“Southside View of Slavery”

A recent documentary on Public Television (PBS) called The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross offers an excellent overview of slavery in the United States from its early beginnings in the 1500s to its final end in 1865.  This view aligns closely with the history recorded in the Black Abolitionist Archive’s editorials and speeches.  Slavery wasn’t anything new when this country was first established.  What WAS new, however, was the notion of “who” slaves were and how this tied in with racial discrimination. This didn’t start suddenly. When slavery was first introduced in this country, slaves (and indentured servants) were of many races, including Native Americans. This change was gradual, but at one point in the history of the United States, “slave” was equated with African captives.

Slavery offered the free labor that helped this country grow. It was good for the economy, it made many people wealthy, and there seemed to be an endless supply of slave labor just waiting for transport and sale. The presence of so many enslaved people in the U. S. offered a reminder of our collective wealth and also of our collective guilt. This was difficult to reconcile for many people.  Social divisions by class soon included a division based on color. This began so subtly that when someone finally started paying attention to what was happening, they also recognized the dramatic (and unpleasant) potential for social change that would be required to correct it.

This country was not only built on the backs of slave labor, but also on a strong religious foundation. Treating fellow human beings as property, as little more than beasts of burden, seemed to counter Biblical teachings that spoke of brotherhood and love. The institution of slavery not only contradicted these teachings, it also contradicted the Constitution itself (the “self evident” statement that “all men are created equal” was difficult to ignore).

In order to bridge this gap in reason, some sort of justification was necessary, and towards the end of its well-held place in the American economy, a justification of slavery was the subject of many papers, books, and speeches. The rationale for continuing slavery ranged from creative logic to junk science to religious benefit. Those defending the institution of slavery were nothing if not creative in their reasoning.

In the March 1, 1856 edition of the Anti-Slavery Advocate, William Wells Brown discusses a book by Dr. Nehemiah Adams that had recently hit the bookshop shelves.  This wasn’t the first publication to offer a justification of slavery based on Biblical teachings but it was one worthy of note.

William Wells Brown was an escaped slave who rose to prominence through his writings, lectures, and abolitionist work. It was during his attendance at the Cincinnati Anti-Slavery Convention in May, 1855, that he had occasion to offer commentary on Dr. Adams’ book that praised slavery for benefiting the “religious character” of the slave. The book described the author’s experience with “southern slavery” after a trip to the American south.  It seemed the religious conservatives of this time, like Dr. Adams, were the main people wrestling with this problem of justifying slavery. William Wells Brown compared Dr. Adams’ writing to his own experience with a white minister’s family shortly after he (Brown) had escaped from slavery.  During that visit, Brown had received such kindness from the minister’s wife and daughter (Harriet) that he was dizzy from it all.

The story may have ended there and the reader may have drawn the conclusion that Brown was rethinking his passionate resolve to speak against slavery from this minister’s pulpit. He liked the family and had no desire to upset them or make them regret their kind hospitality. He considered toning down his speech, and adjusting his remarks. The last paragraph, however, sums up his thoughts nicely:

“But I had a bond of sympathy with the slave that Dr. Adams had not.  The little girl Harriet reminded me that I once had a sister; that she was torn from me and sent south; that I had not dared remonstrate, or even call her sister. The kindness of the lady whose hospitality I was then enjoying brought to mind my mother, from whose caresses I had been torn, and how she had been sent I knew not whither, never to see her boy’s face again. I therefore resolved to do my duty, and I did it.”

We’re proud to include with this digitized speech an audio version recorded by a volunteer. Click this link to view the entire record.


Shortly after the declaration of World War I, University of Detroit students began marching drills in the playing field next to the Jefferson Street campus.  These would later become more serious as an officer from the Thirty-First Michigan National Guard was obtained to guide these drills.  Without really realizing it, students, who had previously held hopes for careers in business, finance, and engineering were being groomed for war.

This image (on page 122 of the University History archive 1877-1977) takes us to a time when no one really knew what to expect of war on this scale.  The down turned faces of the students here indicate a confusion of inner questioning, hidden fears, and loyal camaraderie.

This page of the University Histories archive goes on to tell us that:

“A month later, the student reporter for the Michigan Catholic summarized the progress of the training as follows.  He wrote: ‘The daily hour’s drill in the college department grows more strenuous as the weeks pass.  At first it was something new and novel, but now that is has become a fixed assignment for each day, it no longer possesses any novelty.  Fortunately, it is a prescribed duty, hence there is no shirking it or begging off. Most of us are glad that the drill is of obligation and yet we are sufficiently human to wish otherwise.’”



“The Land of Steady Habits”

Humor can be cathartic, but who would expect to find humor during the bleak years of American slavery? Yet humor can actually be  beneficial to human beings dealing with hardship.  Humor offers a way of connecting with others dealing with the same issues; a way of relating to shared hardships.  It says, “Yes, I know!  Me too!” to those in similar circumstances, and helps them weather the storms together.  Laughing during times of trouble can help release the stored energy of anger, express the bafflement over injustice, and work through the total irrationality of human action. Seeing the humor when it seems everything around you is unbelievably difficult helps elevate pain and the stresses of daily living.  It can even aid creativity, problems solving, and an individual’s ability to cope.

So among the many writers and speakers during the Black Abolitionist movement, one name stands out:  Bob’n Around.  Bob’n Around was the pen name of a traveling correspondent to the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper from around 1860 to around 1862.  He had a way of turning a tragic scene into an ironic, head shaking image that the black community of his readers could easily relate to.  It’s not so much what he says as it is the way he says it.  This is humor at its finest: subtle and pointed.

In this installment, Bob’n visits Connecticut, a place he describes as “…the land of steady habits, Cuban tobacco, and wooden nutmeg.”  He offers a great vision of the country when slavery was the norm for most states (slavery was outlawed in Connecticut in 1848). I think you’ll enjoy reading this one, but we’ve also included an audio recording to help expand the experience.  The communication is subtle, but Bob’n gets his point across.  (Want more from Bob’n?  Consider subscribing to the Black Studies Center’s site at this link.)


The Athletics Edition

In June, 1907, a special edition of the Tamarack called The Young Tamarack was issued.  According to an editorial published in this edition, there were two reasons for this … both relating to athletics.  The first reason was the formation of the Athletics Association, which, the writer tells us, would help finance the Athletics program at the university. An association of this type would also help establish some by-laws for participation in the various sports available at the University of Detroit at that time.

The second reason refers to a new gymnasium, which it seems had been in the works for a while when this edition went to press.  The editor tells us that an open letter bringing this request to the attention of the university administration was already in progress.

This grand idea was not without problems, though. We learn from Herman J. Muller, S.J., on page 131 of his book The University of Detroit 1877-1977, A Centennial History (University Histories archive), for example, that there really wasn’t enough space at the downtown Detroit location for a new building.

So, an addition was considered. The idea then became, “why not heighten and extend what we have?” This thinking was also met with problems. A clause in a much earlier donation from Cornelius J. Reilly (died 1913) stipulated that no building at the downtown campus could be raised “during the lifetime of the donor’s widow.” The old Barnard residence hall had been demolished before this came to light and Mrs. Reilly put an immediate stop to further construction on the planned addition to the present Dowling Hall-Rectory Complex (something of a “plan B” idea) (page 121, The University of Detroit 1877-1977 A Centennial History).

Besides the need for a gymnasium and stadium, enrollment was increasing rapidly. The university was running out of space fast. What they needed now was a “plan C”! It was Athletics that turned the tide, however.  The need for practice fields and playing space became the momentum for a major change. Athletics was a huge draw for more student enrollment and the university was continuing to grow because of it.

Finally in 1921, after much searching and plan changing, farm land was purchased at McNichols and Livernois for a new campus. And on July 1, 1922, the first sod was turned for a stadium on the grounds of this new campus. The gymnasium would come in the years that followed.

To learn more, we hope you’ll spend some time with the history of athletics at the university by visiting the University Histories and the Tamarack digital collections.




“Our Wish is to Do Good”

The Colored American was among 40 black newspapers published before the Civil War.  Although it’s first issue was available in March of 1837, it was the July 7, 1838 (shown here), issue that offered a pointed expression of its purpose and direction.

Like all such newspapers in circulation at the time, the Colored American offered a way to keep people connected and informed.  It offered them a voice and a platform for debate when no other resource was available. And though various sources disagree on the years of its publication (originally from 1837 to 1842), it made a significant impact on those who would fight for freedom.

In the article shared here, the writer informs his readers that the newspaper’s intention is simply “to do good in the community and to assist an oppressed segment of society.”  There were always disagreements and debates, both political and ethical, even in this tightly knit group of people. The newspaper offered the perfect way to present both sides of issues to encourage readers to draw their own conclusions and make informed choices.  And while the readership consisted mostly of free, literate African Americans, both the free and the enslaved were affected by the topics addressed in the articles.



“The Proposition is Peace”

In March, 1775, when Edmund Burke addressed the English House of Commons, the affairs in America had reached a crisis point.  Attempts to keep the Colonies under control were failing, and failing in a big way.  Burke decided to offer a plan to resolve the growing discontent in the Colonies in a way he hoped would be fair to all concerned.  His objective was to maintain peace by offering concessions, and it would take quite a sales job to get “buy in” on this plan from those who had favored a strict hand with these impudent “children” of Mother England for so long.

Burke begins his speech with reason, and keeps to this reasoned approach the entire way through:

“To restore order and repose to an empire so great and so distracted as ours is, merely in the attempt, an undertaking that would ennoble the flights of the highest genius, and obtain pardon for the efforts of the meanest understanding. Struggling a good while with these thoughts, by degrees I felt myself more firm. I derived, at length, some confidence from what in other circumstances usually produces timidity. I grew less anxious, even from the idea of my own insignificance. For, judging of what you are by what you ought to be, I persuaded myself that you would not reject a reasonable proposition because it had nothing but its reason to recommend it.”

This one afternoon in the history of this country is a relatively small part of the turmoil to follow. Yet in 1899, 124 years after it was delivered, this speech was studied in detail by students at the University of Detroit. From it they gained insight into the use of logic, the formation of governments, and the idea that power often succeeds through the use of negotiation and cooperation, not domination. The success of force is not only uncertain, but temporary. England’s realization of this, however, would come later.

Daniel C. Lawless contributed often to the Tamarack over the years of its publication.  In 1900, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree (A. B.) in Business, and then disappeared into the working world. The articles and work he left behind, however, are now an important part of the Tamarack archive.

Lawless’ article on Burke’s speech ends in this February edition of the Tamarack just as it was really getting interesting.  The final sentence leaves the readers with a tease, “To Be Continued.”  It finishes in the March, 1899, edition (image 25).


Maurice Greenia Jr. Collections

The origin of the word “collage” is taken from the French word colle, to “paste” or “glue.”  Collage basically means putting things together and “fixing” them in place to form a work of art.

dictionary.com defines the word collage as:

“a technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another, as newspaper clippings, parts of photographs, theater tickets, and fragments of an envelope [...] an assemblage or occurrence of diverse elements or fragments in unlikely or unexpected juxtaposition.”

Maurice Greenia, Jr., like a lot of artists, enjoys the juxtaposition of unusual things.  And like a lot of artists, he responds to the urge to express this in his art.  The Maurice Greenia, Jr. Collections archive has recently added several new collages to the collection. We invite you to take a few minutes to enjoy the recent additions.

Life Questions from Amos Beman

Among the hundreds of editorials and speeches housed in the Black Abolitionist archive are several audio interpretations recorded by volunteers.  These audio recordings offer a unique perspective on the published work of those who worked so hard for freedom for the enslaved men, women, and children during the almost 300 year history of slavery in this country.  Most of these names are lost to history; only the more influential of these abolitionists are included in our history books.  The Black Abolitionist Archive in our digital special collections, hopes to change that by introducing visitors to this important collection to those whose lives made an important historical difference to the way this country understands what it means to be free.

Listen to the audio file included on this one published speech, and follow along with the text version of it.  Our hope is you will be encouraged to learn more, explore more, and come to know who these great men and women were.

Wikipedia tells us that Amos Beman lived between 1812 and 1872 (though the year of his death varies in other biographical information sources).  Searching under his name in the Black Abolitionist Archive links viewers to three of his published speeches, along with one by his father, Jehiel Beman.

For more information on Amos G. Beman, check out his digitized scrapbook preserved in the Yale University rare books archives.

Click here to listen to the audio recording and follow along with the transcribed speech posted at that link.


1965 — Aerial View

The 1965 Tower Yearbook begins with an aerial view of the campus.  Spending a few minutes on the two images offered here, allows visitors an amazing perspective on how much of the campus has changed over the past 50 years.  It’s equally amazing, however, to notice in these images the things that haven’t seemed to change during this time.

Using the magnification tool, it’s interesting to sweep across these photographs.  There’s the old football stadium.  It’s days were numbered at this point and it would only stand another decade or so.  Parking lots and roadways seen in these shots are no longer available, and some of the surrounding houses are no longer there.  It might be easier to compare the campus then with the campus now by knowing exactly where the buildings are in these photographs.

At first glance, the viewer may discover that the campus from this vantage point is easily recognizable as the University of Detroit. Those of us who know the campus well can see what’s missing almost immediately, however.

Although the Student Center was begun in 1956, it wouldn’t become the building we know today until 1969. Seeing the empty space in this photo where it stands now offers some perspective on the way students knew the campus in 1965. And moving the magnifier tool a bit to the upper middle left of the first photograph, we can see that instead of the 58,422 square foot Ford Life Sciences Building that would be built in 1967, there’s seemingly ample parking.

We notice too that the distinctive Fisher Administrative Center is missing in this first photograph.  It would be another year before the 52,084 square foot building would look out over Livernois and give the campus its current appearance.

Looking down at the campus of 1965, it’s interesting to wonder what it is that encourages the familiar feel of the place.  The library (completed in 1949 and 74,399 square feet) is there, distinctively white against the gray layers of this image.  It had only been in existence a little over 15 years when this photo was taken.

The stately grand dames of the original campus are easy to spot too: the 49,696 square foot Chemistry Building, the 40,399 square foot Commerce and Finance Building, the 46,329 square foot Loranger Building (Architecture Building), and the 43,340 square foot Lansing-Reilly Building, were all completed in 1927.  Even the massive Engineering Building (90,259/6,965 square foot Annex) (completed in 1928) was in progress during this 1927 school year.

Other buildings, more recent to these 1965 photographs, are evident: Calihan Hall (built in 1952 and 144,254 square feet) can be spotted right away. The 59,520 square foot Briggs Building (built in 1958) stands near the 37,800 square foot initial College of Health Professions building (built in 1962, then later remodeled to add 18,677 square feet in 2004).  And there’s the building we know as the Facility Operations Building (built in 1930 and 13,440 square feet) near the stadium.  See it there?

The magnifying tool works well to locate the Gardella Honors House at the far left in the first photograph.  It’s difficult to find, but we know it’s there since it was built in 1962.  Named to honor Mr. and Mrs. George A. Gardella, this 540 square foot space is now home to the Honors Program studying space.

Holden Hall, built in 1946 (36,150 square feet), is easy to spot in the lower left of the first photograph.  Next to Holden Hall is the 60,732 square foot Reno Hall (built in 1954).  Shiple Hall is there (it was built in 1960) but this 82,660 square foot building can only be seen in the second photograph.

It’s easy to imagine the campus evolving from this time to now. Some things change, some remain the same, but the campus overall remains recognizable based on one distinctive feature: the tower (which by the way, was erected in 1926, a few years after the stadium was built).


The Great War

No one is really sure what motivated the hand that fired the gun that started the first world war in 1914. The bullets, for sure, found their targets in June of that year in Sarajevo when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with his wife, Sophie, were assassinated. The events leading up to this action, however, began years before around 1871 (according to a timeline found on the PBS web site). Changes in the ruling centers of countries like Germany, Russia, and Great Britain seemed to trip a line of political dominoes that started falling into place from this point in the late 1800s to the firing of that gun in 1914. Europe seemed unsettled; the relationships between dominant countries seemed tenuous. Surely the atmosphere that hinted of the war to come was felt everywhere as the world entered its new century.

For the students at the University of Detroit, however, the new century offered the sweetness of promise and success. Those halcyon days filled with sports, poetry, and philosophic debate they spent earning their degrees felt ripe with the potential of more of the same after graduation. The Tamaracks published during the early part of the 20th century evidence the spirit of the times, the steady carriage ride into a future full of new inventions, discoveries, and continual optimism. There was no cloud on that horizon; no thought of world war. What could possibly go wrong?

Yet on the other side of the world, the possessor of the hand that would pull the trigger on the gun that fired that first fateful shot, was growing from child to man into his place in the history of the world.  (Gavrilo Princip was 19 when he killed the royal couple.) As the trauma in these countries circled into expression, it only took one hand to ignite the firestorm of the Great War.  Many of the hopeful students who wrote of sports and the magic of upcoming advances in technology, would soon be gaining an education in the struggles of mankind’s desire for power.

After the assassinations, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.

For an interesting perspective on history, read the Tamarack journals published during the years before World War I with the events taking place in Europe during this period in mind.


Tamarack, April, 1914


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