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Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History November 5, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of African-Americans.

Here are five nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The kingdom of Benin was ruled by an oba and a iyoba (queen mother). The oba wore coral beads to evoke the power of the sea god, Olokun. Images of leopards were used to convey the strength of the oba. If an oba died without producing a male heir, then the son of the sister of the iyoba would assume the throne.

2. Coleman Young was raised in Black Bottom. After graduating from Eastern High School, he worked in the Ford Rouge plant and later served as a Tuskegee Airman. He achieved the following milestones as an African-American:

3. The 12th Street Riots, which were apparently sparked by a police raid of a blind pig during a party for returning Vietnam veterans, actually stemmed from discontent among the black community in Detroit concerning:

  • restrictive covenants in white neighborhoods
  • the destruction of many homes in black neighborhoods to facilitate the construction of the Chrysler Freeway in 1957
  • high rents for public housing
  • white flight, which hastened the depletion of the tax base of Detroit.

4. Henry Ford hired William Perry as his first African-American employee in 1914. Ford later hired other African-Americans; many of them resided in Inkster, which Ford helped modernize by installing basic services such as plumbing and electricity. His record on race relations was complicated, though. For example, his African-American employees were compelled to perform dangerous tasks, including the casting of molds. He also rejected their labor demands – as part of his broader struggle against labor unions – until 1941.

5. The transatlantic slave trade had its fair share of setbacks, including:

  • a successful revolt on the slave ship Marlborough, which was led by 28 slaves who had been entrusted with the task of sailing that ship; some of them were able to return to Africa, while the fate of the rest is unknown
  • a tragedy on the slave ship Zong, where slaves were thrown overboard to preserve limited supplies and check the spread of disease (the shipowners later made a claim to their insurers for the loss of their slaves); this incident was publicized by Olaudah Equiano.

The museum featured several thought-provoking exhibits, including an exhibit that presented African-American history in the context of human history. One room of that exhibit contained the hold of a slave ship, where the placement of several mannequins helped me grasp the inhumane conditions that slaves endured on their transatlantic voyages. I appreciated the meticulous design of that vast exhibit.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit.

Detroit Historical Museum October 8, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Arts, History.
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I recently visited the Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of Detroit.

Here are seven nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac founded the city of Detroit in 1701 (“detroit” is actually the French word for “strait”). Cadillac founded Fort Ponchartrain at the present-day location of Detroit; its namesake was the French Marine Minister. Fort Pontchartrain was replaced by Fort Lernoult after the Seven Years’ War. American forces took control of Fort Lernoult in 1796 and renamed it Fort Detroit.

2. The city of Detroit was devastated by a fire in 1805. Augustus Woodward played a critical role in the rebuilding efforts, creating a street plan modeled after the diagonal streets in Washington, D.C. The development of Detroit was spurred by several factors, including:

  • the construction of the Erie Canal, which reduced the travel time between Detroit and the East Coast
  • Lewis Cass, who extolled the virtues of Michigan to prospective pioneers; he served as the governor of Michigan Territory from 1813 to 1831
  • the construction of the Soo Locks, which connected Lakes Superior and Huron; the Lower and Upper Peninsulas furnished the timber, iron, and copper that was used to build railroads, ships and stoves.

3. African-American inventors with Detroit ties included:

  • Elijah McCoy, who invented an automatic lubricator, enabling the oiling of moving trains; his sundry innovations inspired the phrase, “real McCoy”
  • William Davis, who invented the refrigerator car; George Hammond bought the associated patent from him and used a refrigerator car to ship a load of beef to Boston.

4. August Fruehauf hitched a modified wagon to his neighbor’s Model T; that wagon served as the first “semi-trailer,” as it carried his neighbor’s pleasure boat. Some of Fruehauf’s other innovations included:

  • using hydraulics to develop dump trailers
  • developing the first refrigerated trailer, which featured a trap door above its ice and salt
  • the first container trailer that could carry liquids.

5. The discography for Motown includes several protest songs, such as:

6. Abolitionism in the United States extended to Michigan. For example, on the Underground Railroad, “midnight” and “Canaan land” were cryptonyms for Detroit and Canada, respectively. One of the conductors on the Underground Railroad, William Lambert, founded the “Colored Vigilant Committee” which was Detroit’s first civil rights organization. Finney’s Barn was one of the Detroit-area stops on the Underground Railroad; ironically, it was near a hotel that was frequented by slave catchers. In 1855, a personal liberty law was enacted in Michigan in response to the Fugitive Slave Act; it gave slaves the right to an attorney.

7. The Algiers Motel incident was sparked by police reports of sniper fire from the vicinity of the motel. One unarmed black youth was slain while lying in bed, while a second black youth was slain while obeying an order to assemble. A third black youth was slain while several policemen intimidated a group of seven blacks and two whites. Two all-white juries would later acquit one officer of murder and two other officers of conspiracy, respectively; both trials occurred outside Detroit.

The museum had a neat exhibit featuring toy trains at its basement level; I marveled at the skill that was required to assemble it. I also enjoyed an exhibit that highlighted machinery from an actual Cadillac plant, where a robotic arm repeatedly lowered a car body onto a chassis. In addition, I was enlightened by the exhibit on the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit riots.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit.

Motown Museum May 7, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Arts, History.
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I recently visited the Motown Museum in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of Motown.

Here are five nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Berry Gordy Jr.’s father worked as a contractor, while his mother sold real estate. Gordy initially struggled to find a regular source of income; he worked on a Ford assembly line, received plaudits as a pugilist and even owned a jazz record store. Eventually he tried his hand at songwriting; when Smokey Robinson laughed at his meager remuneration of three dollars and nineteen cents, he was spurred to form his own company. He took out a loan of eight hundred dollars from his parents with the stipulation that he repay it within one year at six percent interest. He coined the term “Motown” for his new company in honor of his hometown.

2. Gordy spared no expense in developing his stable of talent, including:

  • purchasing an upright piano and labeling the keys to assist those who lacked formal musical training
  • hiring Maurice King to teach music theory and serve as a voice coach
  • hiring Cholly Atkins to teach choreography
  • hiring Maxine Powell to teach comportment.

3. The Miracles were one of the earliest Motown acts to achieve commercial success. Their lineup included Robinson and Claudette Rogers, who would later marry. Their hits included Bad Girl, which was their only release on the Motown Records label, and You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me. They also wrote the hit song My Girl for The Temptations. Last but not least, they broke a color barrier by performing on American Bandstand.

4. Gordy eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1972, as he wanted to use the silver screen to promote Motown. He co-produced the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. He also directed Mahogany, starring Ross and Billy Dee Williams. He would later write the book for Motown the Musical.

5. Gordy purchased seven homes on one side of West Grand Avenue in Detroit (and one home on the other side of that street) and repurposed them for his company. Recording sessions occurred in the renowned Studio A. Vocals and instrumental tracks were mixed in a control room, while another room was designated for billing and collection. One room contained a vault of master tapes. This set of buildings was later designated as a historical landmark in 1987. Gordy’s sister, Esther, founded the museum itself in 1985.

The exhibits in the museum can only be viewed in the context of a guided tour. That being said, our tour guide was friendly and well-informed. She related several anecdotes and even led us in several renditions of Motown hits, including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit (supporting the theory that I advanced in the final paragraph of this post).