Outer Echoes Still Heard

In 1940, the Sisters of Mercy established a presence in Detroit at Southfield and West Outer Drive. About a year later, Mercy College of Detroit began offering classes on this spot that would leave an indelible mark in this city’s history. Over the years until its consolidation with the University of Detroit in 1990, Mercy College expanded from offering nursing and teaching classes to women into a comprehensive coeducational liberal arts college.

In October 1941, the first issue of the Mercy College newspaper, then called “Outer Echoes,” was published. The first column on the first page of this issue welcomed the first classes to this new college on September 8, of that year. Even in its publication infancy, this first issue is loaded with information regarding the beginning of this new institution of higher learning. We can read about the dedication ceremonies, along with details of the elections and activities involved with the opening of a new college. We can see who was chosen for each important aspect of the governing of this new institution, along with photos of the bright faces of those who could consider themselves the first students in what would become such an influential school for those to follow. On page 3, we get a glimpse into one of the dorm rooms at “McAuley Lodge” (the residence building at the time), along with a brief description of campus life written by excited freshmen.

Four pages of history are here in this issue of the Mercy College Newspapers digital collection for your review. It’s worth the time just to look at the photos! But linger a while in these pages, and I think you’ll be pleased by the treasure you’ll find.

Josiah Henson and Harriet Beecher Stowe

It seems an unlikely pairing, but one theory of the history of slavery assures us that Harriet Beecher Stowe was influenced to write her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin after reading the autobiography of Josiah Henson, former slave and Black Abolitionist.  Stowe’s character of Uncle Tom even looks a bit like the photograph of Henson available on various web sites devoted to African American history.  And according to one site, Henson’s supporters even encouraged this connection after the book’s popularity to call further attention to the horrors of slavery that were going unrecognized by most of the white population.

But Stowe’s character of Uncle Tom was also based on a lack of understanding of the actual depth of the problem with the economic “industry” that slavery had become.  Her fictional character lacked the human element that Henson brought to the cause.  Henson had lived through slavery, he had been a loyal slave, and he had been changed forever by his immersion in the way a lack of human compassion can alter human lives.  His encounter with sick and starving slaves encouraged his escape to Canada and his work with education that followed.

The Black Abolitionist Archive contains a brief but important speech by Henson, delivered in 1851, and published in the Anti-Slavery Reporter newspaper.  Stowe’s novel would not be published until March, 1852.   Henson’s autobiography (written by ghost writer Samuel A. Eliot), The Life of Josiah Henson, was published in 1849.  The “tumultuous greeting” he received was then based on his book and not on Stowe’s.

In this speech (shown below), he praises the way education was offered to those of African descent living in England, emphasizing the work of the Sunday School Union there.

 The Rev - Henson_11608spe

 June 2, 1851, the Anti-Slavery Reporter


Have you ever wondered about the history of UDM’s yearly Convocation?  Each year university faculty and employees gather together to kick off the new academic year.  Did you know that the Digital Archives offers a way to trace the history of this annual event through our Convocation Collection?  And not just the history of these important assemblies at UDM, but also those held when we were known as the University of Detroit and Mercy College.

What can you find there?  Well, you’ll find names (who’s who and who’s new!):

  • of those who were honored,
  • of the current university president,
  • of new colleagues,
  • of retiring colleagues,
  • of current university faculty

And you’ll sometimes find images:

  • of the campus,
  • of maps,
  • of new buildings

In this excerpt from the introduction to this collection, Margaret Auer,  Dean of University Libraries and Instructional Technology, describes the collection this way:

“The University of Detroit Mercy has primarily held two types of convocations. The first is the annual convocation called by the president of the university. The purpose of the convocations is for the President to provide a “state of the university” speech and the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs to provide a “state of academic affairs” overview. Over the years, convocations have also provided an opportunity to introduce new faculty, staff, and/or administrators and to honor those individuals who have retired from the university during the previous academic year. For many years, a booklet was distributed in which the Deans of the colleges/schools and the Deans of the academic support units provided annual reports on their respective unit’s successes and challenges. As time went on annual reports from major administrative offices, such as student life and admissions and enrollment management were added to the booklet.”

Entering this digitized aspect of the university’s story is only a matter of a few clicks.  Each booklet is like a small opening to a larger history of the university itself.

convocation2013President’s Convocation, Monday, August 19, 2013

Mercy College

Mercy College, once located at 8200 West Outer Drive, opened its doors to the first class of eager students on September 8, 1941.  October of that year marked the first issue of Outer Echoes, the school newspaper.  Frequent visitors to our digital archives know by now that our Mercy College Student Newspapers collection contains a wealth of history within its issues from October, 1941 through April, 1989.  Our Tower Yearbook collection fills in the history of the school after this time as Mercy College merged with the University of Detroit in 1991.  And for an in depth look at the early history of Mercy College (1941 to 1966), the University Histories collection is a great place to spend some time.

One unique way to learn about the history of any college or university, however, is through researching the institution’s Catalogs and Bulletins.  The Mercy College Bulletins available in our Course Catalogs and Bulletins collection offer a special footprint of the school’s path through time from a student’s perspective.  Recollections of the campus and campus life are rounded out within these pages.  These memories speak to the reason for students being there in the first place: the quality coursework and superb education the college offered.

And in this collection it’s not just the course names, dates, and times that help jar the memory of the place.  There are photos and documented rules and student directives in these bulletins that are guaranteed to provide a former student with an informed journey down memory lane to a long ago campus on Outer Drive.


Sojourner Truth

One hundred fifty-one years ago in June, 1863, Sojourner Truth (a name chosen by Isabella Baumfree, former slave and abolitionist) attended a Sunday School Convention in Battle Creek, Michigan. On the last day of the convention, during a mass meeting of white children and their teachers at the local Methodist Church, she sat patiently in the back of the church listening to various speakers. When the last one finished his speech, she rose and spoke clearly and distinctly to the men at the podium, “Is there an opportunity that I may speak?”

By this point in her life, Sojourner Truth had already fought a long battle against slavery and gender inequality. Her devotion to her cause and the sheer inner strength of her character, were well known to most people in Michigan (both black and white). Anyone else asking to speak may have been brushed aside, but the respect she had earned by her persistence as a humble freedom fighter, allowed the crowd to part so that she could make her way to the front of the church to speak.

The National Anti-Slavery Standard newspaper reported on the events of this day and the wisdom she offered to such a young audience. In part of the article, the writer notes, “She said that the Spirit of the Lord had told her to avail herself of the opportunity of speaking to so many children assembled together of the great sin of prejudice against color.” She knew instinctively that the best way to slow the ugly spread of racial prejudice was to teach children to love one another, regardless of skin color or appearance. The children who sat in the church that day had the potential to grow to be the adults who would influence a social world toward the acceptance of all human beings as children of God. As she spoke to the white children gathered before her, she presented a rational approach to the idea of seeing all human beings as one in God’s eyes.

The Black Abolitionist digital collection is proud to offer not only a PDF version of this published article, but also an audio version of this inspiring speech read by a volunteer. Please visit the archive to read and listen to this moment in history.

The National Anti-Slavery Standard, July 11, 1863

Civil War and Civil Rights

It was fear mostly that kept free black men from being accepted for enlistment in the early days of the Civil War (1861-1865).  Although they had fought in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the uprisings and revolts of later years encouraged government worry about arming black men. Yet while riots and desertion were plentiful when it came to drafting white men into the war, those black men who were committed to fighting for freedom were turned away … at first.

It didn’t take long before the fierce fighting took its toll on the number of troops on both sides, however. It may have been the Confederacy that first realized it was outnumbered and overwhelmed by the success of the North. It was the South that came up with the idea of arming slaves to fight for their cause, thus ensuring freedom for those who would fight (any attempt to return a black Confederate soldier to slavery would be useless after this). In the North, Congress approved the formation of black regiment of troops on July 17, 1862, but it would be January 1, 1863, before President Lincoln officially instituted this as a clause in the Emancipation Proclamation.  (Blue, Gray, and Black: African Americans in the Civil War)

On August 1, 1863, a brief editorial was published in the Pacific Appeal newspaper.  Reading this offers us insight into how the black population was understanding and communicating the events of the war.  History records the high points, the top battles, the generals, the gains and losses. It’s only when we zero in on the individual lives of those who lived through these horrible years that we gain insight into history as it was experienced, the “enthusiasm and patriotism” (as the author tells us) go together like “fighting and freedom.” This was the first generation to really know the horrors of war and how costly the price of freedom could be. And the promises of “applause from a grateful country” would rouse the men of color to action, yet fall far short of expectation in the end. The steady march toward civil rights would begin in this generation, and this march continues today.

Quoting from an address delivered by the Executive Committee of Citizens in Pennsylvania, the writer of the article below adds:

“Take advantage of it; show yourselves to be men and patriots, and a grateful country, watching the flags of your regiments emerging triumphantly from the smoke of battle, cannot refuse the applause which is the due of valor contending for the right.”

Want more? Visit the Black Abolitionist Archive in our Digital Collections.

1943 Tower

Seventy one years ago the country was poised for war.  Europe was unsettled and those fresh faces graduating from the University of Detroit were well aware that they faced an uncertain future. In 1939, Britain and Italy had already declared war on Germany and in December, 1941, the U.S. entered the conflict by declaring war on Japan. By the beginning of 1943, heavy fighting was taking place in most of the eastern part of the world. It seemed the dreams of those graduating in 1943, held only images of joining the fight and defending the country.

The 1943 Tower Senior Yearbook reflects this atmosphere of tension and concern. This would be the last yearbook published until 1947, as the entire country tightened its economic belt and focused on the battle at hand. Paper rationing, as well as limitations of other materials meant that during the war years (1944 through 1946) publication of the yearbook would be closed to the Tower staff. It’s as if the war plunged the entire world into darkness for three years. Being without the yearbook during this time allows readers today to see the value of  the historic record these books offer. And perusing the pages of the 1943 Tower, offers a way into the state of campus life just before the lights went out.

Even though the war officially ended in the summer of 1945, the University of Detroit took a bit longer to return to the annual Tower publication (in 1947). Comparing the “book end” issues for the war years (1943 and 1947) offers readers valuable insight into the way a great society recovers from war. It’s not a matter of returning to the way things were before the conflict. It’s a matter of building a future based on the recovery. We collectively brushed ourselves off and got back to the business of growing a nation, but we did it with a lot more insight and a lot less innocence. In 1943, we cheered our fighters and celebrated their commitment to the fight for justice and freedom.  In 1947, we mourned our dead, and celebrated our hard won victory.


1943 Tower

Magnets, Pins, and Colors

“The job of art is to turn time into things.” (Robert Genn)

Summer is my favorite time of year!  I’m a “summer” person!  Oh, the other seasons are nice and all.  Each has its own unique expression.  But, for me, you can’t beat the full complement of experience packed into a perfect summer day.  For me, summer is a special type of color that seems to stretch from June to August.  And summer days are filled with a seemingly endless array of shapes that hold those colors.

Maurice Greenia, Jr. has found a way to capture those colorful shapes and fashion them into wearable art. And he does this a lot! His overall archive is a treasure house of images that offer a unique way to spend a summer day, and the Magnets and Pins collection is the perfect place to start.

Maurice’s Magnet and Pin Collection is especially intriguing. There are currently 294 images in this interesting collection waiting for your visit. Each one is a unique expression, each is titled, and each is signed.  I would challenge you to find two alike!

In the introduction to this collection, we discover that,

“Maurice Greenia, Jr. painted several hundred miniatures on magnets and pins. He’d take discarded political buttons or refrigerator magnets, and coat them with white gesso so the paint would stick better and not flake off.

Like his larger paintings, these would go in many directions, pictorially. Some depict people or animals; others are more abstract. Some have bright colors; others are muted or monochromatic.

Maurice views these as means of getting his work out to the audience in a more affordable format: People enjoy wearing the painted pins, including the artist himself.”

Figure in Striped Clothes (image 225)

Figure in Striped Clothes (image 225)

Spending time in the Magnet and Pins collection of the Maurice Greenia, Jr. archive is a great way to lose yourself in colorful images.

“Creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment we are timeless.” (Julia Cameron)




Celebrating Independence

Today all Americans celebrate Independence Day (July 4th) as a federal holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776. This event marked this country’s freedom from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

But did you know that August 1 (Emancipation Day) was celebrated as a day of independence and liberation for thousands of enslaved and formerly enslaved people in this country and others for years after slavery was abolished in the West Indies on this day in 1833?  This one act (the British Slavery Abolition Act) freed 700,000 in West Indies, 20,000 in Mauritius, 40,000 in South Africa.  (See Abolition of Slavery timeline here).  And while it would be another 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery in this country, this major legal action in the British West Indies offered hope for further reasoned laws abolishing slavery in all other countries forever.  Quite a reason to celebrate.

And while Emancipation Day (August 1) is today overshadowed by Independence Day (July 4) in this country, August 1 is still celebrated in Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Jamaica, and Bermuda.

*** Side note of interest here:  Within the U.S., there are several states that celebrate their own Emancipation Day on dates associated with the end of slavery for their state.  So, for example, Texas celebrates Juneteenth on June 19th.  In Mississippi, the date is May 8 (the celebration there is called Eight o’ May). ***

Below is a page from an Emancipation Day speech delivered in 1849 by little known black abolitionist Abner H. Francis.  This 17 page speech was published in a black newspaper called the North Star on August 17 of that year and can be found in the Black Abolitionist Archive among our digital collections.  In this speech, Francis spoke eloquently and passionately for the cause of freedom, and for a reasoned approach to ending slavery.

On page 6 of this speech, Francis says,

“When the shackles are falling from hundreds of thousands of our race, when the great principles of human liberty and equality are reanimating the nations of the earth, shall we remain satisfied, in the valley of poverty and ignorance, or shall we avail ourselves of every means within our reach that may render us worthy of those principles and the age in which we live?”

Sometimes when reading these speeches, I hear the voices of these great men and women pleading with those living in my own time.  They seem to say, “Don’t forget us!  Don’t forget what we have fought so hard to overcome.  Honor us by living the best life you can live. Learn from the past, and create a valued place for yourselves in the future.”

Visit the Black Abolitionist Archive to learn more about this speech and others.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN—Our meeting this evening - Francis_09947spe_Page_01

Independence Day

In a New Haven, Connecticut church on July 5, 1832, black abolitionist Peter Osborne spoke of independence.  In those early days of the movement towards freedom from slavery, each July 4th holiday offered a way for abolitionists to remind the country of those who had never known freedom here.  This one day out of each year had come to symbolize what had become the hallmark foundation of the United States, and yet was denied to so many who lived here.  Until the full promise of the Declaration of Independence could be realized, Osborne said, the country would be reminded that it was founded on a lie, signed by those who fought so hard to escape the oppression they’d known in Great Britain.

Although slavery had existed in this country since the 1600s, it was not until the 1830s that the Black Abolitionist movement began.  When initial aggressive measures to win freedom had failed (e.g., Nat Turner’s attempt in 1831 along with Denmark Vessey’s revolt in 1822, see African American History site), taking a milder approach seemed the best option (and, as it turned out, a successful one after years of agitation, speech making, and influential reasoning).

Peter Osborne was one of the first to argue for the moral logic of freedom for all people based on the promises of the Declaration of Independence and all other documents that helped establish this country’s existence.

Maybe this July 4, we can consider the high price some have paid for the freedom we enjoy today.  Maybe too this Independence Day we can consider what more needs to be done to ensure that this hard won freedom continues for all of us.  Taking a steady, reasoned approach has worked in the past, and will likely work for our collective futures if we stand together.

In concluding his speech, Peter Osborne says,

“Let us make it known to America that we are not barbarians; that we are not inhuman beings; that
this is our native country; that our forefathers have planted trees in America for us, and we intend to
stay and eat the fruit. Our forefathers fought, bled and died to achieve the independence of the United
States. Why should we forbear contending for the prize?”

Visit the Black Abolitionist archive to read more of this speech and others:

Page 1 of 912345...