Colonization is the process by which one power dominates another.  This can be the way a more powerful country takes control of another, but it’s also the way one culture seeks to control another by usurping the established cultural civilization of another.  This has happened time and again since human beings migrated out of Africa — as they defeated tribes and gained territories, as they morphed languages and destroyed religions, they also changed their own culture.  Societies have evolved by snuffing out the weaker cultures, and taking control of their languages, their rituals, the details of their social structures that made the conquered culture unique.

During the bleak early years of this country’s development, one race dominated a captured other (not just Africans but also the native peoples). To complete this domination meant removing all traces of the captured race’s culture: language, dress, rituals, religion, and social structure.  With this, the dominate culture would guarantee that the children of these captured peoples would no longer pass along the heritage of their own culture.  The power held in the unique expression of this dominated culture would be merged with the dominate race and thereby rendered powerless.

One problem of this form of domination was adjusting to the potential outcomes of change once the dominated culture had been absorbed.  The question the dominant culture asked during slavery was, “What are we going to do with the free people of color?  How do we absorb a race that looks so different from us without changing who we are?”

One answer to this problem was in colonizing the original country.  The idea was to return the freed people of color to Africa as representatives of change, never mind that most of these people had been born into the dominant culture.  Never mind that they had never known life in Africa before this time.  For the dominant culture, this seemed like a good solution: remove those “others” who don’t look like us now that the culture has been conquered.

This line of thinking is similar to that of those in power today who believe deportation is the best cure for the problem of too many illegal immigrants in this country. Return them to their country of origin, no matter what their current experience is.

Colonization of Africa was supported by many black leaders during this time.  It seemed like a good idea.  The notion of spreading Christianity to the “heathens” and rescuing the Godless from themselves was seen by many as a worthy cause.  Others found the idea of establishing a government similar to that of the U.S. would be beneficial to African tribal communities that were viewed as uncivilized and little more than bands of savages roaming a chaotic and dangerous continent.  This idea was sold as a benefit for all concerned.  And any natural resources we could glean from Africa in the process were justified by our assistance in saving them from the inherent evil of themselves.

A major proponent of Colonization was a black abolitionist named Alexander Crummell.  Crummell was a prolific writer and dedicated abolitionist.  He worked hard to promote his idea of a unified African racial presence in the U.S., as well as in Africa.  He worked tirelessly to assist those who were so poorly treated in this country by moving as many people as he could to realize true freedom in the country of their ancestry.  As this idea came together, Crummell was instrumental in the establishment of a government in Monrovia, Liberia, to bring about major social change for the free people of color.

Alexander Crummell’s wiki page tells us that he was born in New York City, and through the sponsorship of prominent abolitionists in England, attended Queens College at Cambridge.  His parents instilled in him a strong affinity with all people of color, and a special connection with Africa.  We also learn the following from his wiki page:

“During his time at Cambridge, Crummell continued to travel around Britain and speak out about slavery and the plight of black people. During this period, Crummmell formulated the concept of Pan-Africanism, which became his central belief for the advancement of the African race. Crummell believed that in order to achieve their potential, the African race as a whole, including those in the Americas, the West Indies, and Africa, needed to unify under the banner of race. To Crummell, racial solidarity could solve slavery, discrimination, and continued attacks on the African race. He decided to move to Africa to spread his message.”

Crummell’s intentions were sincere and based on solid ideas he had formed while studying at Cambridge.  These ideas looked great “on paper,” but the human element wasn’t considered carefully.  Those who opposed Colonization fought just as hard to stop it.  People of color born in this country had no desire to be uprooted and moved to a totally alien place.  In addition to this, it wasn’t long before proponents discovered that the government structure that worked well here, unfortunately didn’t work as well in Liberia.  And then there were the logistics: how do you move people in this fashion?

Opposition to Colonization was strong.  And while it succeeded in establishing the city of Monrovia in Liberia (named after president James Monroe) and the university there, the dream didn’t manifest as it had been dreamed.

Alexander Crummell’s wiki page also offers the following:

“Crummell was an important voice within the abolition movement and a leader of the Pan-African ideology. Crummell’s legacy can be seen not in his personal achievements, but in the influence he exerted on other black nationalists and Pan-Africanists, such as Marcus Garvey, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois paid tribute to Crummell with a memorable essay entitled “Of Alexander Crummell”, collected in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk.

In 2002, the scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Alexander Crummell on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[10]“

The University of Detroit Mercy is proud to offer 28 of Crummell’s writings and speeches in our Black Abolitionist archive.  This man’s legacy is an amazing testament to the work of so many abolitionists in their struggle for social freedom.



Travelogue 1863

During the years of African-American Newspaper publication in the 1800s, articles would often appear regarding travel across the new territory that was opening up in the western part of the country thanks to the discovery of gold in 1848.  It seemed everyone was anxious to take advantage of free land and wide open spaces. When reporter George W. Turley made his way west in 1863, the Homestead Act offering free land to anyone who would agree to farm the land for five years was only a year old.  Turley, like thousands before him, traveled on the Overland Stage to check out the potential for migration to the West.  His journey is of interest not only to his African-American readers, but to all those considering traveling into the unknown world outside of “civilization” in those years.

The Black Abolitionist Archive contains articles and speeches by prominent and well known men and women working for the cause of freedom.  But it also contains several relatively unknown voices, those who contributed one or two entries to this historic period.  These individuals offer us a sort of “man on the street” view of the experience of being a free black person in a predominately white country that still practiced slavery in 1863.  Slavery would not be abolished until 1865, and Lincoln would not overturn the Fugitive Slave Law until 1864.  Free people of color traveling during this time, were seemingly risking a lot.

Yet Turley’s account hints at a different sort of experience than might be expected during this time.  He not only traveled by stagecoach with a racial mix of passengers, but he was welcomed at the stations and in the restaurants along the way.  He doesn’t mention any sort of ill treatment, and he focuses more on the development of the territory than on his personal encounters while there.  He tells his readers that:

“A vast quantity of land that had been considered arid and unproductive, was now under successful cultivation, and looks as well as any farm in the country. It has all been accomplished through and by a vast aqueduct of ditch, irrigating the whole bottom for miles in length. The road into the gulch, at Golden Gate, has also been changed for the better, by keeping on the hill, instead of going down in the gulch, as formerly. The emigration to this country and to the mountains this season, is greater than has been since the Spring of 1860, mostly families, and among them some few families of color.”

This area was just a few miles from Golden, Colorado, established a few years before in 1859. Gold was bringing this wave of population west, and men like Turley helped to encourage the rapid growth by reporting on what all the hubbub was about.

Times were hard then, people migrating west were plucky if not adventurous or even foolhardy.  But this report offers one individual’s perspective on the excitement of westward expansion that may have been easily overlooked.

George Turley’s account of his travels is three pages long.  Check it out when you have some time.  His journey takes current readers to a time when central Colorado was just beginning to realize its potential.

“A Boy of 1812″

Things were never really what you might call cordial between the New World and Britain during the early 1800s.  There was the whole mess between the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France in 1803.  And European countries were focused on keeping control of the native people as well as the America settlers as the expansion in the United States was underway.  Treaties and Acts and Decrees were issued one after another between Britain and the U.S., while Britain was during these years distracted by the whirlwind of hostility France was dishing out.  In fact, between 1803 and 1812, political relations never really felt settled or peaceful between the U.S., Britain, and France to the people living in these countries.

While the British were busy dealing with Napoleon in Europe, the Americans decided to stir up trouble with Canada.  Britain used Canadian troops (their own soldiers were off fighting other battles) to push back the Americans.  Everyone seemed to be fighting with everyone else.  Not only were the British determined to stop American expansion during this time, but they had a nasty habit of seizing American sailors at sea and forcing them to fight in the European wars in service of the British Navy.  So, in 1812, the Americans declared war on Great Britain and the dust of this particular ruckus didn’t settle until January, 1815, with the Battle of New Orleans (fought after the peace treaty was signed in December, 1814).  (The War of 1812 wiki has details.)

Years later, in 1898, the war of 1812 was thrilling history studied in classrooms around the world, and specifically at the University of Detroit.  This historic story, however grand and exciting it still was then, was overshadowed that year by an award winning essay published in the Tamarack in March 1898.  In it, the author, Frederick S. DeGalan, tells the tale of a young boy pressed into service by the British Navy and his gallant efforts to free himself.  The essay isn’t long, but it does offer some insight into the way history was studied in that time.



“Keep Cool”

The United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, tried before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841, was made famous in the film Amistad in 1997.  The National Archives site gives readers more information on the history of this case and the remarkable events that led to it:

 ”In February of 1839, Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. This abduction violated all of the treaties then in existence. Fifty-three Africans were purchased by two Spanish planters and put aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad for shipment to a Caribbean plantation. On July 1, 1839, the Africans seized the ship, killed the captain and the cook, and ordered the planters to sail to Africa. On August 24, 1839, the Amistad was seized off Long Island, NY, by the U.S. brig Washington. The planters were freed and the Africans were imprisoned in New Haven, CT, on charges of murder.”

Funny thing about history: it seems the emotional line from the time of the actual event to the present memory of it allows the emotional trauma, excitement, and horror of it to fade into the background of social memory.

In 1997, film maker Steven Spielberg, brought the story to modern audiences in his film Amistad.  But even with this historic drama, there’s something of a distancing between those portraying the event and those who lived through it.

On November 2, 1839, an editorial called “Keep Cool” (shown below) was published in the Colored American newspaper.  But this isn’t the only editorial about the incident published during this time.

Searching the keyword “Amistad” in the Black Abolitionist Archive offers a way to bridge that span of distance and time.  Reading the editorials published between 1840 and 1841 that display regarding the trial offers readers a way of stepping into the experience of the time through the eyes of those who lived through it and responded based on their own struggle with the slave trade, freedom, and disenfranchisement.

The month of February is the perfect time to take a closer look at this moment in history.  In this way, we keep these events in social memory; and those who lost their lives during this turbulent time are not forgotten.

This editorial is a great place to start.


William Still

“There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind — what they are in their thought-world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought-world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.“  (Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?)

William Still (1821-1902) has been called an “unsung hero” of the  Black Abolitionist movement. And while I believe that not too many people have heard of him, his speeches, delivered during the late 1850s and early 1860s, are some of the most eloquent I’ve read.

William Still’s work has been the subject of these blog postings before.  He usually comes to mind during Black History month for me, and I thought it would be great to revisit his speech on Self-Improvement delivered in Philadelphia on March 2, 1860.  Still wasn’t the only abolitionist to emphasize self-improvement, but his words gained the attention of those who desperately sought a clear direction during a time when the future seemed quite unclear. The south was poised to succeed from the Union in April of 1860, and the Civil War would begin a little more than a year later.

Those who had struggled so long and so hard for freedom now faced a difficult choice as the potential realization of this dream seemed so near. Should they just stay out of the way, not cause trouble, and try not to be seen?  Or should they now risk everything for what they believed was a right and just cause?

William Still was among those who addressed this choice with a public urging for “self-improvement” through education, a focus on religious standards, and a strong moral discipline. The ideas he expressed then hold value even today for all those who prize freedom and justice: an individual focus on self-improvement,  the potential for fulfillment in life, and the opportunity to gain an important place among the ranks of those who can look with dignity and pride at how much they have to offer to the social world.

The Black Abolitionist Archive contains a wealth of history just waiting to be explored.  Start here


Salutatory from Mr. Bell

As part of Black History month, the focus of this week’s blog post is on journalist and abolitionist, Philip Alexander Bell (1808-1889).  According to (described on the site as an Online Reference Guide to African American History), we learn that Philip A. Bell was born in New York City and involved in early abolitionist politics in the Northeast.  He “… attended Colored Citizens Conventions as early as 1830 and established his first newspaper, the Weekly Advocate, in 1837 after working for William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator.”

In 1860, we find Philip A. Bell in San Francisco working as a journalist reporting on black politics and economics from a part of the country that most people of this time would equate with another world.  He was the lifeline for many who were hungry for news of opportunities and acceptance in this new state (California was admitted to the Union in September, 1850).

“In 1862, Bell joined forces with Peter Anderson to edit the Pacific Appeal, one of the first major black newspapers in California, but he and Anderson soon clashed.  By 1865, Bell established his own weekly newspaper, The Elevator, under the slogan, ‘Equality Before the Law.’  The Elevator demanded California legislators approve the proposed Reconstruction-era constitutional amendments acknowledging black citizenship and suffrage rights.  Bell also regularly editorialized on behalf of expanding black children’s educational opportunities.  California state legislators repeatedly rejected efforts to grant African Americans greater civil rights, but the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments allowed black male Californians voting rights in 1870.”

Searching under Philip A. Bell in the “Browse by author/speaker” section of the Black Abolitionist Archive offers readers some of the earliest and most interesting editorials from this turbulent period in American history.  Shown here is the introductory editorial for the Pacific Appeal newspaper (1862-188?)

Want to learn more?  Please visit the Black Abolitionist Archive and step into an unexpected view of history from the minds of those who lived it.


Why Archive?

When we think of archives, we tend to think of collections of documents, photographs, or records which have been permanently preserved for historical or research reasons.  Out of the millions of pieces of material we human beings create yearly, only certain items are chosen to represent the value of an age or a group or an organization we wish to preserve.  Someone must decide whether a grocery list jotted down on a napkin by a famous person will one day offer insight into that famous person’s life or the times in which he or she lived.  This is heady stuff and not taken lightly by archivists.

Choosing items for archiving is usually based on creating a unique collection for preservation.  This is the art of the process.  If you look at the scope of the archived collections at the University of Detroit Mercy, you’ll notice the value placed on preserving history.  Communities, organizations, nations, researchers, individuals, and even the university itself gain from a preserved connection with the past.   We are able to see trends, follow human advancement, and even check the moral pulse of a growing social structure.  Archives tell the story of who we are, they document the contributions and challenges of people who made a difference in the direction of society, and they provide valuable sources of information for research.  Archives are our recorded cultural memory and form our official and unofficial history.

Yet historical records, without efforts to preserve them, will quickly disintegrate.  Photographs will fade until the once detailed faces are merely shadows; and paper can turn to dust (or both can become consumed by fungus or insects).  Without special care, nothing really lasts.  Digitizing these items is our way of offering a lasting record, a direct link to them before they are lost to us.

A great society is one that learns from where it’s been and works to create its future by not repeating the mistakes of its past. We are proud to offer this preservation to you in our digital archives, and we hope that you find value in this as much as we do.

The Digital Archives

Here’s a question: When was the last time you visited the Digital Archives in the Special Collections link on the University of Detroit Mercy Libraries/Instructional Design Studio’s Research portal?  If it’s been a while, “now” might be a good time to revisit.

Digital archives are a valuable resource.  Digitized items are more accessible to researchers than non-digitized materials, and digitized documents and images can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection.  Using this resources helps students and researches save time and reduce or eliminate the need to visit the library and/or spend time pouring through hard copy originals.

The digitized material in the library’s Special Collections is the result of dedication to and preservation of the transitory things in this world.  Paper breaks down over time; photographs dim and disappear over the years.  Even objects like clothing, medals, and trophies have a “shelf life” if left sitting for too long.  What lasts a lifetime, however, is the value we place on these items, these links to the past, and preserving a digitized image of these items is one shareable way of reconnecting with what has gone before.

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 of 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.

We invite you to visit and experience something of our past.

The Pastry War

History has a way of smoothing the bumpy timeline that leads from “then” to now, and only bringing to the surface those events which made the biggest impact on the course of human development. Pity. A lot of interesting stuff gets covered over in the process of this. Take the Pastry War, for example. This was a minor footnote in the vast spreadsheet of historic events in the early years of this country’s development. Although it was seemingly inconsequential, news of this confectionery conflict ended up mentioned in an editorial in the February 2, 1839, issue of the Colored American newspaper, a weekly New York publication (1836-1842).

The importance to the Colored American then, was the idea of freedom, liberty, justice, and the rights of the individual. Here, they were saying, is an example of a poor country, dominated by a much larger one. Here is the power of the little guy fighting for his rights.

And Monsieur Remontel (the pastry chef in question) wasn’t the only one with an axe to grind. Mexico was particularly lawless during this period and several French citizens living there were caught in the mess of the governmental chaos. The response by France to go to war on behalf of its citizens living in Mexico was basically just an excuse. The French government had just had it with Mexico’s inability to pay its debts and its basic “drunken sailor” governing practices.

Was this a fight for the rights of the little guy, or a struggle between two ruling powers unwilling to work together to solve a relatively minor issue? The cause of one determined pastry chef for justice became lost in the belly-to-belly confrontation of two powerful men: the King of France and the President of Mexico.

According to Wikipedia, the Pastry War (also known as the First Franco-Mexican War) began innocently enough. In November, 1838, a French pastry chef named Remontel contacted the King of France, King Louis-Philippe, claiming his shop in Mexico City had been looted and destroyed by out of control Mexican officers. Mexico was in a state of flux during this time, and corruption and abuse of power held sway over the population.

The initial event soon devolved and Wikipedia tells us what happened next:

“France demanded 600,000 pesos in damages, an enormous sum for the time, when the typical daily wage in Mexico City was about one peso (8 Mexican reals). More importantly, the government of Mexico had defaulted on millions of dollars’ worth of loans from France. Diplomat Baron Antoine Louis Deffaudis gave Mexico an ultimatum to pay, or the French would demand satisfaction.

When president Anastasio Bustamante made no payment, the king of France ordered a fleet under Rear Admiral Charles Baudin to declare and carry out a blockade of all Mexican ports from Yucatán to the Rio Grande, to bombard the Mexican fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, and to seize the city of Veracruz, which was the most important port on the Gulf coast. French forces captured virtually the entire Mexican Navy at Veracruz by December 1838. Mexico declared war on France.”

The U.S. territories got involved, of course.  The blockade encouraged smuggling through the Republic of Texas, and Santa Ana came out of retirement to join the fighting.

It was all over after a few months, ending in March, 1839, when the British got involved and brokered for peace. This wouldn’t be the last time these two countries would come to blows, however.

Reading the account in the Colored American offers insight into how this event was understood at the time. Although the writer of this editorial was not an eyewitness to the war first hand, he offers an interesting take on reports coming out of the thick of the fighting. This offers a perspective that links the reader to the times; and not just what was taking place in Mexico but in the general worldview of 19th century politics.

Index Collection

“Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.”
― Chuck Klosterman, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story

This quote from Chuck Klosterman seems to fit well with Maurice Greenia, Jr.’s artwork. For an artist like Maurice, this desire to create can start with an urge, a need to feel that line on the paper (or other material) in front of him. For Maurice, this paper is often in the form of an index card.  And what better material!  Index cards are the perfect size for framing images, displaying them together, and storing them neatly for later enjoyment. An index card seems “frame-worthy” even before it’s used.  It has the perfect weight, the pen (or pencil) moving freely across its surface feels good, and an index card offers the option of using a lined or unlined side.

“Besides all of that,” adds Maurice, “they fit easily in a shirt pocket or inside a book.”

There’s something about a blank index card that just cries out for art. Because it is usually 3×5, the image is not so much constrained as it is enclosed. And each image in a stack of these cards is the same size which appeals to the organizational needs of a prolific artist.

The Maurice Greenia, Jr. Collections archive has a lot more to offer, however. We invite you to spend some time in this unique collection.  You won’t be disappointed.

Page 1 of 1512345...10...