Defining American Slavery

In an editorial published in the the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper on March 9, 1861, there’s a review of a recent book (titled, American slavery distinguished from the slavery of English theorists, and justified by the law of nature) on the defining of slavery and slaves as human beings.  The writer of this article compares this recent publication with another book published by John H. Van Evrie (another pro-slavery writer) about the same time. The focus is on the question of whether a slave owner has the right to take the life of a slave when he chooses. And this question comes down to the definition of slavery itself.

Dr. Seabury defines American slavery in this way:  “And if I am asked to state precisely what I mean by American slavery, I answer that a slave is a person who is related to society through another person called as master, to whom he owes due service, or labor for life, and from whom he is entitled to receive support and protection.”

It seems Dr. Seabury argues that slavery agrees with the “Law of Nature” and this is one reason he also agrees with it. The editor points out the flaws in Dr. Seabury’s definition and compares Dr. Seabury’s reasoning with his own experience of slavery. While Dr. Seabury’s definition seems lofty, wordy, and aloof, the editor offers examples from actual state laws that indicate the opposite of this interpretation.  The editor argues that the “…dollar value of the slave, and not the law, is the only protection to the slave’s life.”

But while the article begins with emotion, the argument ends with the logic of John Locke. The editor prefers the definition offered by Locke in his book, Two Treatises of Government: “To be a slave is to be subject to the absolute, arbitrary power of another; as men do not have this power even over themselves, they cannot sell or otherwise grant it to another. One that is deserving of death, i.e., who has violated the law of nature, may be enslaved. This is, however, ‘but the state of war continued’ (2nd Tr., §24), and even one justly a slave therefore has no obligation to obedience.”

The Weekly Anglo-African newspaper, in circulation in New York between 1859 and 1865, was among the first black newspapers.  It focused on communication within the black community, and helped weave together a people struggling to find a place in the predominately white America of this time.  It connected free people of color, encouraged the young, and offered a link with like minds.  These newspapers became a way out of despair, a safety net, and a forum for expression.

Use the magnifier tool to gain a closer look at this article in the Black Abolitionist Archive.  It offers a well written glimpse into the often irrational discussions on slavery taking place just before Emancipation.  (The “Dr. Seabury” the article refers to is Dr. Samuel Seabury, Protestant Episcopal minister known for his justification of slavery during this time.)

Summertime Colors

When I think of summer, I tend to think of color.  Winter seems so stark and colorless, as if every living thing has become dormant and still.  The black and white of winter has its own beauty, but the spectrum of summer colors seems to draw everyone outside and into the light again.  There’s something about the play of light and colorful new life that feeds the soul and brings out the artist in us all.

Maurice Greenia, Jr., probably knows this feeling well.  Often the urge to express interesting forms on media includes the urge for a colorful expression.  While Maurice’s archive offers some interesting and exciting black and white work, summer is best expressed in his colorful images of the season.

I asked Maurice if he would share some of his favorites that represent summer to him and he sent me several to choose from.  I couldn’t choose!  They were all great.  So I decided to include almost all of his examples here as a unique way to enjoy the activities of the summer months.

From the Paintings Collection, this one is titled “At the Hollow Sea” (image 244):


At the Hollow Sea

From the Magnet and Pin Collection, this one is titled, “Walking on the Beach” (image 198):


Walking on the Beach

From the Index Card Collection, this one is titled, “Picnic” (image 122) (it’s not in color, but the movement of the line seems to the suggest the bright energy of a peaceful summer day) (besides, I just like this one):



From the Color Drawings Collection, this one is titled, “The Old Ball Game” (image 41):


The Old Ball Game

Now if you’re inspired to get outside and enjoy the warmth and sunshine, you might also be inspired to visit the Maurice Greenia, Jr. Collections digital archive and enjoy the beautiful expressions waiting for you there.


The Future of Warfare

When the 1918 edition of the Tamarack was published in June of that year, the first few pages held more advertising than content.  Slowly over time, ads had gone from simple product mentions at the end of each issues to full page graphics at the beginning.  It was obvious the Tamarack’s days were numbered.  Even the tone of the content had changed.  The early literary volumes filled with poetry and prose were now offering a more somber tone, concentrating more on engineering, the military, and the future of warfare.  This was the year the “Great War” would finally end, but at this point, the battles still raged.  The sobering atmosphere had likely influenced the writers; the country itself was forever changed.

This volume speaks to those who are graduating into a world where “invention” is more about “protection” than the advancement of human knowledge.  Engineering is recommended as the best major for incoming students who would realize success in this newly changed world.  And Engineering is about the technology of war more than the technology of business as it had once been (and will be again).

On page 174 of this issue is a contribution titled “Warfare–Past, Present, and Future.”  In it, the author imagines the future of warfare that now includes technology such as machine guns, submarines, airplanes, gas shells, and “deadly projectiles.”  Designing for warfare was not just about inventing new ways to kill the enemy, but new ways to protect ourselves from the enemies attempts to kill us.  He also talks about the “English tanks,” once thought of as novelties but now, thanks to German reverse engineering of stolen tanks, a threat to future soldiers in future wars (something the writer seems to believe is only a matter of time).

A degree in Engineering seems appealing based on the seemingly urgent need to build up our defenses.  Ship building, the author notes, will require steel, and “steel magnate” Charles M. Swab (mentioned in the text) will make a fortune because of it.

On November 11, five months after this issue of the Tamarack first appeared in print, at 6 a.m., Germany signs the Armistice of Compiègne.  Fighting stops at 11 a.m., ending the “war to end all wars.”

As it turns out, this essay written five months previously, offered an eerie foreshadowing of the bleak future engineers would indeed design in the years to come.  As it turns out, warfare does have a future after all.


University History

You may know that the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) is the oldest Catholic university in Michigan, and you may also know that in 1990, the merging of the University of Detroit and Mercy College formed UDM.  But did you know that the university originated with the founding of Detroit College in 1877, or that Detroit College became the University of Detroit in 1927?  Did you know that the land for the current UDM campus was purchased from local farmers and established in 1927?  Did you know that Mercy College of Detroit opened in 1941, and that this campus is now part of the Wayne County Community College system?

If you love history, or even if you just want to know more about the university, the University Histories collection in our digital archives offers a great resource.  This archive leads visitors on a journey through time from the humble initial foundation work of dedicated men and women, to the distinguished center of education UDM is today.

This archive is made up of PDF versions of books published by Herman J. Muller S. J., and Mary Justine Sabourin, RSM (links to their biographies are included).  Each offers a personal perspective on life in the early days of the university and Mercy College.  In Sister Sabourin’s book Risk & Hope: An Early History of Mercy College of Detroit, for example, is the following impression of Mercy College in August, 1941, just a few days before the start of the first term:

“My first view of the College was a sea of black mud crisscrossed here and there by tracks of heavy machinery. Practically in the center was a very plain, cream-colored block building of five stories…. As we opened the door, I gazed with consternation at the marble stacked on the lobby floor. Beyond the foyer I could see the unfinished Chapel; to the left, unfinished offices. Workmen were jostling each other trying to meet the September 1 deadline. I turned to Sister Patricia and asked, ‘Did you say we are opening our doors to college students on Sept. 1?’ ‘No,’ replied Sister Patricia, apparently unalarmed, “I did not say it. Mother Carmelita said it and I believe her. The residence halls are ready for 60 young ladies; the cafeteria is set up for meals; the classrooms are ready; the faculty have been interviewed and are ready to teach; administration is complete now that we are here. We’re ready to begin tomorrow.” Mercy College of Detroit’s first building was ready on August 26, six days ahead of schedule. She continued, “No one had told the first dean that one of her functions prior to the opening of the school would be to scrub and wax the sanctuary floor on her hands and knees and to decorate the main altar with a profusion of red roses.”

The history archive is a hidden jewel among our digital collections.


Sometimes just considering diving into the pages of one of our digital archives to search for an interesting article or a former professor or alumni can seem daunting.  On a page of faces, names and text can appear tiny.  Even familiar faces can be lost in a photograph of a crowded event.

When the collection offers a PDF version of a document, the material can be enlarged through a PDF reader.  This allows for a more user-focused reading experience.  Materials in collections that contain images include a “magnifying” option (shown below) that enables visitors to gain an enhanced version of the image under review.

The magnification tool is a way of “scaling up” the images to see more detail, without changing the perspective of the image.  And the magnifier goes where you point it so the entire page doesn’t zoom, just the portion you wish to view.  It’s like having a magnifying glass at your fingertips!  Click the link (shown in the example below) to turn it on.  When you’re finished using it, just click it again to turn it off.

This tool, along with a link for any keywords included on the page, will help make your visit to the archive a lot more enjoyable.

Commencement Collection

Graduation is arguably the best time in any student’s educational experience.  It’s not so much a “finish” line as it is a “starting point”; not so much a door that’s closing but one that’s standing wide open.  The beginning of any student’s college career may be exciting and challenging, but that moment when the hard won diploma is handed to him or her has got to be the most meaningful.  Even sitting in that mass of gowned graduates waiting for a turn to walk across that stage is worth the necessary patience expressed on that amazing day.

A lot of the students waiting during Commencement sit with this anticipation while holding a Commencement booklet.  As they wait, this booklet can get perused or thumbed through several times.  It almost seems part of the ceremony.  It can get rolled up, crushed, stepped on, dog-eared, even tossed aside.  And years later, this one booklet can trigger so many memories of that day.

As we have in the years since the University of Detroit Mercy, the University of Detroit, and all the way back to Detroit College, has been holding Commencement ceremonies, the university has issued Commencement booklets.  Our digital archives now makes these available to you.  Now, not only can you trigger memories from your own graduation by reviewing the booklet from that year, but you can also access the booklet available when your parents graduated or your grandparents or your distant cousin or great grandparent.  It’s even kind of fun to watch the changes these booklets have gone through over time.

And speaking of time … we’ve just released the 2015 Commencement booklet in digital format for you.  Take a look when the dust of this year’s graduation has finally settled and you’re ready to relive this wonderful day.


“Our Assumed Literary Apathy”

William Wells Brown was unique among Black Abolitionists.  That he was of mixed blood, tracing his maternal grandfather to a famous name (Daniel Boone), was not too unusual for his time. He was also an escaped slave, which was also not that unusual for many Black Abolitionists.  But unlike many who devoted their lives to fighting this unjust institution, he was a self-educated writer, lecturer, and historian who became the first African American to publish a novel.

In 1863, William Wells Brown published his book,  The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius and His Achievements (now available online).  His own history is described in the first few pages under the heading, MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR, and a portion of that is included here. The book itself was evidently received with mixed reviews.

        “I WAS born at Lexington, Kentucky. My father, as I was informed, was a member of the Wickliffe family; my mother was of mixed blood; her father, it was said, was the noted Daniel Boone, and her mother a negress. My early life on the plantation was such as generally falls to the lot of the young slave, till I arrived at the age of nine years, when my position was changed. My master’s brother lost his wife, she leaving an infant son a few months old, whom my mistress took to bring up. When this boy became old enough to need a playmate to watch over him, mistress called the young slaves together, to select one for the purpose. We were all ordered to run, jump, wrestle, turn somersets, walk on our hands, and go through the various gymnastic exercises that the imagination of our brain could invent, or the strength and activity of our limbs could endure. The selection was to be an important one, both to the mistress and the slave. Whoever should gain the place was in the future to become a house servant; the ask-cake thrown aside, that unmentionable garment that buttons around the neck, which we all wore, and nothing else, was to give way to the whole suit of tow linen.”

These things alone are remarkable. And knowing that anyone with access to the Internet now has easy access to this material is amazing considering the tumultuous years that followed the publication of Brown’s work.

But what isn’t known by many about the early response to this book is also available in the Black Abolitionist archive, and it sits quietly waiting to be discovered.  Written during the final years before the Emancipation Proclamation, the hope for a brighter future is felt even in these defensive words.

pacific_appeal_oct10-1863-2Pacific Appeal, October 10, 1863


The Age of Inquiry

In March, 1827, Freedom’s Journal, the first black-owned and operated newspaper was established with the goal of reaching the free black population in the northeastern part of the U.S.  A speech (delivered in July, 1830) by one of its founders, Peter Williams, is among some of the earliest speeches held in the Black Abolitionist archive.

Soon, other black-owned newspapers followed.  Among these was Frederick Douglass’ Paper (which had evolved from his previous newspapers), and among the editors of this paper was teacher, writer, and Black Abolitionist, William J. Watkins.

One of the things that makes the Black Abolitionist archive unique is the collection of editorials and speeches by writers who may not be as well known as men like Frederick Douglass.  William Watkins is one of them.  Although he wasn’t born into slavery, he identified strongly with the plight of those who were. He lived during one of the bleakest periods in American history, and, through sheer determination and a powerful intellect, he became a compelling voice for justice that guided an entire race of people through that horrible time.

“The Age We Live In” (included here) is a great example of Watkins’ work.  In it, he describes his generation as the “age of inquiry and investigation.”  He saw among his people a renewed interest in education, research, and betterment. He viewed his time as a “revolution” of progress and enlightenment; and so it was in many ways.

William J. Watkins lived between around 1803 to around 1858.  When historians speak of these years, they tend to focus on the horrors of slavery and the way the country’s economy grew on the backs of the enslaved portion of its population.  But behind the scenes progress was taking place, encouraged and inspired by writers, editors, and journalists working with the power of the written word for the cause of liberation for all.  These were the heroes of this time.  These were the men and women who fought tirelessly for the cause of freedom.  Among these, William J. Watkins stands out as one of the most eloquent and outspoken.  His name has slipped into the cover of history.  This current “age we live in,” however, may be the perfect the time to re-introducing him to the world.


One of the highlights of any student’s experience at graduation is the celebration that marks the completion of all their hard work.  The pomp and circumstance of the event marks a formal recognition of accomplishment, and an end to all the worry, effort, and lost sleep they went through in order to realize this one goal. When the moment arrives to walk across the stage to receive that valued diploma, it’s as if they are walking across the finish line of a marathon they began in Grade School.  It’s done, completed, over, and Commencement testifies to that.

Commencement, however, can also be defined as the start of something, and not just the conclusion.  In fact, when it was first coined, the word “Commencement” was only used as indication of a beginning.  It wasn’t until the 1850s that the usage altered.  (

With that well-earned degree in hand, each graduate walks out of the ceremony and into the future to put it into use.  (A new car begins to devalue the minute it is driven off the lot.  A degree will never lose its value.  This alone makes it a good investment in a bright future.)

The Introduction to our Digital Commencement Collection, explains the event in this way:
“A commencement exercise begins with a procession of the students, faculty, and administrators in academic regalia. The procession is most often led by the macebearer carrying the mace which symbolizes the authority granted by the Board of Trustees to the President of the University. A Grand Marshal (usually a professor) who presides over the ceremony follows the macebearer.
During the commencement ceremony, the deans present the degree candidates to the president of the university indicating the candidates have fulfilled the requirement for specific degrees. A very solemn moment of the commencement ceremony is when the president confers upon the candidates the degrees for which they were recommended and announces the graduates are forever alumni of the institution.”

Did you know that our Digital Commencement Collection contains digitized booklets from 1887, to the present?  You’ll find booklets from Commencements held for the Law School, the School of Dentistry, and Mercy College, as well as the University of Detroit (and later the University of Detroit Mercy). You can search through these to discover interesting bits of information such as the names of the university presidents over time, grand marshals, honorary degree recipients, speakers, etc.  Using the search options, you can also find out how many Commencements were held at the various locations such as the Memorial Building, Orchestra Hall, Calihan Hall, etc.  Even the degree titles offer a way of pinning down when certain degree programs were added or discontinued.

We invite you to spend some time with our Digital Commencement Collection to discover a bit of history, and rediscover a few memories was well.  Spring is the perfect time of year for this.  Commencement is just around the corner.
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