for Helen Newberry Joy began 1960 with the condemnation of a two-block neighborhood next to the St. Clair rec center. Permits were secured in 1963, and the school was completed in 1964.

Violence erupted in 1969 after Finney High School, which was segregated for Whites only was forced to accept students from Joy, a mostly Black school. When white students from Arthur School were bused into Joy in 1976, many simply didn’t show up or moved to private schools. White parents of students in Goodale School sued the school board to prevent their children from being transferred to Joy, citing “a history of numerous incidents of violence and vandalism” at the school.

Despite the hardships the school faced, or possibly as a result of, Joy developed a strong sense of community among students and parents who participated in after school activities and clubs. A student-run company began selling homemade jewelry in 1991, part of a program to encourage entrepreneurship.

Still, high levels of vacancy in the neighborhood around Joy led to criminal activity including drug dealing. A gun battle near the school in December of 2006 forced the school into lockdown for three hours. By the spring of 2007 Joy was among several dozen schools being considered for closure due to declining enrollment. A few months later it was announced that Joy would close at the end of the school year. Among the reasons cited was the need for expensive repairs to the building and academic problems.

Less than a year after the school closed the Detroit Free Press newspaper found that Joy was one of several schools that had been ransacked by thieves and looters after being left unsecured. Everything had been left behind after the school closed, including new computers, some of which were still in boxes, and student records containing personal information. The building had been severely damaged by scrappers who stripped out wiring and valuable metal. The article made national news, bringing renewed attention to the state of the district’s 70 vacant buildings. A day later the school was boarded up by the district, but the damage had been done. In November of 2008, it was announced that Joy would be demolished.