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:

The Last Light-Hearted Year

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austria-Hungary’s throne, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated while they were visiting Bosnia. By July of that year, Austria-Hungary and Serbia were at war; and by the end of August Germany, Russia, France, Great Britain, and Belgium were all involved in what would become the first World War. While President Woodrow Wilson worked to keep the U.S. out of the hostilities, the entire world shook with rage and horror over this bloody conflict.  (In 1917, the U.S. entered the fighting when, on April 6, it declared war on Germany.)

As events unfolded in Europe, the atmosphere around  the U. of D. campus seemed unaffected by it all.  Reading through the Tamarack publication from October 1914 (four months after the world began its steady march towards “The Great War”), I could find only a tongue-in-cheek mention of the conflict (shown in the image here).

Some of the humor in this page needs a bit of explanation. Earl Kitchener, a newly created peerage in the British ranks (dukes, marquess, earl, viscount, baron) had just been created in 1914 for famous soldier, Herbert Kitchener. Stroh and Goebel were brewers in Michigan (doing quite well at the time). The other puns seem obvious.  And it’s likely that the rest of the names mentioned here were students (Edward D. Devine, Charles L.  Bruce, and Henry N. Gaspard were all listed as officers in the Alumni Association in the 1915 bulletin).

Earlier Tamaracks expressed the light-hearted school boy air of those carefree days before the first world war.  After that, it seemed the tone changed to a more somber one. The students of U. of D. seemed to view a very different world after this point.

Riddles, Sayings, Superstitions

Professor James T. Callow along with Professor Frank M. Paulsen have done something amazing: they’ve put together a huge collection of folklore materials gathered from their students between 1964 and 1993; and now Professor Callow has shared this collection with UDM and the world. In 1964, Professor Callow, along with Professor Paulsen, founded the University of Detroit Folklore Archive. This amazing archive was donated to the University of Detroit Mercy Libraries /Instructional Design Studio in digital form in 2009, and we are proud to include it in our Digital Special Collections.

The introduction to the archive tells visitors that it 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.”

The archive is searchable by text, title, keyword, location, subject and contains folklore such as:

  • urban legends
  • jokes
  • fraternity, sorority, and scouting songs
  • drinking games
  • graffiti
  • initiation pranks
  • superstitions
  • gestures
  • riddles
  • proverbs
  • customs
  • festivals, and
  • elder lore

Here’s an example of what you might discover in this amazing collection:


How Many Children?

Thread a needle and hold it at the top, next to your left wrist. If you keep watching for awhile, the needle and thread will move all by itself. If it moves in circles, for example, three times, that means you will have three daughters someday. If it sways back and forth, that means you will have the respective number of sons. If the needle and thread don’t move at all, you will be childless.


Visit the James T. Callow Folklore Archive to learn more. Or, if you are doing research and want access to the physical collection, please contact the UDM McNichols Campus Library research desk at 313-993-1071 to make an appointment.

Education, 1851

History has a way of collapsing time.  It moves along a social timeline from major event to major event and the small steps that occurred to the human beings involved in the day to day struggle between those events are often overlooked.  We see for example the settling of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 (and the African slaves who were included in this), the Civil War in 1861, and the emancipation of slaves in 1863. We’re told that slavery had a long history of cruelty and abuse, and we are hesitant to spend too much time exploring the detailed lives of those who survived this.

But the history of slavery is also the history of triumph, of survival, and of the joining together of an enslaved people toward a common goal of freedom. The tireless work of so many unsung heroes called the Black Abolitionists, along with their white counterparts, helped to realize something few would have thought possible during this time: emancipation. This is not to trivialize this milestone. The journey wasn’t smooth and neither were the years that followed, but the determination of those who would fight for freedom and continue this fight deserves recognition.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 finally put an end to nearly 250 years of slavery in this country, there were free people of color living in almost every state in the Union. While freedom for these people didn’t also include social acceptance (or even citizenship), it did offer a way of working toward freedom for many of those who became Black Abolitionists during the 1800s.  Education for these people was rare, however, except for those privileged few who were sent to schools in Scotland and other countries.

An education was therefore highly valued, since it offered a way for those who fought hard for freedom to enter into a reasoning debate with those who had the power to influence change.  An educated mind, for example, knew that slavery was an economic institution and cotton was its driving force.  Uncovering the commodities that encouraged the continuation of slavery, meant the chances were better for making a logical argument for its end.  Convincing those countries that bought our cotton that their dollars were better spent elsewhere, for example, was an educated way to disrupt the economic value of this horrible institution.

The brief editorial shown here is from The Voice of the Fugitive newspaper issue published in 1851, twelve years before Emancipation.  Discovering these nuggets of history offers readers a way of better understanding the actual line of events that weaved its way through the years prior to and including those dreadful years.

Spend some time in the Black Abolitionist Archive and read this and other treasures you can discover there.


The Voice of the Fugitive, June 1, 1851

The Colors of Spring

Ah!  It’s so nice to find the days warming and the sun shining with all its might!  After spending as much time as possible outside in the fresh spring air, you might find yourself musing over something to do.  “I spend too much time in social media,” you might say to yourself. “I need to just soak up the colors of this new season, but how can I do this and still benefit from the social world?” 

Well, one answer may be to spend some time with the art from the Maurice Greenia, Jr. archive. 

When I think of the spring and upcoming summer months, I think of color.  And color usually takes me to the Maurice Greenia, Jr. Collection and the watercolors there.  The image posted here is one of my current favorites.  It offers the shapes and colors of a comic strip without the words … without the comedy.  With this image, the viewer can appreciate the artistry of work that in comic book form some may dismiss as “merely” cartoon. 

This image offers a different perspective, and one that allows the viewer to appreciate the positioning, color, and interaction of shapes within the boxed display. With the right perspective this type of creativity offers a way of identifying an artistry comic book readers might not expect. Seeing with a shifting of perspectives in this way, allows viewers to learn a different way of interpreting their world. This helps improve critical thinking skills, and offers those who appreciate this approach the benefit of learning a new way of understanding the layers of experience that are part of many issues they may encounter both in and out of the classroom.

Spending time with art is beneficial to the person overall: as student, as individual, and as member of a dynamic world. Maurice’s artwork helps balance the academic with the creative nicely.  His work in digital form is a wonderful addition to our archive collection.


The 1960′s “Take-Over Generation”

The 1963 Tower Yearbook introduces the reader to 12 months of changes summed up in one span of time between March 15, 1962 to March 15, 1963. The yearbook narrows down the events of that unsettled time in the world to the microcosm of the University of Detroit campus. So, how does this compare with the broader turmoil in the rest of the world?

When someone mentions the 1960s the first thing that often comes to mind for a lot of people these days is a vision of colorfully dressed hippies dancing in a park playing tambourines and singing songs of peace. Some people think of the Vietnam War and the protests that went along with it; some think of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the dark hours of that dramatic event. The  troubled and troubling decade of the 1960s, and the string of events that ended once and for all the innocent years following World War II, seems to have been started by one major occurrence that a lot of people tend to overlook when they consider this time.

On August 18, 1963, James Meredith graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in political science.  On October 1, 1962, he had become the first black student to enter “Ole Miss” and his time there was arguably the spark that set fire to the Civil Rights Movement in this country.  Ten days after Meredith graduated, 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington, and were present to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his historic I have a Dream speech.

The 1963 Tower Yearbook, published at the on-set of the turbulent years to follow, offers readers a rare glimpse into the final days of social innocence that marked the beginning of changes that continue to this day.


1963 Tower Yearbook, page 5

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