The Assassination

Wikipedia tells the history of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in dry, textbook form.  Through accounts reported at the time, we learn that on Good Friday (April 14) 1865, John Wilkes Booth put a bullet into the head of Abraham Lincoln, while the president watched a play at Ford’s Theater.  The assassin then made his dramatic escape, and died at the hands of Union soldiers while hiding at a farm in Virginia.  We know the story.  This, along with other major historical events, is part of our education.  We’ve been eased into it since childhood through basic information, animated depictions, and colorful sketches. And while Wikipedia gives us a few more details than we may have had previously, all of it seems distant and impersonal.  We place ourselves as viewers of paintings and drawings of this terrible scene a few feet from the president’s back as the pistol at the end of John Wilkes Booth’s arm discharges.

The April 22, 1865, issue of the Black Republican newspaper offers us a different perspective. Through the eyes of the black population during this time, we are offered a closer witness to this crime from the public side of those who were there, those who lived through that time.  Through reading the account of this tragedy in the columns of the Black Republican newspaper, we’re able to learn the impact on a different segment of society during those turbulent days.  Through these words, we feel the freshness of the wound, the stinging clarity of awareness of something that was never supposed to happen.  We are able to put ourselves in that place, feel the trust and innocence of that age, and relate to the same shock that so many in this (current) generation felt while watching the planes enter the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.  History makes its impression when viewed not as a link to an event in the past, but as a type of conversation between what was and what is now.  Accounts such as this one offer that conversation a voice, one that forms a unique connection between that time and this.

In this eloquent account, the writer blames the mindset that resorts to this type of violence to solve problems on “… slavery, that for two hundred years has educated whole generations in cruelty and the spirit of murder … “  When we think about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln again, we have the opportunity to understand it in a new way.

Want to read more?  Visit the Black Abolitionist Archive on our Digital Special Collections section.


Goodbye Winter!

Goodbye winter!  Sorry you have to rush off.  Don’t let that remaining bit of snow bank stop you on your way out; it’s not going to be there for long.

One hundred years ago students at the University of Detroit were happy to see old winter’s exit too.  It’s likely that spring was welcomed then with the same enthusiasm as it is these days … maybe even more.  In April 1915, winter’s insistently bitter-cold grip wasn’t held at bay by fleece and Gortex as it is today.  The world wouldn’t know the “puffer jackets” or any of the lightweight waterproof clothing we take for granted these days for years.  Scratchy wool and fur were then the best protection from the cold for the average student, and heating the hallways and classrooms of the University of Detroit was challenging at best.

And what could one do anyway during the harsh winter months just before the spring of 1915, when the days were mostly filled with just trying to stay warm?  Ice skating on Belle Isle was one option, negotiating the mostly ice and snow covered sidewalks was another, and then there was driving … if that was even possible.  (If the cars back then didn’t fail you in winter, the roads would.)

Spring meant freedom, new life, just being comfortable outside again.  And this sense of renewed freedom was just as exciting then as it is now this time of year.  It’s enough to bring out the poetry in any student!  And for students at U of D, it did just that!

The Tamarack shares its dusty pages with many stories, anecdotes, observations, and humor.  Within its issues you’ll also find poetry, like the one below, inspired by the first few days of Spring.

So, good bye, winter!  Hello, spring!  Make yourself comfortable!  We’re all looking forward to spending a lot of time with you.

The Poetic Express Turns 30!

April marks the 30th anniversary of The Poetic Express, Maurice Greenia, Jr.’s publication offered free of charge to one and all.  It was 30 years ago that Maurice began working at Crowley’s Department store and decided to offer his unique perspective to the people of Detroit.  The first volume (available in 1985 and 1986) was the result.

Each issue of The Poetic Express combines drawings, poetry, and Maurice’s (aka Maugre’s) unique take on an ever changing and sometimes confusing world.  You can find these one of a kind creations in digital format in the Maurice Greenia, Jr.’s archive.

Maurice sums up the 30 year history of The Poetic Express this way:

“In 1976, I started to type up my writing and poetry, make copies and pass them around.  By April 1985, I’d decided to put out a monthly publication called, The Poetic Express.  Thirty years later, it’s still going strong.  I’ve never missed a month.  I usually put out two pages, one of which includes my comic strip Surreal Theatre.”  For a long time, I did a yearly “Emotional Digest” feature, with poems on emotions.

Usually in December, I do a “Dedications Issues,” with poems dedicated to some of my favorite people, both past and present.  These are mainly my “art heroes.” I’ve mailed out hundreds of pages by postal mail.  This has slowed down some, but I want to get back to it.  If anyone gets a stamped self-addressed envelope to me, I’ll mail them a sample issue.

Over the years, I’ve passed The Poetic Express out to people I run into.  This usually happens at events such as movies, concerts, art openings.  People who know me come up and request an issue or two.  People have told me that they appreciate, even treasure these.  The Poetic Express seems to have encouraged some sort of “underground cult following.” A few people have even told me that my poetry in these issues helped them through some bad times.

I’ve done various events and exhibitions for the other major Poetic Express anniversaries: 10 years, 20 years and 25 years.  My parents are fans, and my dad likes to read the new issues out loud to my mom.  Occasionally fans have given me detailed responses to specific poems, either orally or in writing.

I like The Poetic Express because it lights a fire under me to write poetry every month.”

(Find more information on Maurice’s blog site.)

The first page of the most recent volume of The Poetic Express is shown here.  But don’t stop at the first page!  The entire issue is a magical journey through art in a poetic way.  This is a trip you won’t want to miss!

The 1965 Campus

There are two great aerial photos of the campus in the beginning pages of the 1965 Tower Yearbook.  All the changes that have taken place on campus and the surrounding neighborhood since this time are easy to see from this vantage point.

Some readers might recognize the Dinan stadium in the first image.  What was once referred to as a stately “mission on the plains” when it was first built in 1923, came to a sad and deserted end just months before this photograph was taken.  And while it had graced the McNichols campus for almost 50 years, it was unceremoniously bulldozed in 1971 to make way for more parking and the Titan Track and Field area we enjoy now.

And speaking of parking, it’s interesting to see the creative solutions to the growing parking problem students encountered when this first photograph was taken. Back then, cars could drive through campus on a couple of small connecting streets.  Parking was at a premium and available spaces were scattered around the campus (as this photo shows).  In those days, finding a place to park was basically a matter of luck.  This was becoming a major problem and the razing of the stadium helped.

This photo also shows an empty section of the campus across from the Engineering building and clock tower that would one day hold the student center and ballroom.  The older buildings pictured here offer indicators to help imagine the newer ones.  It’s interesting too to realize how many of the surrounding homes would be completely gone in the fifty years that followed.

For one brief moment, the shutter on someone’s airborne camera, captured a slice of 1965 campus life. It’s unlikely that this lone photographer could have had any idea how important to campus history his (or her) photograph would become.

Want more?  Visit the Tower Yearbook digital collection and discover the treasures of the past waiting for you there.

The Digital Archive

Digital archives are a valuable resource.  Once online, digitized items are more accessible to researchers than non-digitized materials. Digitizing makes documents and images available to users from any computer with an Internet connection.  This helps reduce or eliminate the need to travel and/or spend time pouring through hard copy originals.

And making digitized materials available online helps reduce handling and potential damage to valuable and sometimes fragile original items, which helps protect their longevity and historical value.

So, what does it take to make a digital archive?  It’s not just a collection of scanned images.  There’s a lot of time, space, thought, and organization that goes into creating and maintaining an archived digital collection.  Mostly, though, it takes dedication and a desire to preserve the value of the transitory things in this world.  Paper doesn’t survive long; photographs dim and disappear over the years.  Even objects like clothing, medals, and trophies have a “shelf life” if left sitting on a shelf or closed inside boxes.  Things break down over time.  What lasts a lifetime is the value we hold for these items, these links to the past, and preserving an image of these items is one sharable way of reconnecting with what has gone before.

These days a lot of historians are realizing that one of the best ways to preserve the ideas, documentation, and treasures of the past is through digitization.  And while even those images won’t last forever, UDM is focused on preserving what we can of our past for the benefit of our future.  We scan the photograph or document, we title the resulting image to indicate the date and original location (whether it’s a catalog or speech, a yearbook or commencement book), and then add the finished product to a database location maintained within the library.  We then make a link to this finished product available on the Digital Special Collections pages of the library’s web site.  (The hard copy originals are returned to either our archive room within the library or to their owners.)

UDM’s Libraries and Instructional Design Studio is committed to preserving knowledge and learning, and part of this involves preserving the knowledge of the past through digital capture and storage.  And we offer access to this to you, our students and readers everywhere, in an effort to share how we got from then to now.  We learn from the past by repeating our successes and avoiding repeating our failures.  There is value in this and UDM is there to work to maintain that value by incorporating scanning and archiving technology.


Items of College History: The Picnic of the Acolytes

Long before the world became a blurry line of activity speeding towards the future, Detroit College was a seemingly gentle place filled with the hum of academic learning in the classical sense.  Students, dressed in business attire, dutifully sat in stark classrooms memorizing dates and names and theories at wooden desks lined up properly in front of filled blackboards and pacing professors.  After class, the halls were likely filled with chuckles and guffaws at jokes that have become tired and boring in the century since.  It’s easy to imagine these students walking to their classroom buildings through the bustling streets of the economic boom of downtown Detroit in the late 1800s.  They were the future of Detroit, rowdy and driven, and it was these students who would pen the prose and poetry that would be bound and published in the Tamarack, a student publication that appeared between 1890 and 1923.

The digitized collection of the Tamarack offers readers a rare glimpse into not only the day to day life of the University of Detroit students during this time, but also of the time itself.  Unlike photographs which present one static perspective of the past, writing offers insight into the heart and soul of the people who lived, worked, played, and learned there.  The story shared here is just one example of this.

A lot of the Tamarack issues included a section called Items of College History which contained a mishmash of anecdotes, fiction, and humor.  The page shown here is the first of three telling the tale of an 1881 picnic to Grosse Pointe taken by professors and students by “covered wagon” from downtown Detroit.  Readers will encounter a unique treat, and may feel inspired enough to read more.




Significant Trivia

Did you know that there are currently 112 digitized course catalogs (bulletins) (both undergraduate and graduate) from the University of Detroit, Mercy College, and the University of Detroit Mercy available in our digital archives?  These range from 1928 through 2005, and represent offerings from every college, including the Law School and the Dental School.  We even have the very first course catalog published for the 1889 to 1890 term.  And this archive is growing!  Each month, more catalogs are being published to offer visitors a wealth of history in digital format.

And this is just one digital archive.  We also have:

  • over three thousand digitized publications (speeches and editorials) in the Black Abolitionist Archive,
  • around 42,000 items in Professor Callow’s Folklore Collection,
  • 197 digitized commencement booklets in the Commencement Archive,
  • 51 digitized Convocation booklets,
  • 20 digitized issues of Dichotomy magazine,
  • digitized football programs and materials that span the years 1919 through 1971,
  • over a thousand images of Maurice Greenia, Jr.’s artwork (this one is growing so fast it’s hard to keep count),
  • digitized Tamarack publications that span the years 1897 through 1918,
  • every year book published between 1923 and 2003, and
  • much, much more!

Don’t you think it’s time to come check out what’s available in the Digital Archive?  It’s growing so fast that I’ll wager you can find something new and unique each time you visit.  Take a tour of our Special Collections page, and stop your rush to the future for a little while.

bulall_1889-90-2Detroit College 1889

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Among the items in the Black Abolitionists digital archive are a few hand-written speeches.  The words of the speaker always offer insight into a perspective of history that is only left to use through text records. Yet when you add the actual handwriting, it seems to offer a connection to the writer herself in a more personal way.  This speech by Mary Ann Shadd Cary is a great example of this.

While Mary Shadd Cary was widely recognized as a force for change by her fellow abolitionists during her time, there are few who remember her name today.  Back then, there were very few women abolitionists, and African American women abolitionists were extremely rare. tells her story quite well.  She was a teacher, a journalist, and “one of the best known and most prolific black writers of her generation.”  Besides her tireless work against slavery and gender equality, she was also the first black woman to edit a newspaper (The Provincial Freeman — March 24, 1853, to September 20, 1857).

Handwritten materials from the 1800s can be difficult to decipher.  This is especially true as the hard copy pages age.  We have transcribed this digitized work as best we can, and we offer our translation of the writing next to the actual text in PDF form.  This allows readers a fascinating glimpse into the author’s thought process, energy, and intense commitment to ending the horrors of slavery.  It demonstrates in a unique way the dedication of this one determined woman to do all she could to help make this happen.

The image below is from the Mary Shadd Cary Papers archive held in Ontario, Canada.  They have graciously given us permission to share this wonderful document with visitors to our digital archives. To read more of this speech, click here.




Free Soil Party and the Voice of the Fugitive

In 1850, the Free Soil Party was formed to organize the more radical members of the Whigs and Democrats. tells readers that the party leadership consisted mostly of anti-slavery members who opposed expansion of slavery within the U. S.  Good intentions, no doubt about it, but this noble third party practically fell apart about a year after it was formed.

In 1852, however, the party was almost revived during a Free Soilers Convention held in Ann Arbor on September 1.  A reporter for The Voice of the Fugitive newspaper (Canada’s first black newspaper) was there and summed up the event in a short but powerful article (shown here) published towards the end of that month.

The Free Soil party basically ended after the election of 1852 (their candidate, John P. Hale, lost).  Those who remained were swept into the Republican party in 1854.

The Voice of the Fugitive didn’t survive much longer than the Free Soil Party, however.  It’s final publication was issued in December, 1852.  The Voice of the Fugitive (and newspapers like it that followed) helped encourage Canadian sympathy and acceptance of the growing black population as more and more slaves escaped into its territories.



Education and Slavery

Alexander Crummell, among other Black Abolitionists of his day, spoke frequently and eloquently about the plight of the slave and the cause of freedom. His thoughts were offered not just to those with the power to free the enslaved portion of the population, but to the slaves themselves, encouraging them to live full and productive lives, urging them to be strong in their religious convictions, and offering them words of hope and comfort.  He also stressed the importance of education and the idea that an educated population was a successful one.  Although few slaves had the option of a formal education (in most places during this time, educating the slave was illegal), this was the key to their futures.

Few people have heard of this great man or know the legacy of his great works. Not only was he a wonderful orator, he was also very involved in the political “agitation” (as it was known then) toward a reasoned governmental approach to the question of slavery.

Reading through the many speeches and editorials from Crummell in the Black Abolitionist Archive, we learn that he moved to Liberia in 1853, at first as a missionary, then as a proponent of the American Colonization Society (an organization he had at one time spoken against).  This group was dedicated to relocating newly freed slaves and free people of color to newly settled areas in Africa and the West Indies. Crummell worked to help establish Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, in the newly independent country, along with converting the native people to Christianity.

His strong beliefs in the welfare of his people are obvious in his writings and speeches.  Crummell’s speech on education is among the few handwritten speeches in the Black Abolitionist archive.  Included with the transcription of this speech are his editing marks and notes. This allows the reader to not only get a feel for the way the speech was delivered, but it also allows the reader to step inside the thoughts of an amazing man working tirelessly for a noble cause.

Page 1 of 50 page speech by Alexander Crummell

This is the first page of a 50 page document delivered before the members of the Hamilton Lyceum on July 4, 1844. Interested?  Read more here.

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