Author Archives: Pat Higo

Celebrating Independence


All Americans celebrate Independence Day (July 4th) as a federal holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776. This event marked this country’s freedom from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

But did you know that August 1 (Emancipation Day) was celebrated as a day of independence and liberation for thousands of enslaved and formerly enslaved people in this country and others for years after slavery was abolished in the West Indies on this day in 1833?  This one act (the British Slavery Abolition Act) freed 700,000 in West Indies, 20,000 in Mauritius, 40,000 in South Africa.  (See Abolition of Slavery timeline here).  And while it would be another 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery in this country, this major legal action in the British West Indies offered hope for further reasoned laws abolishing slavery in all other countries forever.  Quite a reason to celebrate.

And while Emancipation Day (August 1) is today overshadowed by Independence Day (July 4) in this country, August 1 is still celebrated in Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Jamaica, and Bermuda.

*** Side note of interest here:  Within the U.S., there are several states that celebrate their own Emancipation Day on dates associated with the end of slavery for their state.  So, for example, Texas celebrates Juneteenth on June 19th.  In Mississippi, the date is May 8 (the celebration there is called Eight o’ May). ***

Below is a page from an Emancipation Day speech delivered in 1849 by little known black abolitionist Abner H. Francis.  This 17 page speech was published in a black newspaper called the North Star on August 17 of that year and can be found in the Black Abolitionist Archive among our digital collections.  In this speech, Francis spoke eloquently and passionately for the cause of freedom, and for a reasoned approach to ending slavery.

On page 6 of this speech, Francis says,

“When the shackles are falling from hundreds of thousands of our race, when the great principles of human liberty and equality are reanimating the nations of the earth, shall we remain satisfied, in the valley of poverty and ignorance, or shall we avail ourselves of every means within our reach that may render us worthy of those principles and the age in which we live?”

Sometimes when reading these speeches, I hear the voices of these great men and women pleading with those living in my own time.  They seem to say, “Don’t forget us!  Don’t forget what we have fought so hard to overcome.  Honor us by living the best life you can live. Learn from the past, and create a valued place for yourselves in the future.”

Visit the Black Abolitionist Archive to learn more about this speech and others.

independContributed by Linda Papa

The Poetic Express


Creativity is an urge, I believe, and one we’re all born with. This urge can get directed in different ways, from cooking to construction to creating a business. In some people, this urge is expressed through art. Regardless of the way it’s expressed, however, what can’t be denied is its need for expression. Often the form of expression is part of the creativity itself.

Maurice Greenia, Jr. responds to this creative urge in various ways: from writing, to drawing, to music, to performance. Introduce an idea and he’ll give it a try. The urge encourages him to do something different, to change the world in a noticeable way, and to make a positive impact on society as a whole.

In the 1970s, Maurice decided to share his work in a unique way. Although he’d already been creating art for years prior to this, it was at this point that he started typing poetry, manifestos, drawings, and collections of old quotations (usually filling both sides of an 8” x 11” page). He’d make copies of these pages, and hand them out to people he’d run into around town. Sometimes, he’d mail these to various friends throughout the country to be distributed there. This was all done free of charge and in response to an urge to share his work.

In 1985, Maurice decided it was time to do a regular monthly publication. It was at this point that he came up with the name “Poetic Express” for this work. Since the publication would go out on a regular basis, he offered himself incentive with a deadline, thus forcing him to write poetry, draw, and create comic strips for each month. The Poetic Express is a way to connect on a very personal level to people he would never know or even meet. It’s a raw communication that offers his readers a recognition of the creative urge within their own lives.

When asked about his inspiration for this publication, Maurice says, “It’s always been about getting my work out to the people. I’ve had a lot of feedback over the years and the Express does have some sort of ‘underground cult following.’”

The recent Poetic Express is one of Maurice’s favorites since it includes tributes to family and friends, both living and deceased. I hope you’ll spend some time with this section of the Maurice Greenia, Jr. collection. I think you’ll find it inspiring.

Contribution from Linda Papa

Moving the Dowling Marine Historical Collection


The university is expanding the services of the Student Success Center on the third floor of the library. As part of the expansion, the Dowling Marine Historical Collection will temporarily be put into storage until new space can be made available in the Archives on level 2A. Some of the material will be in storage, but the model ships that are in the collection will still be available to view. You will still have access to the online material on the libraries Special Collections page.

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Black Abolitionist Archive: Anthony Burns

udmblogThe 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.

Authored by Linda Papa

Summer School-Not Just for College Students

If you walk through campus during the summer it may look pretty deserted, however, there is plenty of activity going on everywhere else. The University of Detroit Mercy offers a number of summer programs for all ages in all areas from preschool to college age students. If you just type in “summer” in the search box on the UDM home page you will find a host of programs listed such as:























The library archive files have programs of some of the summer offerings that have been held in the past. Summer may be a time for rest and relaxation for some, the process of education never stops.

Here are a couple of courses that were offered in the past:










Commencements of the past at University of Detroit

oldcom2Last week the University of Detroit Mercy sent off its latest set of graduates to their next phase of their lives. It wasn’t that long ago when commencement ceremonies were held a bit later in the year and graduates had to follow more compulsory rules to graduate. Check out the notice in the Varsity News, May 8, 1939:oldcom3

Up until 1966, commencement ceremonies were held a month later in June instead of early May like it is now. This changed when the university changed to a shorter trimester system.


The Memorial Building (now named Calihan Hall) was not built until 1952, so university graduation ceremonies were held in various other venues. Sometimes with the later June dates, they were held in the open air of the stadium. Most of the time it was held in Masonic Temple. Other places included Orchestra Hall, Naval Armory, Detroit Institute of Arts and a few places I don’t think are around any more like Elks Temple and Arcadia Auditorium. Even the time of day the ceremonies that were held would vary-sometime in the evening, sometime in the afternoon. Might have been the location that dictated when they were held. Browse through the commencement programs in our Special Collections page for places and dates as well as a listing of the graduates.


Not all the students of the university graduated in the same ceremony. I can’t tell from the commencement programs when the Law and Dental Schools started their own separate ceremonies from the McNichols campus schools. During the early 60′s, there were separate ceremonies for the Dental Hygienist and Secretarial Science graduates. I guess since they were not four-year degree programs, they needed their own ceremonies.

Other traditions that are associated with the university’s commencement ceremonies are the Baccalaureate and breakfast. The Baccalaureate originated in European universities and has been a part of the Jesuit tradition for centuries. The program usually included an invocational hymn by graduates, an address by a prominent Jesuit professor or administrator and benediction.

According to the Varsity News, May5, 1961, “The Mass and breakfast was begun five years ago by Delta Sigma Pi, international professional business fraternity, especially for C&F graduates. It attracted about 50 persons that year” The next year it opened up to all students and it just grew from there.

Some of the other senior activities have come and gone, like the Senior Prom and BobLo boat cruise, but the Baccalaureate, breakfast and commencement ceremony have stood the test of time and will probably be part of the university tradition forever.




Golden Memories for the Class of ’66

66com1At every commencement, the university invites alumni back for their 50th year reunion. Here is just a sampling of some of the events they would have experienced as students at the University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit.

For UD students, some of the memories will include the Spring Carnivals and maybe being in the class taught by Mrs J.O. Smith, now better known at the novelist Joyce Carol Oates.


There are the well known personalities that would be on campus such as Michigan Governor George Romney to give a speech on his trip to Viet Nam (which in a later speech used the term “brain washing”) and Louis Armstrong and Carlos Montoya for the Town and Gown Celebrity Series.



For the students at Mercy College, it was the occasion of the College’s 25th silver anniversary of its founding.

Wards Conference Center was open for business as the new student center for all kinds of activities with its ballrooms, dining rooms and  food services.


habit1The Sisters of Mercy were also responsible for the design of the new habit that would be used for a short period before they adopted the dress of the layperson.

The Speech and Drama Department kept busy with such productions as “The Skin of Our Teeth” and “Sound of Music”.

Mercy College had just recently started to enroll men at the college. In 1966 they formed their first fraternitymercyman2Lots of memories-lots of changes over the past fifty years. Just imagine what the class of 2016 will have to look forward to with their fiftieth year reunion!


From Star Basketball Player to Head Coach: Welcome Back Bacari Alexander!

alex1Bacari Alexander played two seasons at the University of Detroit Mercy and graduated from the university in 1999.


Varsity News March 18, 1998














He went on to play with the Harlem Globetrotters for a couple of years and then moved to assistant coaching at University of Detroit Mercy, Ohio, Western Michigan University and University of Michigan. He was named Head Coach at the University of Detroit Mercy in April 2016.

He  is not the first person who played on the university basketball team to return later to become the head coach of the team.

cali1Robert Calihan was All-American at the University of Detroit in 1939-1940, and led the Titans in scoring for three seasons. After graduation in 1940, he played with the Chicago Gears and was a regular with the Detroit Eagles and helped win the National Basketball League title in 1941. He returned to the university as head coach of the basketball team in 1948 and remained in that position for the next 21 years. As a coach, he accumulated 303 victories and four post-season tournament bids, while turning out some of the most talented players in the country like Dave Debusschere and Spencer Haywood. After his tenure as coach, he became the Athletic Director for the University of Detroit. In his honor, the Memorial Building was renamed Calihan Hall in 1977.



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