February is the month dedicated annually to Black History. This February, the University Libraries have partnered with the WSU Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE) to develop this virtual Subject of the Month display spotlighting people and events of historical influence in the African American community in Detroit. We hope you will enjoy exploring and learning about black history in our great city.
The virtual display was conceived by Joseph Bradfield, Student Engagement and Retention Coordinator, and designed by Dajah Callen, Social Media and Marketing Assistant, Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE), along with Veronica Bielat, Subject Specialist Librarian, University Libraries.
On February 8, Wayne State Special Collections will launch "Courage Without Compromise: An Exhibition," a virtual exhibition highlighting civil rights and social justice material from the African American Literature Special Collection, the Arthur L. Johnson Collection, and the Collection of African American Legal History. To learn more, and to view the exhibition, on Feb. 8, visit tinyurl.com/CourageWithoutCompromise.
Dr. Ossian Sweet was a Physician. After completing his medical degree at Howard University, Sweet moved to Detroit, Michigan in the late summer of 1921. Sweet later became affiliated with Dunbar Hospital, Detroit's first hospital founded to serve the black community. In 1925, Sweet purchased a house at 2905 Garland Street, in an all-white neighborhood, with the hopes of establishing a medical practice in his home. His decision to move outside of Black Bottom, one of the few places in the City that allowed African Americans to purchase property, changed this man and his family’s future drastically, while also causing the creation of Michigan Firearm Registration Laws.
Ossian Sweet and his wife, Gladys, purchased this house in May 1925, located at 2905 Garland Street. When the Sweets moved into their home on September 8, white residents who objected to blacks moving into the neighborhood formed a crowd on the street. The next day hundreds of people converged on the corner of Charlevoix and Garland Streets intent on driving the Sweets from their home. The mob threw rocks and bricks at the house while the Sweets and nine others took refuge inside. In the evening shots rang out and a white man was killed. The police charged the people inside the Sweet house with murder. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hired attorney Clarence Darrow, who argued that people, regardless of their race have the right to protect their homes.
Photo from michmarkers.com Michigan Historical Markers Web Site http://www.michmarkers.com/default?page=S0461
Rosa Gragg was a major Civil Rights and Women’s Rights activist and consultant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an associate of Mary McLeod Bethune, and served as an advisor to three U.S. Presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lindon B. Johnson. It was because of her efforts, that African Americans were able to begin to purchase and own properties in the City of Detroit, outside of the Black Bottom area.
Gragg’s career in activism began in the 1930s; she frequently gave speeches about how to improve race relations in the United States. Then, in the 1940s, Gragg began to get involved in politics. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to a national advisory board, the Board of the National Volunteer’s Participation Committee of Civil Defense.
Gragg’s activism also called for education reform. In 1947, she founded the Slade-Gragg Academy of Practical Arts in Detroit because she believed that education was crucial in the struggle for black progress. The academy was the first black-owned and operated business on Woodward Avenue. It offered classes in trades including tailoring, dress-making, and food service and preparation.
Image Source: Detroit Public Library Digital Collections
Lifting as We Climb
Detroit Association of Colored Women's Clubs was organized on April 8, 1921, with eight clubs. This association reached its peak membership in 1945 with 73 clubs and 3,000 members. Affiliated with the Michigan and National Associations of Colored Women's Clubs, the Detroit association fosters educational, philanthropic, and social programs. The association was incorporated in 1941. That same year, supported by a mortgage on its president's home, the association purchased the present clubhouse located at the corner of Ferry and Brush Streets, a handsome Colonial Revival style structure. The club members completely paid for the clubhouse in less than five years. The association sponsors girls' clubs, scholarships, annual clothing drives for needy school children, and charitable programs for seniors and the dispossessed.
In 1958, Gragg was elected president of the national organization. Her accomplishments in this role were impressive. In 1961, she launched a restoration campaign for the Frederick Douglass house, and the following year, Senate Bill 2399 declared the home a historic site. In thanks, Gragg gifted an Abraham Lincoln portrait from Frederick Douglass’ library to the White House. This marked the first time in United States history that a black organization gave a gift to the White House.
Dr. Gragg's work lives on with what is now called the Detroit Association of Women's Clubs in the same home she purchased for the organization so many decades ago."She was there when the significant things impacted our community, the black community," says current Women's Clubs president Angela Calloway. "She was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed. She was there when the Civil Rights Act was signed." Dr. Rosa L. Gragg passed away in February of 1989. A portion of Ferry Street was renamed Dr. Rosa L. Gragg Blvd in 2019 as a tribute to the contribution she made to her community. Calloway is doing her part to keep Dr. Bragg's memory alive.
Students pack into Wayne State University's 101 State Hall to hear a lecture by Malcolm X.
In 1963, the Independent Socialist Club of Wayne State University sponsored a lecture by Malcolm X in 101 State Hall, with over 400 students in attendance. The focus of the lecture was on the aims of the Nation of Islam. A warning regarding future race wars was also given: "We are not afraid to go to jail or afraid to take the life of those who take our life. We believe the fair exchange. This is the price of freedom, and we are prepared to pay the price."
Charles Howard Wright was an accomplished Detroit physician and founder of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Born in Dothan, Alabama on September 20, 1918, Wright attended Alabama State College, obtained his M.D. from Meharry Medical School in 1943, and served an internship at Harlem Hospital in New York. Charles Wright was married to Louise Lovett, with whom he had two children. Following Lovett’s death, he married Roberta Hughes in 1989. Dr. Wright died on March 7, 2002 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.
Dr. Wright practiced general medicine in Detroit for four years, starting in 1946. He went back to Harlem for a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology before returning to Detroit in 1955 where he was certified as an OB-GYN specialist and general surgeon. He became an emeritus attending at Harper-Grace Hospital, and a senior attending physician at Sinai Hospital. Wright also worked at Wayne State University Medical School from 1969-1983 as an assistant clinical professor. He later became a senior attending physician at Hutzel Hospital, eventually retiring in 1986. Wright was active in social issues and was a lifelong member of the NAACP. He started the African Medical Education Fund through the Detroit Medical Society and served as a physician during civil rights marches in Louisiana in 1965.
Dr. Wright’s most notable achievement in the City of Detroit was founding the Museum of African American History. It began as the International Afro-American Museum, located in part of his office on West Grand Boulevard. Feeling the need for a museum to commemorate, preserve and promote the history of African Americans, Dr. Wright led a partnership of 30 people in 1965 to establish the museum. Wright’s new museum included African masks from Nigeria and Ghana and information on notable African American Detroiters.
In 1978, the City of Detroit provided land for a museum in Midtown and funds were raised for a new building that opened in 1987 at 301 Frederick Street. The name was changed to the Museum of African American History. When the museum outgrew that facility, Detroit voters approved a bond for a third building at 315 E. Warren in the University Cultural Center, which opened in 1997 - the largest African American history museum in the world. A year later it was renamed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in honor of Dr. Wright.
Horace Bradfield was born in Denver, Colorado in 1913. His family moved to Detroit in 1919. He was a Physician/Gynecologist at Providence and Hutzel hospitals and a Board of Trustee of Wayne County Community College. He attended the College of the City of Detroit, one of the schools that would be merged to later become Wayne State University. He transferred to the University of Michigan and graduated with a Bachelor and Master of Science (both in Chemistry) in 1934 and 1935, respectively. He graduated from Wayne State University in 1948 as a Doctor of Medicine.
Bradfield became the fifth Black intern at Detroit Receiving Hospital before coming to Providence and Hutzel hospitals in Detroit to work as a physician. He delivered thousands of babies and treated thousands of patients at his office located at 3006-3008 East Grand Boulevard in Detroit 48202, the Detroit's North End Neighborhood. He retired from medicine in 1989. He was a community leader with a lifelong commitment to helping poor people. Bradfield served on the board of Wayne County Community College, and the board of directors for the Detroit Urban League in the 1960s-1970s.
Source: Bentley Historical Library
Marjorie A. Blackistone and Horace Ferguson Bradfield papers
The Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan holds the Marjorie and Horace Bradfield collection, which contains Marjorie Bradfield's autobiography, audio recordings of interviews with Horace Bradfield, and photographs of the Bradfields.
You can listen to a recording of a 1978 interview with Dr. Horace Bradfield, facilitated by his daughter, Trudy Bradfield Taliaferro.
Damon J. Keith was a U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judge whose rulings as a federal district judge in Detroit in the 1970s catapulted him to the status of civil rights icon, died peacefully in his sleep early Sunday at his riverfront apartment in Detroit. He was 96.
Keith, the grandson of slaves and the longest-serving African-American judge in the nation, burst onto the national stage in 1970 when, as a U.S. district judge, he ordered citywide busing to desegregate Pontiac schools. It was the first court decision to extend federal court-ordered busing to the North.
Keith graduated from Northwestern High School in 1939. He later enrolled at West Virginia State College, an all-black school in Morgantown. He worked his way through college by cleaning the chapel and waiting tables in a dining hall. After college, Keith was drafted into the segregated U.S. Army and spent three years driving a truck in the Quartermaster Corps during World War II in Europe. He was discharged as a sergeant in 1946.
He attended Howard University, a historically black Washington, D.C., college, eventually receiving his Bachelor's of Law. After getting his law degree in 1949, Keith worked as a janitor at the Detroit News while studying for his bar exam. He twice failed the bar exam but received his law license after appealing the second score. In 1952, he became the first black lawyer for the Wayne County Friend of the Court. Four years later, he returned to his old law firm, this time as a lawyer, and obtained a Masters in Law in 1956 from Wayne State University.
In 1964, he opened his own law firm, which eventually became known as Keith, Conyers, Anderson, Brown & Wahls. The firm moved into the Guardian Building, becoming the first black law firm in the city’s all-white legal district. The firm represented several prominent black businesses and other clients, including future Detroit Tigers’ great Willie Horton.
Keith was especially proud of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, which opened at Wayne State University in 2011. The $5.7-million addition to the WSU Law School chronicles Keith’s judicial career, the legal history of the civil rights movement and the accomplishments of African-American lawyers and judges.
American Activist, Civil Rights Leader, Educator, and Health Administrator
Betty Shabazz was born Betty Sanders on May 28, 1936, in Detroit, Michigan. Betty was adopted as a baby and raised by Helen and Lorenzo Don Malloy. She was their only child. Betty Shabazz was a private person who didn't reveal much about her early life. Betty grew up in a middle-class family in a thriving Detroit neighborhood filled with black businesses and churches. Her mother was very active in community groups and particularly in their church, Bethel A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal). Betty led a very sheltered life that revolved around family, school, and church.
Betty graduated from Northern High School in Detroit in 1952. She then attended Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), a historically African-American college in Alabama that her father had also attended. It was her first experience in the South and her first time away from the protected environment of her parents' home, and she had her first experiences with racism there. At Tuskegee, she planned to major in elementary education, but decided to switch to nursing instead. The dean of nursing suggested that she attend a three-year nursing school, so Betty transferred to the Brooklyn State Hospital School of Nursing in New York. There, she earned her certification as a registered nurse (R.N.).
It was in New York that she met her future husband, the civil rights activist Malcolm X. Betty interrupted her education for several years after they got married and started having children. Years later, after the assassination of her husband, she returned to school. She earned her bachelor's degree (B.A.) in public health education from Jersey City State College. She earned her doctorate (Ph.D.) in education in 1975 from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The death of Betty Shabazz touched many people, bringing forth an outpouring of sympathy. Despite facing one of our nation's great historical tragedies, Shabazz was determined to raise her daughters, return to graduate school, earn her doctorate, and devote herself to a career. Betty Shabazz became an important symbol of our age, as Frank Bruni explained in the New York Times. "Dr. Shabazz's struggle and violent end became, for many African-Americans, a universal allegory of aspirations, perseverance, bitter disappointments, and uncontrollable twists of fate. For many, Betty Shabazz was an icon of modern black history.
Betty was honored her for her courage, modesty, and dignity in the face of overwhelming adversity. Over and over, people praised her tenacity, fortitude, and perseverance, calling her a symbol of strength and pride. "[The] woman known universally as Sister Betty faced more than her share of trials," according to Ebony magazine, "but she confronted them all, giving America, and black America especially, one of the great images of the indomitable tenacity of the spirit, and especially the indomitable tenacity of spirit of great black women."