HIS 5261/7261: Fall 2015 Research Projects

Faded Memories of the Algiers Motel Incident by Scott A. Mitchell

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Police arriving the next day to investigate the scene (Walter P. Reuther Library).

The following site is an investigation of the Algiers Motel Incident, a relatively unknown event of horror and murder during the height of the Detroit Uprising in 1967. The site chronicles the sequence of events leading up the incident, the fallout of the incident and trial, and how we can see echoes of the incident today. The purpose of this project is to provide the public with an opportunity to learn of the incident and push further investigation in the future. With this project, we can see the means by which truth, history, and memories of incidents like the Algiers are contingent and change over time.

Heaven on Earth: The Nation of Islam’s Vision for Detroit by Cade Wilson

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Advertisement, Muhammad Speaks, March, 1962, pg. 12. Accessed in microfilm at the Purdy-Kresge Library – Wayne State University.

The Nation of Islam (NOI) began as a small movement within the black community of Detroit in the early 1930s and became extremely popular by the 1960s. Throughout the years, the organization has undergone several changes of leadership and ideology, and has worked to provide practical solutions for the everyday problems within the national black community. More recently, the NOI has forged a unique relationship with The Church of Scientology and has adopted the practices of dianetics and auditing. As Detroit has become an organizational hub for these practices, recent comments by NOI leader Louis Farrakhan suggest that the organization aims to purchase property within the city and rebuild it as a center for black thought, politics, culture, and economics as a part of the Muhammad’s Economic Blueprint plan. Drawing on sources from the Walter P. Reuther and Purdy-Kresge libraries at Wayne State University, the Detroit Historical Society, and periodicals printed by the NOI, this site ultimately explores the NOI’s vision for creating heaven on earth in a new Detroit.

Water is a Right by Liz Scott

DETROIT, MI - JULY 18 : A man holds a bottle of water as he joins other demonstrators protesting against the Detroit Water and Sewer Department July 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department have disconnected water to thousands of Detroit residents who are delinquent with their bills. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI – JULY 18 : A man holds a bottle of water as he joins other demonstrators protesting against the Detroit Water and Sewer Department July 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department have disconnected water to thousands of Detroit residents who are delinquent with their bills. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Nearly 40% of Detroit’s residents live in poverty and are struggling to pay their water bills, which average $70 or more a month. To make matters worse, the DWSD began shutting off the water of those who were only 60 days or more behind on their bills in order to help pay off its $5.9 billion debt to the city of Detroit. By placing blame on “behavioral problems” amongst residents, the DWSD and the city of Detroit successfully masked this violation of human rights against its citizens under the simplistic umbrella of “delinquency.” Now, in frustration, thousands of Detroit’s residents are scrambling to survive without water and fighting back through activism. This site explores the historical context leading up to the shut offs as well as activists’ fight against them, before considering the road ahead for residents, the City, and the DWSD. 

Integration vs. Control: African Americans and the Desegregation of Detroit Public Schools by Meghan McGowan

Thousands rally against racial discrimination in downtown Detroit during the “March to Freedom” civil rights demonstration. Signs read “Enact Effective Legislation to End School Segregation,” “Fight for Freedom — Join the NAACP,” and “Evers Died for You — Join the NAACP for Him.” In the background the Fox Theater and St. John’s Episcopalian Church are in view. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University
Thousands rally against racial discrimination in downtown Detroit during the “March to Freedom” civil rights demonstration. Signs read “Enact Effective Legislation to End School Segregation,” “Fight for Freedom — Join the NAACP,” and “Evers Died for You — Join the NAACP for Him.” In the background the Fox Theater and St. John’s Episcopalian Church are in view. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

After deindustrialization, white flight, housing discrimination, and population shifts, Detroit changed dramatically. This transformation directly affected the state of Detroit Public Schools. This website explores desegregation efforts in Detroit Public Schools during the mid-sixties to the early seventies and the attempts to repair the damage of decades of racist policy. While there were certainly numerous groups for and against desegregation, this project focuses on the black Detroiters who were not willing to sacrifice control by cosigning onto integration.

Finding the Resources: Detroit Public Schools in the 1960s by Ray Anthony Jeroso

This site discusses how blacks in Detroit struggled to gain a proper education for their children in the 1960s. Despite planned improvements for Detroit schools by the Detroit Board of Education in the late 1950s, blacks still faced a disparity in education quality. The issue of education quality is still a problem in urban schools today and studying schools in cities like Detroit can provide some information on why these issues are still present. A number of historical sources were analyzed for this website, including the Detroit Free Press at the Detroit Public Library and the Remus Robinson Papers at the Walter P. Reuther Library.

The Life and Legacy of Reverend Albert B. Cleage, Jr.

Reverend Albert Cleage, Jr. (a.k.a. Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), 1973. Photo 27958, courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University. Detroit.
Reverend Albert Cleage, Jr. (a.k.a. Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), 1973. Photo 27958, courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University. Detroit.

This site is a brief introduction to the Reverend Albert Cleage, Jr., also known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman. It covers his importance to Detroiters and Black Detroit history. Though not as well known as other civil rights leaders of the sixties and seventies, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., he is nonetheless important in revealing the internal divisions of the civil rights community in how to achieve its goals. Cleage was the father of Black Christian Nationalism, a form of Black empowerment that still exists today in the form of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, which has Shrines of the Black Madonna in several cities around the United States (with the original still here in Detroit), and three in Liberia, Africa.

African American Voting in Detroit, 1918-1943 by Mitchell Fleischer

[Photo of Charles Roxborough, about 1920, Courtesy of Burton Historical Collection]
Photo of Charles Roxborough, about 1920, Courtesy of Burton Historical Collection

In the popular imagination, African American votes in Detroit were relatively unimportant until the election of Coleman Young as Mayor in 1973. This image of African Americans as electorally impotent until they elected one of their own as Mayor is far from reality.  By the 1920s, a growing black population made them sufficiently influential that white politicians actively sought their votes.  African Americans used their votes to secure jobs and political influence that would improve their position in the larger society.  Using such sources as the Michigan Chronicle, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, the John Dancy Papers at the Bentley Historical Library, and the Burton Historical Collections, this site chronicles the evolution of African American electoral influence in Detroit between the World Wars.

Always a Step Behind: Detroit’s Working-Class African-Americans, 1920s-1930s by Deosha Battles

Black Workers_DBattles

In the 1920s, Detroit was home to a  newly booming auto-mobile industry, attractive globally, Detroit experienced a significant influx of migrants. In this project focus is placed on African-Americans migrants and their experience  working in Detroit during the 1920s through the 1930s.

The Legacy of S.T.R.E.S.S. in Detroit by Douglas Merriman

A crowd of 4000 very upset Anti S.T.R.E.S.S. activist protesting the shooting deaths of two African American teenagers by S.T.R.E.S.S. Decoy Officers. Detroit News Photo, unnamed photographer, 24 September 1971, Mayor Roman S. Gribbs Collection, Box 173, Folder 9, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.
A crowd of 4000 very upset Anti S.T.R.E.S.S. activist protesting the shooting deaths of two African American teenagers by S.T.R.E.S.S. Decoy Officers. Detroit News Photo, unnamed photographer, 24 September 1971, Mayor Roman S. Gribbs Collection, Box 173, Folder 9, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

The years 1969—1974 were extremely challenging ones in Detroit, Michigan.  There was increasing tension between African Americans, white liberal progressives and the white, conservative power structure over issues such as Civil Rights, desegregation, economic inequality, Open Housing, and, in particular, the continuing issues of a rising crime rate and police brutality toward African Americans.  One area of prime concern was the controversial Detroit Police Decoy Unit known by the acronym of S.T.R.E.S.S. (Stop The Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets), a unit that was a double edged sword, both in its effectiveness in combating street crime, and its lethality in its high body count of African American criminal suspects in so short a period of time. This digital project will present a view of each sharpened edge as neutrally as possible.

Arthur Johnson’s Detroit by Alexandra Sewell

Arthur Johnson
Arthur Johnson

This site is a biographical commemorative tribute to the late Detroit legend and his contributions to the community.

The Business of Black Death in Detroit: The Place of Black Funeral Homes and Cemeteries in the City of Detroit by Rebecca Russell 

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From the Michigan Chronicle, August 14, 1943.

The culture of death in the African American culture has evolved differently than that of White culture. Many traditions originate in slavery and the practice of ‘homegoing’ which focused on the true freedom of heaven rather than the loss of death. For many, homegoing meant a final escape from slavery, which created a tradition of celebration around funerals.

This celebration and community aspect in the African American way of death has evolved into a culture that is unique and vibrant, a culture culminating in long-standing funeral homes, celebrations, and cemeteries.