Author Archives: Linda Papa

The Stadium

Ah, the good old days!

It wasn’t that long ago that fall meant football at the University of Detroit; and U of D football meant filling the Dinan Stadium.  This stately “mission on the plains” stadium once stood in all its magnificence in a section of the campus that now offers a vast expanse of parking lot.

No story of the University of Detroit would be complete without mention of Dinan Stadium.  In its heyday it graced the McNichols campus for just shy of 50 years.  And if you ask most alumni who attended school prior to 1971, their memories of the campus then are likely to include the stadium and the grandeur of the events held there.

In 1923 when Dinan Stadium was completed, Harry F. Le Duc of the Detroit News, described how the “reposeful ruggedness and alabaster white against the sky” of the building itself impressed visitors.   In his report, the story of this stately arena takes on a poetic presence befitting its place in the history of the university.  So taken was Le Duc with the splendid architecture of this building that he gushed that “the dentils beneath the parapets provide the effect of light and shadow that is desired in accentuating the horizontal line.”  What a sight that must have been!  This one corner of the university was likely the grandest spot around.  No wonder Le Duc was impressed.   And no wonder this building held such sway over those who entered it for the first time.  In its day, this stadium became much loved, and much identified with the university itself.  The sheer expanse of it was enough to command respect and awe.  (Read Le Duc’s eloquent report in the 1923 yearbook.)

After enduring years of cheering fans, countless throngs of gleeful students, and all the fanfare and drama that sports meant (and mean) to folks around here, this glorious stadium closed its gates for the last time in 1964.  On November 30, of that year, everything came to a screeching halt when Varsity Football was discontinued at U of D.  Students went nuts!  1,000 rioting students stopped traffic and took down traffic lights all along Livernois in their frenzied rage, all in the shadow of the darkened stadium.  For a few years, it seemed to be waiting.  Maybe there would be rescue, a resurgence of activity, a reclaiming of its part in the university experience.  But while Club football had a temporary run, all football was finally ended for the University of Detroit by 1972.

So, it came to pass that in 1971, the stadium was demolished to make way for more parking, its end a mere footnote in the events of that turbulent year, commemorated only by a skeletal image of the last of it on the front of the 1972 yearbook.

It’s a sad testament to its glory to realize that while Dinan Stadium was welcomed to campus with such poetry and grace – while it was revered over the years for its magnificence and praised for its splendor when it first opened its gates in 1923 – that only one photograph and a brief note bid it farewell in the 1972 yearbook.

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot” – Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”

The Struggle for Freedom: A Sibling Rebellion

One prominent member of the Black Abolitionist movement was a man named Charles Lenox Remond (February 1, 1810 – December 22, 1873).  Charles Remond was considered one of the great orators of this movement and indeed of his time, but little is remembered of him.  Those in the Black Abolitionist movement who, like Remond, devoted countless hours, energy, and determination to end the horrors of slavery are overshadowed by the social memory of men like Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver.  And while most black abolitionist men are not remembered, it’s rare that anyone even knows about the existence of black abolitionist women who fought alongside these great men.  Sarah Parker Remond, Charles Lenox Remond’s sister, was one of these women.

According to her biography published at the National Women’s History Museum web site, Sarah Parker Remond was born into a family of eight children in Massachusetts in 1826.  Although her family was considered “free,” they were not free of the prejudicial social restrictions of the time.  Dealing with this type of oppressive environment encouraged several members of Sarah’s family to take up the cause of abolition, and Sarah and her brother Charles became prominent in this struggle.

Like a lot of black abolitionists of her day, Remond traveled and lectured throughout the U.S. and Great Britain usually speaking before groups formed to work for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden.  Often speaking on the same stage with those working for the Temperance movement, Remond appealed to the firm determination that women in this struggle offered.  Her commitment to this cause not only compelled her to push past the restrictions of her race but also the social constraints of her gender.

In England, Sarah Remond’s speeches praised the efforts of all women in their fight for charity and comfort for those unable to care for themselves.  And while slavery was abolished in Britain in 1834, her continued “agitation” for the abolishment of slavery in America encouraged the subtle persuasion these groups had over commerce and trade produced by enslaved American workers.  These days efforts such as these may be thought of as encouraging sanctions.  The idea behind this urging was for the English government to say, “If you continue to produce goods using slave labor, we will purchase our products elsewhere.”

Archived speech by Sarah Parker Remond (9-21-1859)

Learn more about Sarah and Charles Remond at the Black Abolitionist Archive.  Read some of the greatest speeches ever written by the unsung heroes of a turbulent time in American history (audio adaptation of some speeches also available).

Love and Freedom

This month we celebrate two of the most valued aspects of human existence: love and freedom.  Valentine’s Day (observed in remembrance of St. Valentine) focuses our collective attention on romantic love.  We traditionally celebrate this holiday on February 14, by offering those dearest to us acts of love and devotion usually in the form of something sweet and beautiful: candy, flowers, poetry, sentimental cards, etc.

February is also Black History Month.  This month is filled with events that recognize the contributions both powerful and inspirational of people of African descent.  From its humble beginnings in 1915 (50 years after the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment officially ended slavery in this country), this formal recognition has evolved to include a strong focus on historic people and events; lectures, group celebrations, and an increased awareness of the evolution of the American identity.

The following story from the Black Abolitionist Archive is our contribution to this celebration of love and freedom.

William and Ellen Craft were both born into slavery in the early-1800s.  When they were both in their early 20s, they were married.  It wasn’t long after this marriage that they began to plan their escape to freedom from their living situation on a plantation in Macon, Georgia to the freedom available in Philadelphia, a trip of over 1,000 miles.

Ellen Craft, being of mixed race, was fair skinned and could pass as someone of Caucasian ancestry.  They devised a plan that would use this fact to their benefit.  While it seemed likely that Ellen could travel among the white population without too much attention, they determined that dressed as a man, she would have a better chance of eluding all suspicion and the limitations that a woman traveling alone might encounter.  William, dressed as a slave valet to his traveling master, accompanied the disguised Ellen on their trip to Philadelphia.

At the time, slaves were sometimes allowed to earn extra money while working at jobs outside their owner’s land.  William earned overtime pay from a local cabinet maker over a fourteen year period for work arranged by his owner.  By December 1848, he had managed to save $220.00.  This money would be used to finance their escape.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia website Ellen, dressed as a southern slaveholder in trousers, top hat, and short hair, and William, playing his role of slave valet, boarded a train bound from Macon to Savannah, Georgia.  In Savannah, they boarded a steamship for Charleston, South Carolina, and from there boarded another steamship bound for Wilmington, North Carolina.

In Wilmington, they boarded a train and arrived just outside Fredricksburg, Virginia in time to catch another steamship bound for Washington, DC.  A train from Washington, DC, took them first to Baltimore, Maryland and finally over the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania.  Though the trip was fraught with the constant chance of capture, once they arrived in Boston, they finally felt as if their freedom was secure.

The Crafts journey to freedom came very shortly before Congress ratified the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

This romantic story doesn’t end in Boston, however.  The Crafts were soon pursued by bounty hunters who discovered them there.  Black as well as white Bostonians assisted the couple by hiding them until the danger had passed.  No longer feeling safe, however, the Crafts set sail for England where they continued their work for abolition.

“Romance” is defined in several ways. includes “… narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds [… ] usually in a historical […] setting.”  I think this story qualifies.  The story of William and Ellen Craft can arguably be told as one of the great romances of the 19th century in the United States.

The excerpt below is page 2 of a 3 page speech delivered in England in 1856, soon after the Crafts arrived there.  To read the entire speech, click here.

page 2 of 3, speech by William Craft reported in the Leeds Mercury newspaper in 1856

Black Abolitionist Archive – the Canadian connection

Communication holds together the people within a defined social structure.  Slavery as a social institution in the early years of this country, kept people isolated.  The practice of using human beings as chattel was brought to the Americas as a matter of course in the early years of its colonizing.  At that time, no one seemed to pay much attention to the idea that there was something very wrong with this practice.  Soon, however, communication in the form of abolitionist newspapers began to encourage the need for dramatic change.

Black Abolitionist newspapers published between approximately 1827 and the early 1900s, helped a disenfranchised people feel in touch with those who were working hard to win their freedom.  These newspapers were not just part of the American experience, however.  The struggle here soon spilled over into Canada, especially after Great Britain abolished slavery in 1834.  After August 1st of that year, any person setting foot on British soil was automatically free, and the Black Press in Canada soon began reporting about those who escaped to the freedom of Canadian territories.

Published by organized free men of color, these newspapers helped develop a new culture in the U.S. and Canada, one that continues today.  Like a tap-wired, underground connection, these publications offered hope, community, and structure in an otherwise confusing and chaotic time.

UDM is proud to offer a collection of digitized editorials and speeches from the Black Abolitionist movement that spans this tumultuous period in American history.  Through impassioned speeches, lectures, and editorials that spoke directly to a dominated segment of the population, we gain insight into an aspect of human experience before the recognition of civil and human rights for everyone contributing to a growing country.  From a newspaper published in Canada, for example, we get a personal view of those crossing the border to freedom through the Underground Railroad system.  Most of these escaping slaves would pass through Detroit on their way to Sandwich, Ontario.

In an editorial published in the Voice of the Fugitive (December 17, 1851), the writer discussed a movement that sought to solve the slavery issue by encouraging governments in other countries to go “… elsewhere for goods like cotton, sugar, coffee, indigo and rice — the mainstays of the southern economy under slave power. “

Canadian Abolitionist newspapers often published announcements that welcomed newly arrived escaped slaves, taunting named slave owners with regards from their slaves.

Included in these Canadian editorials were tips on healthy living, farming techniques, available educational opportunities, and announcements like this one, alerting an escaped slave to the presence of “kidnappers” who were notorious for capturing newly arrived escapees and returning them for a reward.

Colored American, May 1, 1841

Colored American, May 1, 1841

Although teaching slaves to read and write was a punishable crime, the connection offered by these newspapers motivated slaves to teach themselves despite the threat, and to pass these learned skills on to their children when they could.  The hope gained from these seemingly small steps, helped slaves look to the possibility of freedom in the generations to come.

Brotherhood and strong Christian focus offered people support, information, and access to the unexplored world that awaited them after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.   While the slave owners feared reprisal and revenge, the enslaved population craved only the natural freedom available to all men and promised to those living in this country through its Declaration of Independence.

The stories of African slavery that remain part of the history of the western world during the 300 years of its existence focus on the misery, the injustice, and the abuse of human beings.  And while this aspect of events should never be ignored or trivialized, the triumph of the enslaved people offers a view of not just survival but endurance, creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable circumstances, and the part the people themselves played in that final and dramatic end of slavery in the U.S.

History is often told from the standpoint of those in power.  We learn the basics of these events, the men who made dramatic and overarching changes to western economics and agriculture.  The archive of speeches and editorials published during this time offers a human perspective on a sad chapter in this country’s existence.  It also introduces the reader to men and women they may not have heard of before, but who worked tirelessly to bring about the end of a destructive practice that had become an unquestioned part of the workings of western societies.

The Black Abolitionist Archive offers viewers an in-depth, inspiring and very personal look at the struggle of a people who triumphed in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  And while the struggle for equality continues, looking at how far we’ve come as Americans over the past 147 years since the end of slavery would likely make those early Abolitionists quite proud.

First Graduating Class

In 1883, Detroit College (located on the corner of Jefferson Avenue in downtown Detroit) had been in existence for only five years.  The first graduating class of posed for the photograph shown here:

Among the graduates that year was a 19 year old young man named Conrad Sporer (pictured on the far right).  Articles published in the Detroit Free Press allow us to follow Conrad’s life from graduation to his early death in 1921, at age 57.  After earning his BA from Detroit College, he was elected orator for the Alumni Association of Detroit College and became a member of the St. Joseph’s Literary Society.

He married Gertrude Harris, 26, in August of 1902.  He was selected for the initial jury pool in the Stevens trial of 1904. He ran for 12th Ward alderman in 1908. (This information found on Find-A-Grave website.)

Detroit College president John P. Frieden, SJ (seated in the middle of the photograph) would later become president of St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.

It’s likely, although not definite, that William H. Reaney (standing at far left of the photograph) would later become Father William H. “Ironsides” Reaney, much loved naval chaplain.

John A. Russell, seated next to Benjamin Nolan (left side of photograph), went on to become Dean of Commerce and Finance at the University of Detroit.  He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in 1916.

Each story here expresses the value of the higher education these young men received.  Each member of this first graduating class went on to contribute greatly to the growth of this great city.  To these early graduates, the future held unlimited possibilities for Detroit to realize its place among the growing major industrial cities of the time.

Black Abolitionist Archive

The Black Abolitionist archive features a portrait of Anthony Burns on the Digital Archives page.  While not an abolitionist himself, Burns’ experience played a prominent role in the direction of abolition during the turbulent years of the mid-1800s.  His experience, occurring soon after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, offered a turning point for public sentiment regarding the plight of the slave.

Wikipedia tells us that Anthony Burns was born into slavery in Virginia on May 31, 1834 (slavery was officially abolished in Great Britain on August 1, 1834) and died on July 17, 1862 (slavery officially ended in the U.S. on January 1, 1863).  He escaped slavery at the age of 19, and was captured as a “run-away” under the Fugitive Slave Law in Boston the following year.  The public rallied in his defense and a crowd of Bostonians of both races attempted to free Burns.  In the rioting chaos that followed, a Deputy Marshall was killed.  Federal troops had to be employed to ensure Burns was returned to Virginia after the trial.

Anthony Burns was arrested under the newly established Fugitive Slave Law while walking down a street in Boston, Massachusetts (a free state).   His story can be read and heard (audio reading available) on the Black Abolitionist Archive page.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 encouraged average citizens to capture and return runaway slaves through offers of monetary reward.  This law, however, not only succeeded in returning slaves, but in enslaving those who were considered free men and women of color.  Vigilante groups began to capture free citizens along with runaways and sell them into slavery in the name of this law.  While the law was enacted to protect the slave holder from loss of “property,” it only succeeded in bringing to light the horrors and injustices associated with the institution of slavery that had been previously ignored by the general public.  The average citizen was now paying attention.

With the recent popularity of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s best-selling novel and subsequent play, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the general public was becoming painfully aware of the plight of the slave.  The horrors coming to light with the actions of those seeking to cash in with the Fugitive Slave Law seemed to awaken a sleeping, unaware public.

Wikipedia includes a response to this incident by Amos Adams Lawrence, philanthropist and newly realized abolitionist:

“We went to bed one night old-fashioned, conservative, compromise Union Whigs & waked up stark mad Abolitionists.” (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Bantam Books, 1989), p. 120.

In the end, Anthony Burns’ freedom was purchased by Boston sympathizers.  He never fully recovered his health after his ordeal, however, and he died on July 17, 1862, just after his 28th birthday.

Robert Frost

“And were an epitaph to be my story,
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. “

Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet
“The Lesson for Today,” A Witness Tree (1942)

On November 14, 1962, a small, frail figure stood at the center of the University of Detroit’s Memorial Building.  No one noticed his shaking hands; they were focused on his voice, his humor, and his way with the crowd.  Surrounded by an eager audience that filled the building to capacity, Robert Frost delivered his final public lecture.

Frost had a reputation as a performer of his delivered lectures.  He masked his shyness with an entertainer’s flair.  This was his way of connecting with his audience on a grand scale, to share a bit of himself in a manner that felt beneficial for all concerned.   Imagine how this might have been for the audience there, under the same roof with the amazing man.  For them, it must have been as if, for that brief time, they were given access to the sublime power of poetry’s subtle expressive art in human form.

And he was in the perfect place to deliver this poetic access.  U of D in those troubled years, like many universities, was ready for a new way of understanding the social changes taking place in the U.S.  Poetry helped express a connection to humanity through an emotional rather than analytic perspective, a way of breaking down the strict rules governing societal conduct at the time.  U of D recognized the vital role this perspective could play in a well-rounded education, and it turns out that communication is indeed key to connecting with others in the conversation of the working world post Academia.   Poetry helped get that broader conversation started.

Not too many people outside of academic circles knew of Frost’s role as teacher.  Image 326 (page 322) of the 1963 Tower Yearbook lets the reader know that he “… served as poet teacher at the universities of Michigan, Yale, Harvard, Amhurst, and Dartmouth; taught at Breadloaf College in Connecticut every summer until his death.”

Robert Frost died in Boston on January 29, 1963. (Biography of Robert Frost)   Those who attended this final lecture here at U of D were presented with a brief glimpse into the life of an American original.

Michael Heffernan, one of three University of Detroit students chosen to write poems for Frost’s visit to Detroit (last stop on a tour of several cities that year), wrote the following poem from the Campus Detroiter.  This poem appears at the bottom of image 322 in the 1963 yearbook:


The effort of diving: of turning
To salt and wind: the tumbling minute
Of last speaking: of becoming and of
Torment : of dissolution: the spreading
of digestive lime
Over full days and many “‘words and breathings
That have no echoes:
Today, what there was of him suffocated
And had no words; but something
Else ran off like a colt drinking wind.

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