Thanksgiving Day

In 1863, the debate about establishing a national day of Thanksgiving was well underway.  On September 28th of that year, Sarah Hale, American writer and editor, wrote an impassioned letter to Abraham Lincoln encouraging him to set aside an official day to recognize the spirit of thankfulness that defined the country overall.  This, she argued, would be of benefit to the entire population especially during this time of civil war.

Included in her letter (on the last page) is a clipping from an editorial she wrote for her Lady’s Book magazine that says,

“The influence of these state seasons of sacred remembrances, high aspirations, and tender . . . rejoicings would not only be salutary on the character of our own citizens, but the world would be made better . . . . If the germ of good feeling be ever so deeply buried under ‘the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life,’ it may be brought out by sympathy and vivified by culture and effort.”


On August 8, of that year, however, the Pacific Appeal newspaper had already taken the first step with their own celebration of Thanksgiving.  In this case, the celebration was in connection with the already celebrated August 1 anniversary of Emancipation Day in the British West Indies (August 1, 1834).  Emancipation Day was renamed “National Thanksgiving Day” temporarily (and likely just for San Francisco) as a way for those of African decent in this county to be included in this debate.  Presented as a national holiday, the article cleverly presents its case to those readers who were already celebrating this annual holiday in the African American community.

For more information on the Black Abolitionist Archive, please visit our Special Collections page. Spending time perusing this and other collections is a great way to discover something interesting during the holiday break or any time.


The Football Riots

No one saw it coming.  It’s only a game after all, right?  Lots of students, who were more interested in academics and had never bothered with attending the games, hardly noticed the decisive blow that officially ended Varsity football at the University of Detroit.  But when it was officially ended on November 30, 1964, the serene setting of this peaceful campus exploded into screaming chaos resulting in two nights of student rioting that some will not soon forget.

The popularity of Varsity football had a slow, steady climb at the University of Detroit from the first game to its official demise in 1964, but in its final years it struggled to survive.  Yet when the death knell chimed, it was just too much for hundreds of student fans to accept quietly.  The timeline in the 1973 yearbook notes that the announcement sent them “screaming and running” into the streets, blocking traffic and removing traffic lights on Livernois and Six Mile.  The rioting mob continued on down Livernois, and spilling onto the Lodge, successfully prevented traffic from flowing there.  The 1965 Tower reports that rioting lasted two nights, with approximately 800 students participating the first night, and a thousand taking part on the second night.

Student protestors block traffic on the Lodge freeway (1965 yearbook image).

The rioting that resulted from the news of the Varsity football cut allowed a release of the anger that came from feeling unable to stop what everyone feared was coming.  Frustration took them into the streets, anger kept them there for two nights; the cold and the threat of police action, took them back to campus, deflated and resigned.

It didn’t help that the final year was so miserable.  The team had realized a steady decline that contributed to dwindling attendance and resulting financial woes.  By this point, attendance had dwindled to just under 12,000 fans per game, which meant a loss of around $65,000 (according to page 257 of the 1965 Tower yearbook).  It was no longer feasible to keep football going.

This poor performance continued into the 1965 season in games played after the axe fell.  It seemed all the steam had gone out of the team’s will to succeed.  What was the point?  The players were committed, however, and so the Titan team fulfilled its commitments, even mustering up enough energy to beat Dayton at one of the final home games 21-6.

As university officials desperately tried to resolve the mass anger and frustration with paltry solutions (Club football being one), in the end, all efforts proved unsuccessful.  Football was no more.

Football first started at U of D to encourage enrollment and help build the university.  The end came as it had begun, with the signing of a formal agreement, and an eye on financial resources.  The university powers that be had concluded that the value was just not worth the cost.

For all their efforts, those who rioted that dark November had to simply stand back and watch their beloved team sport fizzle, sputter, and die.  The stadium would soon follow.

Light Up the Land

The history of the University of Detroit Mercy begins with the establishment of Detroit College by the Jesuits in 1877.  The story of the university stretches the expanse of years since then from its humble beginnings on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Detroit to the location of the current main campus on Livernois. The college became the University of Detroit in 1927, and merged with Mercy College in 1990, to become the University of Detroit Mercy. That’s the basic historical timeline that takes us from UDM’s origins to 2015 when it was ranked, “… in the top tier of Midwestern regional universities” according to the Education edition of the U. S. News and World Report.

These days, this quality ranking and the history of the university is easily available through a quick search of the web. In 1952, however, this type of historical information was not that readily available.  That year the university celebrated its 75th anniversary, and Father Daniel A. Lord, S. J., wanted to do something special in recognition of the occasion.  It was then his production of “Light up the Land” made its debut.

The UDM Libraries/Instructional Design Studio is pleased to include the digitized version of this landmark achievement in our Digital Archives. The collection includes the digitized musical (offered in two parts), along with the production program and a biography of Father Lord.

The introduction to the archive provides the following details about the musical:

“‘Light Up the Land’ was presented as part of the 75th anniversary of the University of Detroit in November 1952. The story is about the history and value of education in an American democracy. It starts out with a young couple thinking about leaving school to get married believing that education is a waste of time. A kindly professor guides them through the history of education and how democracy played a role, from the time of Moses, the City of Athens during the Golden Age, the American Revolution, and other eras up to modern America.”

This year marks the 138th year since the founding of Detroit College. We suggest doing something special to celebrate by visiting the Light up the Land archive. You’ll be able to see for yourself what an amazing gift of creativity this is.


“Where is Charles O’Conor?”

The U.S. Civil War officially began in the early months of 1861. Rumblings of war and early warning signs were very apparent in the months and years preceding this official date, however. Members of the free black population were already taking steps during this time to sabotage what they called the “slavocracy” as an economic institution.  And they were doing a great job of it. Slowly but surely each patient step toward disruption through “agitation” (as they called it), legal wranglings, and speaking engagements was making an impact.

In August, 1861, an editorial appeared in the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper. The call was for Charles O’Conor, attorney, would-be politician, and pro-slavery advocate to step up now with his reasoned commitment to an institution that war was finally killing off. At this early part of the war, O’Conor was nowhere to be found, neither siding with the North (where he lived) or the South (where his allegiance lay). Stern, outspoken, and fixed in his ideas about what was best for the U.S. economy and the country in general, Charles O’Conor represented everything that was wrong with the political system at the time. His focus was on money, growth, and enterprise with very little consideration to the suffering of the humanity involved in bringing this about. The writer tells his readers that O’Conor’s opinion was that slavery was “a blessing” to the slaves, who he considered as little more than animals.

The writer of this editorial was speaking with some knowledge of recent history involving O’Conor that he shared with his readers. In this may be subtly referenced a particularly interesting court case that O’Conor was involved in some ten years prior in 1852.

Jonathan and Juliet Lemmon were traveling from Virginia to Texas with their eight slaves. As part of this trip, they traveled to New York to await a steamer heading south. While in New York, their slaves were housed at a boarding house and came to the attention of Black Abolitionists there. A website devoted to the case tells us what happened next:

“Early the next morning, a writ of habeas corpus was presented to Judge Elijah Paine of the New York Superior Court by Erastus D. Culver, a local attorney and abolitionist, saying that the black people now at 5 (sic) Carlisle Street were restrained of their liberty and ought to be freed based on the 1841 repeal of the ‘nine months law.’ That law had been a provision in an 1817 act that had provided for the gradual abolition of slavery in New York State, and had permitted slaveholders to retain their slaves in New York if their stay was less than nine months. The repeal had not been tested since it was passed eleven years earlier. The writ of habeas corpus itself contained many errors that suggested no one had actually talked to the African American family at this point, but had only seen them at a distance. In it, Jonathan ‘Lemming’ was described erroneously as a ‘negro trader.’ But Judge Paine acted promptly, and the writ was served on Lemon that morning, with the black family taken into custody.”

As it turned out, the State of New York won this case despite O’Conor’s participation on behave of Mr. and Mrs. Lemmon.  The slaves were ordered to be set free, and Lemmon took his case to the Supreme Court of New York ready for a further fight for them. The war soon interfered, however, and the court battle ended there.

This wasn’t the only court case O’Conor was involved in regarding the issue of slavery, but it hopefully opened the eyes of a man who viewed the entire black population as “inferior.” This one case offers a great example of how an entire race of human beings were able to use whatever means was at their disposal to fight this unjust institution. In the end, it took war to finally close this down, but it was ready to crumble long before this by a continuous weakening of its foundation by those inside it.


Introducing the University of Detroit Chorus Collection

The UDM Libraries/Instructional Design Studio is pleased to announce the addition of the University of Detroit Chorus Collection to our digital archives.  Materials from the collection of former Chorus member, Gerald Gruska (1959-1963) are now available in digital format dedicated to the legacy of the University of Detroit Chorus and Choral Society/Club.  The archive spans the early years of the Chorus from 1949 to 1970, and focuses on Chorus Directors George McLeod and Don Large.  Additional material will be added as it becomes available.

We invite you to check out the new collection. Click through the images within the site to explore the early years of the University of Detroit Mercy’s Chorus. If you were a member or have more information about some of the photographs within the site, please contact us.

To view this and other digital collections, please visit the “Special Collections” link on the Library home page for more information. Or go straight to the collection by clicking here.  Click through the images within the collection to explore the early years of the University of Detroit Mercy’s Chorus.



James T. Callow Folklore Collection

The James T. Callow Folklore Collection helps us celebrate the month of October and the colors of autumn with a song called “October Gave a Party” (shown below) from one submission he received. The person who submitted this noted that the song originated with her aunt who learned this from her mother when she (the aunt) was six years old. Songs like this may have been lost forever if Professor Callow hadn’t devoted time and effort into collecting them. This archive is filled with the magic of folklore, riddles, poems, and songs that visitors may recognize or, like this little song, be introduced to for the first time.

Visitors can find special treats like this song by browsing through the keyword search lists. It’s a fun way to spend a chilly afternoon as fall gets underway full time.

The introduction to the archive tells us this about the archive:

“The University of Detroit Mercy Digital Folklore Archive, founded in 1964 by Professors Frank M. Paulsen and James T. Callow was donated to the University of Detroit Mercy Libraries /Instructional Design Studio in 2009. The archives is comprised at this point of over 42,000 folklore traditions taken from field notes gathered by UDM (formerly University of Detroit) students as part of their course work in ‘Introduction to Folklore,’ ‘Studies in Folklore,’ ‘Folk Groups,’ and ‘Folklore Archiving’. The folklore archive covers traditions gathered between 1964 and 1993. Included in the Archive is the Peabody field note collection containing approximately 12,000 entries from Tennessee and the Southeast.”


October Gave A Party

The Leaves By Hundreds Came
The Chestnut, Oak, And Maple
And Leaves Of Every Name
The Sunshine Spread The Carpet
And Everything Looked Grand
Miss Weather Led The Dancing
Professor Wind The Band
The Chestnuts Came In Yellow
The Oak In Crimson Dress
The Lovely Mrs. Maple
In Scarlet Looked Her Best
All Danced To Their Partners
And Gaily Fluttered By
The Sweet One Like A Rainbow
New-Fallen From The Sky
Then In The Rustic Billow
At Hide And Seek They Played
The Party Broke At Sundown
But Still The Leaves All Stayed
Professor Wind Played Louder
They Flew Along The Ground
And Here The Party Ended
With A Jolly Old Hand Round

The Library

These days the library has become more of a center for learning, sharing, and community than a warehouse of books.  In its early days, however, students and faculty who used the University of Detroit library were regarded as “customers” who checked out books in a very formal fashion.  They looked up the call numbers printed on cards maintained using the Dewey Decimal System, and a technician or librarian would retrieve the books for them through a system of call boxes and “dumb waiters.”  It was very formal, very procedure oriented, and very tedious for all concerned.

In the beginning, the focus was on books, limited study space, and quiet.  Books were sorted by card catalog entry numbers which were imprinted on cards in the books themselves.  Although this process may have been slightly different at the University of Detroit, the basic procedure went like this:  When checked out, the card located within the book was removed and held at the circulation desk until the book was returned.  When the book was returned, the librarian used the card on file to check in the book and return it to the stacks. This procedure, of course, was all matched with the patron’s library card. The system was simple and trusting and very low-tech.

Micofiche entered the scene in the 1960s as a better way of keeping track of circulation, and in the late 1980s, computers found a place in the library as well. Still, using this new technology required time, energy, and staff.  And it was all still about the books: tracking them, organizing them, storing them, and collecting fines for their late return.

Over time, the image of the library as a great vault of book bound knowledge began to change. Librarians and staff began to notice that the patrons kept the library going. It wasn’t that the library, like a great Seinfeld sitcom Soup Nazi, would dole out its prized books to the worthy. It was more about offering students a place on campus to study, learn, and have access to the resources and technology that were so important to their education.

This page from the 1950 Tower Yearbook, offers a snapshot of the importance of the new library building on campus (completed that year).  Reading through this yearbook allows readers a better understanding of the early days of the library’s presence and how welcome it was on campus. Now students had access to the resources they needed to help them with their education in an inviting and well maintained space.

Over time technology has become the predominate way of achieving the library’s success. Students can get access to Internet resources as well as guidance in how to use these resources in their course work. The book is still an important part of it all, however, and chances are good that it always will be.

Along with the yearbook image here, I’ve included a tiny advertisement for typewriter rental at the library in early 1959 (below the yearbook image). This ad is on page 5 of the January 9, 1959, Varsity News.

“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.)


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