Author Archives: Pat Higo

“Southside View of Slavery”

A documentary on Public Television (PBS) called The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross offers an excellent overview of slavery in the United States from its early beginnings in the 1500s to its final end in 1865.  This view aligns closely with the history recorded in the Black Abolitionist Archive’s editorials and speeches.  Slavery wasn’t anything new when this country was first established.  What WAS new, however, was the notion of “who” slaves were and how this tied in with racial discrimination. This didn’t start suddenly. When slavery was first introduced in this country, slaves (and indentured servants) were of many races, including Native Americans. This change was gradual, but at one point in the history of the United States, “slave” was equated with African captives.

Slavery offered the free labor that helped this country grow. It was good for the economy, it made many people wealthy, and there seemed to be an endless supply of slave labor just waiting for transport and sale. The presence of so many enslaved people in the U. S. offered a reminder of our collective wealth and also of our collective guilt. This was difficult to reconcile for many people.  Social divisions by class soon included a division based on color. This began so subtly that when someone finally started paying attention to what was happening, they also recognized the dramatic (and unpleasant) potential for social change that would be required to correct it.

This country was not only built on the backs of slave labor, but also on a strong religious foundation. Treating fellow human beings as property, as little more than beasts of burden, seemed to counter Biblical teachings that spoke of brotherhood and love. The institution of slavery not only contradicted these teachings, it also contradicted the Constitution itself (the “self evident” statement that “all men are created equal” was difficult to ignore).

In order to bridge this gap in reason, some sort of justification was necessary, and towards the end of its well-held place in the American economy, a justification of slavery was the subject of many papers, books, and speeches. The rationale for continuing slavery ranged from creative logic to junk science to religious benefit. Those defending the institution of slavery were nothing if not creative in their reasoning.

In the March 1, 1856 edition of the Anti-Slavery Advocate, William Wells Brown discusses a book by Dr. Nehemiah Adams that had recently hit the bookshop shelves.  This wasn’t the first publication to offer a justification of slavery based on Biblical teachings but it was one worthy of note.

William Wells Brown was an escaped slave who rose to prominence through his writings, lectures, and abolitionist work. It was during his attendance at the Cincinnati Anti-Slavery Convention in May, 1855, that he had occasion to offer commentary on Dr. Adams’ book that praised slavery for benefiting the “religious character” of the slave. The book described the author’s experience with “southern slavery” after a trip to the American south.  It seemed the religious conservatives of this time, like Dr. Adams, were the main people wrestling with this problem of justifying slavery. William Wells Brown compared Dr. Adams’ writing to his own experience with a white minister’s family shortly after he (Brown) had escaped from slavery.  During that visit, Brown had received such kindness from the minister’s wife and daughter (Harriet) that he was dizzy from it all.

The story may have ended there and the reader may have drawn the conclusion that Brown was rethinking his passionate resolve to speak against slavery from this minister’s pulpit. He liked the family and had no desire to upset them or make them regret their kind hospitality. He considered toning down his speech, and adjusting his remarks. The last paragraph, however, sums up his thoughts nicely:

“But I had a bond of sympathy with the slave that Dr. Adams had not.  The little girl Harriet reminded me that I once had a sister; that she was torn from me and sent south; that I had not dared remonstrate, or even call her sister. The kindness of the lady whose hospitality I was then enjoying brought to mind my mother, from whose caresses I had been torn, and how she had been sent I knew not whither, never to see her boy’s face again. I therefore resolved to do my duty, and I did it.”

We’re proud to include with this digitized speech an audio version recorded by a volunteer. Click this link to view the entire record.

abolContributed by Linda Papa, Digital Technician

 

Love and Freedom

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.  Dictionary.com 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.

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Contribution by Linda Papa, Digital Technician

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<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
              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 154 years since the end of slavery would likely make those early Abolitionists quite proud.

Contributed by Linda Papa, Digital Technician

 

1908 Construction of the Old Gym

Every once in a while, I come across things that have not seen the light of day in probably a hundred years. Nobody here  knows about it and maybe nobody cares. But back in 1908, somebody cared enough to take a picture and that should count for something. It’s not like today when just about anyone with a cell phone will take a picture of anything and probably should NOT take a picture at all of somethings!

The following pictures are about the old gymnasium on the downtown campus at the rear of 651 East Jefferson. The pictures are of the excavation site for the gymnasium that was to be built (from the notes on back of the pictures, the old “ambulatorium” was being torn down), during the summer of 1908. On back of the picture with the trees notes that the “Trees in rear are sidewalk trees on Larned St.”

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The Student Fitness Center that opened on the McNichols campus in 2012 is a far cry from the old gym.

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University of Detroit Gun Club

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Back in the late 1940′s, the University of Detroit had a Gun Club. It was originally founded in 1937, but it was discontinued until after the war in 1948. Understanding the fine points of marksmanship and the mechanics of a wide variety of firearms was the primary aim of the club.

The 1949 Titan rifle team would participate in competition with other schools. ” In these matches the teams fire from four positions: prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand.

Five men fire 10 shots at each target. A bullseye gets 10 points, while the rest of the scoring ranges downward to nine, eight, seven and six points. Riflemen use .22 rifles which are single shot, semi-automatic with rear and front sights and no scopes.

Firing is done 50 feet from the target with 10 minutes allowed for each position.”

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It was not just men who were members of the club, there is a 1948 news article in the file about a woman in the Gun Club. The “best student on the University club is a modern Annie Oakley, Jean MacDonald. She fired a 99.5 average in last year’s Hearst Rifle Meet.” In fact the 1953 the Tower Yearbook has the first listing for the Girls’ Gun Club! Don’t know what happened to the men in the regular “Gun Club”, but in the 1954 Tower Yearbook the women in the group renamed it “Coed Rifle Club”. My guess is that all the men that would have been in a Gun Club were involved with the ROTC that was now on campus. Any mention of a Coed Rifle Club disappeared and in its place the 1956 Tower Yearbook now has”U of D Rifles”, purpose: Army drill team.

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The Inauguration of a University President

inag1While the world will be watching as the United States inaugurates Donald Trump as the President of the United States, I thought I would take a moment to review what went on when the University of Detroit Mercy inaugurated its most recent president, Antoine Garibaldi in 2012.

Family, friends, faculty, board of trustees, alumni and all the local dignitaries came together to celebrate the university’s heritage and reaffirm its mission to the community.

It turned out to be a very nice day for the event-even if it was Friday the 13th! There was a procession from each of the schools into Calihan Hall where the formal ceremony was held. Gifts were presented and speeches were made and everything went as planned. It will be interesting to see if everything will go as smoothly when Mr. Trump is inaugurated as the new President of the United States. Wonder what his first tweet will be!

All the activities, photos, media coverage and a copy of the program can be found here on the university’s page on the inauguration.

 

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“Old Winter has Come Again, Alack”

“Old Winter has Come Again, Alack”

One of the best topics for conversation when nothing else is on the table for discussion is the weather.  Weather discussion offers you an endless supply of metaphor, an easy connection between strangers (who doesn’t enjoy talking about the weather?), and a huge area for opinion of one sort or another. It also offers a great way to ease into heavier subjects, such as poverty and the misery of the poor.

During the 1800s, the press offered the African population (both enslaved and free) a source for discussion of common interests, a sounding board for frustrations, and a connection to others in similar circumstances.  From this desire to connect grew several prominent black newspapers (a column from one of those newspapers, the Provincial Freeman, is shown below). And while these newspapers were dedicated to a specific audience, the editors knew that this media offered access to those who might best be able to help with social issues. In an effort to “keep an eye” on the black population, readers were often among the white community (mostly among white government officials).  In this way, black newspapers claimed a potential for understanding and perhaps a way to promote the cause of freedom and gain a powerful ally for change.

The article shown here from the Black Abolitionist Archive, is a great example of the way in which newspaper writers of the day were able to weave social commentary into banal conversational exchange.  The writer reminds readers that even though the seasons change, poverty is always there, and is always the same.

bbawinterContribution by Linda Papa, Digital Technician

 

1968

1968

Close your eyes and for a few moments, take a quick trip with me back to 1968.  Could you visualize it?  Even if you were born after this time, the history of the ’60s is a pretty dominate part of the story of social culture.  Colorful time, wasn’t it?  The Vietnam war was in full swing, people young and old were taking to the streets to protest an unjust conflict, Nixon was about to become the 37th president, and the planet was in peril from a polluted and uncaring world.  Yet all this trouble, all the gloom of an unsettled global social climate, was seemingly balanced by the small things people managed to value in their lives.  A good education was one of these things.

And being in school was not just a way to get out of being drafted or meeting suitable marriage partners.  It was also a way of making life meaningful when everything outside the campus gates seemed to be falling apart.  The students of the day were determined to change the world… and this is what they did.

The 1968 Tower Yearbook focuses on the student of this period, the way they looked, played, studied, and dreamed.  The attention here is on those who worked to make sense of a senseless time, to gain knowledge that would allow them to make changes and help create the future we know now.  They paved the way and redefined dedication, honor, and freedom.  And while they may look and dress and communicate differently today, that drive and quest for knowledge still defines what being a UDM student really is.

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Contribution by Linda Papa, Digital Technician

The Merry Christmas Time, 1860

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The Merry Christmas Time 

There are only three small entries in the Black Abolitionist Archive associated with Christmas, so I chose this one. While this holiday was important to an enslaved people learning about the celebration of this Christmas story from the periphery of the Christian families who enslaved them, the way they celebrated this holiday was different. The celebration of any special occasion during this time was focused on Church, prayer, thankfulness, and finding joy where they could.

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. In this essay (shown here), published in the Weekly Anglo-African on December 29, 1860, the writer expresses nicely what this period of time in this particular year meant to the average “Anglo-African” family. To them, it was about providing their children with a way to bring out the smiles, putting aside worries about the tense political climate to be with friends by the fire, and to focus on the poor who had far fewer blessings.

Often, it seems, you can read between the lines of these essays to discover something interesting, something of the true expression in the writer’s thoughts.  This essay is about more than a simple holiday “feel good” declaration.  It holds the seeds of discontent that would, in 1865, burst forth from a horrible war and into the end of slavery.  This was the beginning of a much longer fight for true freedom, but the truth of this couldn’t be known at that time.  While reading this essay, it’s a good idea to remember the times, think about the history, and bear in mind the struggles going on outside the walls of that newspaper office. In 1860 when this was written, the stirrings of war in an unsettled country were just about ready to move the battle forward.

Since this one isn’t long, I’ve included a transcription with the image below:

“The Merry Christmas Time

Far away from the sun, on the very verge and rim of his orbit, when a pound additional of centrifugal momentum would cause old earth to secede from the planetary union and plunge us all into a dimmer abyss than threatens South Carolina, what a nice, warm, healthful, cheery institution is this merry Christmas time.

We old folks sit cozily by the fire, pipe in hand, stirring our hot lemonade and sweeping the vistas of the past with telescopic eyes, now merry with pleasant, or brimming with sad reminiscences. How much better — don’t frown good wife! — how much better the doughnuts, the olekoks and the kroellers tasted when New-York was all this side of the stone-bridge at Canal-street!  Better, yes better, for teeth and digestion and stomachie capacity were then at an enormous premium. We can distinctly remember two dinners three teas — not counting those that fell out with us by the way — and the enormous supper comfortably put away on Christmas day and evening.

But the merry Christmas time is for the young. It is the special hour for muscular Christianity on the part of the young men, who speed over immense distances in a twinkling of time in search of dimpling cheeks and gladdened eyes — awaiting with shy dissent their welcome coming. How the poor fellow trembles, fumbles in is pocket, crumbles the package in his nervous hands, chokes as he vainly essays the well conned speech, and wishes himself through the floor or ceiling.

Merry Christmas is the children’s day! How long expected, how gladly welcomed by them. Hear their sweet voices, their pattering feet, witness their joy in gifts, their braveries, their graceful rompings and big eyed wonder. Throughout Christendom their tiny voices send up a not unwelcomed choral song to Him who has said ‘Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.

The merry Christmas time should be a season for other things beside merry making. There are precious and gentle duties which can be performed at no other time so well nor so gracefully. ‘The poor ye have always with you.’ And the poor are never so poor as at this season of the year. The special class to whom we now allude are those who have struggled honestly and faithfully in the battle of life but on whom the sun of success has failed to shine. They started out along with us, have labored as hard, perhaps harder than we, they have always kept up appearances — but oh how difficultly do they keep the wolf from the door!  Or there are those whom in our youth we knew well to do and surrounded with their Christmas comforts with their young — now, alas gone before them — as our playmates, but whom swift age has overtaken and grim poverty. To either of these classes, too proud to ask, this season affords a graceful opportunity to give what we know is needed without fear of refusal. Half a load of coal to old Uncle A., or a fine fat turkey to old Aunty B., — how well she knows how to roast it! — or, a pair of plain warm blankets to old Mr. L., would be gifts twice blessed.

Reader, with the means or even the possibility to give, you cannot imagine until you have tried, how much these little benevolences add to the joy of the merry Christmas times.”

Contributed by Linda Papa, Digital Technician

 

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