As we look forward to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017, our guests and staff alike enjoy reconnecting with our amazing array of historic buildings. Each of them not only represent different periods of American history, they also hold so many fascinating stories. Among the more interesting, are how they came to have new lives here in Greenfield Village. The Logan County Courthouse’s story is among my favorites.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
Logan County Courthouse as it stands today in Greenfield Village.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s.There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them. But very few of these were the real thing. For Henry Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Abraham Lincoln seemed unlikely.
Logan County Courthouse September of 1929.
But, in the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Henry Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building, was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in run down condition, described by some as “derelict”. It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for funding the restoration, and taking over its on-going care and maintenance.
View of rear section of building with shed addition, September 1929
Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Henry Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Henry Ford intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over. The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as saying “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination.
View of side currently adjacent to Dr. Howard’s Office, September, 1929. This view shows evidence of filled in window openings. The window currently behind the judge’s bench was restored.
By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Henry Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”
Views of partitioned first floor, summer 1929.
The courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln, and by September 6, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed, and the newly purchased land was secured by Ford’s staff. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die a week later, on September 19th.
The dismantling and discovery process was closely covered by the local newspapers, and as the building came apart, its original design was revealed.
Beginning as early as the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior of the building. By 1880, the building had been converted from a commercial building into a dwelling and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed and eventually, a covered porch was added to what is now the main entrance, and a shed addition to the rear. But, the most significant change, was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot.
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and after a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office within. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, the old limestone foundation was left behind, and the original limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation was created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves. This took place before 1850.
The oldest know photograph of the Logan County Courthouse c.1850-1880. The original door arrangement remains in place.
Photographs taken in September of 1929, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build. The oldest photograph of the courthouse shows it on its second site with its original window and door arrangement still in place, but with new brick chimneys. The photo dates from between 1850 and 1880.
It was some of the older inhabitants of the area that alerted Henry Ford’s staff as to the original location of the foundation. Once located, the original foundation revealed the dimensions of the original first-floor fireplace. All the stones were carefully removed and shipped to Dearborn. The courthouse rests on this foundation today. The local newspaper also reported that while excavating the foundation, a large key and doorknob were found at the edge, aligned where the front door would have been located.
View of side that currently faces Scotch Settlement School, September, 1929. Shadow of original stone chimney is visible. Patched sections of siding show that originally, the stone would have been flush with the siding until approximately the top third, which would have extended out from the building like the entire chimney currently does. The window and door are late additions.
By September 20th, the building, consisting of two car loads of material, was on its way to Dearborn. Reconstruction in Greenfield Village began almost immediately at a frenzied pace. Finishing touches were still being applied right up until the October 21st dedication of Greenfield Village. Edward Cutler oversaw the final design elements needed to restore the building along with the actual work of reconstructing it. All the first- floor details, including the fireplace, mantle, and judges bench had to be re-created. The first-floor interior trim was reproduced in walnut, and was based on the original trim that survived on the second floor. The second floor, using a large amount of original material, including flooring, was also restored to its original appearance. Even the original plaster was collected, re-ground, and used to re-plaster the interior walls.
Views of the excavated original foundation, located 86 feet back from building’s second location. Lower view shows foundation for the original fireplace. September, 1929.
Based on the oldest of the original photographs, all new windows and exterior doors were also reproduced. Where possible, the original exterior walnut siding was also restored, and re-applied to the building and secured with brass screws.This was not a period technique, but rather a solution by Cutler to ensure the original siding with its worn nail holes, would stay in place.
The result was a place where Henry Ford could now display, and share his collection of Lincoln associated artifacts, including the most famous of all, the rocking chair from the presidential booth in Ford’s theater where Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865.
Re-construction well under way in Greenfield Village on October, 2, 1929. The building would be complete for the October 21, dedication. The Sarah Jordan Boarding House can be seen in the distance.
The completed Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village as it appeared for the October 21 dedication.
The newly unpacked Ford’s Theater rocking chair in the Logan County Courthouse, January of 1930.
The interior of the completed Logan County Courthouse c.1935. It featured a display of Abraham Lincoln associated objects including Springfield furniture and the rocking chair from Ford’s Theater.
From 1929 until the mid-1980s, the building was left almost untouched as a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.
It was not until the mid-1980s that the research material was re-examined, primarily for preparations for much needed repairs to the now 50 plus year old restoration. In 1980, prior to the restoration work, the Lincoln assassination rocking chair was removed from the courthouse and placed in Henry Ford Museum. In 1984, the building underwent a significant restoration and was re-sided, the first- floor flooring was repaired, and extensive plaster repair and refinishing took place. In addition, a furnace was added (inside the judge’s bench), to provide adequate heat.
The interpretation of the building also was redefined and was re-focused away from the Abraham Lincoln shrine and more toward the stories of the history of our legal system and the civic lives of Americans in the 1840s. Gradually, many of the Lincoln artifacts were removed to appropriate climate controlled storage or display in Henry Ford Museum.
That brings us to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017. The Logan County Courthouse has now stood as long in Greenfield Village as it did in Postville, 88 years. It has had an interesting and storied history in both locations. Both the curatorial team, and the Greenfield Village programs team are excited to continue the process of ongoing research and improving the scholarship of the stories we tell there. We are working on some projects to accomplish just that for the near future and are looking forward to sharing all the details.
The artifacts you see when you visit Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or Greenfield Village only represent 5-10% of our object collections, and an even smaller percentage of our archival collections. The rest of our collections live in storage, but we try to find ways to make them accessible to the public by means of temporary exhibits, our Digital Collections, and loans to other institutions.
We currently have 233 artifacts, ranging from coffee pots to airplanes, on loan to 39 different institutions around the world, and we’ve just digitized a number of artifacts, such as this circa 1955 hat worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone, that we have loaned to the V&A Museum in London for their upcoming exhibit Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, about fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.
A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, reunited with the Ford Mark IV 50 years after their Le Mans triumph. (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)
Fifty years ago, on June 11, 1967, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt made history by winning the first and – to date – only all-American victory at France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. For Ford Motor Company and race team Shelby American, it was the second consecutive Le Mans win, following the memorable 1-2-3 finish of 1966. But that first victory came courtesy New Zealander drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, and the British-built GT40 Mark II. With Californian Gurney and Texan Foyt behind the wheel of the made-in-Dearborn Mark IV, the 1967 win was as American as the proverbial apple pie.
Gurney and Foyt on the Le Mans podium in 1967. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford)
In conjunction with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Road Racing Drivers Club recognized Mr. Gurney, Mr. Foyt and the milestone anniversary in a special ceremony on April 6. The Mark IV left its usual place in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and headed west to join the veteran drivers in California, making for a rare reunion of the men and machine that dominated the Circuit de la Sarthe in 1967 and capped the fiery Ford-Ferrari feud. Gurney and Foyt shared their still-vivid memories of the race, reflected on changes in endurance racing over the past five decades, and resoundingly agreed that June 1967 marked a high point in both of their careers. (Just ten days before the ’67 Le Mans, Foyt won his third Indianapolis 500, and a week later, Gurney won the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix in one of his Eagle race cars.)
Edsel Ford II presents A.J. Foyt with the Spirit of Ford Award. (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)
Mr. Foyt received another tribute before the evening was over. Ford Motor Company director Edsel Ford II presented him with the Spirit of Ford Award, the company’s highest honor in auto racing. Foyt is only the 26th recipient since the prize was established 1988, and he joins a prestigious group of past winners like Carroll Shelby, Richard Petty, Denise McCluggage, John Force and Sir Jackie Stewart. (Mr. Gurney is a 1999 Spirit of Ford recipient.)
Foyt and Gurney joined by a new generation of Ford GT drivers (L to R: Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Richard Westbrook and Sébastien Bourdais). (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)
It was an incredible evening, not only because of the chance to reflect on 1967, but also due to the excitement building toward this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ford will look to defend its 2016 class victory with the current Ford GT. Two of Ford’s 2016 driver teams, Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais; and Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon, were on hand in Long Beach. Past and present came together when the “kids” joined Foyt and Gurney for a group photo with the Mark IV. Fifty years later, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney continue to inspire – on the track and off.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Many people know Steve McQueen as an actor in such popular 1960s and 1970s films as The Great Escape, Bullitt, and The Thomas Crown Affair. But McQueen was also a racecar enthusiast, to the point where he once reportedly said, "I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts.”
To help shed some light on this issue, we’ve just digitized nearly a dozen photos of McQueen visiting designer Carroll Shelby’s Shelby-American shop in Venice, California, in 1963, including this image of both men at the shop.
Visit our Digital Collections to see more images from McQueen’s visit, as well as tens of thousands more artifacts from our vast racing collections. Or, if you’re more interested in McQueen’s acting, check out our 1974 movie poster for The Towering Inferno.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
Ford Motor Company devoted its employees and manufacturing facilities to military production during both of the 20th century’s world wars. Ford’s efforts in World War I were slow to start, given Henry Ford’s outspoken opposition to the conflict, but once the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the automaker rose to the challenge. Over the next two years, Ford built passenger cars, supply trucks, aircraft engines, gun caissons, tanks, helmets and body armor. Ironically, one of Ford’s best-known wartime products, the Eagle anti-submarine boats, never saw action before the Armistice. However, the factory that built the Eagle boats subsequently became the core of Ford’s River Rouge plant.
Ford’s efforts for World War II were greater still. Like other American automakers, the company suspended all civilian production in February 1942. Ford famously turned out B-24 bombers at its Willow Run facility, but it also produced a variety of wheeled vehicles including jeeps, amphibious cars, armored cars, trucks and tanks. Ford’s non-vehicle production included military gear of every type, from aircraft engines to guns to helmets to tents.
Red Cross Workers with a Ford Military Ambulance at the Highland Park Plant, 1918. THF 263442
Needless to say, ambulances were among the most crucial vehicles used in both wars. During World War I, Ford personal collaborated with the United States Surgeon General’s Office and frontline drivers to design a Model T-based ambulance ideal for battlefield conditions. The company donated $500,000 to the Red Cross, enabling the humanitarian organization to purchase nearly 1,000 vehicles for wartime use – including 107 ambulances. Beyond those Red Cross units, another 5,745 ambulances were built for the Allied armies.
Red Cross Motor Corps members took classes in auto maintenance. These women are checking under a Ford ambulance’s hood in 1942. THF 265816
Dodge produced most of the frontline ambulances used by American forces in World War II, but Ford units were active on the homefront. The Red Cross’s Motor Corps, established in World War I, rendered important service during the Second World War as well. Corps drivers working in the United States ferried Red Cross staff and supplies, couriered packages and messages, and occasionally stepped in to assist with Army and Navy transportation needs. An estimated 45,000 women were active in the Motor Corps during World War II. Corps members generally drove their personnel vehicles in this service, but Ford-built ambulances were also used in the transport of the sick and wounded.
In the digital age, it’s easy to keep up with your favorite bands—you might sign up for their email list, follow them on social media, or get text alerts on your phone. In any of these cases, you’ll probably know when they’re coming to your town to perform.
In the mid-20th century, though, posters were a way to show potential fans which acts would be performing, where, and when. Bright colors, bold graphics, and dramatic fonts caught the attention of passers-by in cities where dozens of venues competed for audiences.
With the 50th anniversary of the Summer Of Love just a few months away, we’ve just digitized a few great examples of rock posters dating between 1969 and 1971, including this poster advertising Chuck Berry, the Sir Douglas Quintet, and Boz Scaggs at Pepperland in San Rafael, California, in 1970.
Update: This post was originally written on March 13, 2017, only a few days before Chuck Berry’s death at the age of 90. I obviously had no foreknowledge of that event to come, but this poster, out of all the ones we digitized, caught my eye because Mr. Berry holds such a large place in our collective memory, and is an artist I deeply respect and enjoy. I’m glad that The Henry Ford is able to preserve and share some of his quintessentially American legacy. Hail, hail, Chuck Berry—may you rest in peace and your music live on. –Ellice Engdahl, 3/20/17 Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
Examining the social and economic context of The Henry Ford's rare Paul Revere teapot. Other examples can be seen in some of the country's premier art museums. THF 166148
Today, coffee and tea are enjoyed by millions of people, including blog readers. While connoisseurs of these beverages take their enjoyment very seriously, the relative affordability of these caffeinated drinks means that almost anyone can “benefit” from a caffeine boost and also enjoy their flavors. The resulting billion-dollar industries help power the world economy – and its workforce.
America has an especially close relationship with these drinks, one that dates back to before the country was formed. In modern times, coffee has dominated American tastes, but until the 20th century, Americans favored tea. Although still popular, tea drinking in America can be traced back to trade with China by Dutch merchants in the early 1600s.
Today, fast-paced Americans prefer their caffeinated beverages on the go, often consuming them from disposable drinkware. This is in marked contrast to colonial America, where these beverages would have been served from vessels made to impress and consumed as part of elaborate entertainments expressing the host’s good taste. THF 102595
Dutch traders not only introduced Chinese tea to their colony in present-day New York, but also introduced it to Europe. The hot drink quickly rose in popularity and by the end of the 1600s, tea became the most favored hot beverage in Britain. To support the mass consumption by its citizens at home and in its colonies, England became heavily involved in the China trade and the importation of tea.
As social customs evolved around the drinking of tea, so did the equipment used to consume the beverage. Wealthy citizens could afford to have their teapots fashioned in silver and silversmiths in the colonies, like Paul Revere, learned how to create silver designs from imported English examples. Son of Apollos Rivoire, a French immigrant and Boston silversmith, Paul Revere got his start as his father's apprentice.
Pictured here, an English teakettle-on-stand. Paul Revere imitated designs from English silver objects and pattern books in order to create silver in the most fashionable styles. THF 155178
After his father died in 1754, Revere started his career producing a wide variety of silver objects, including elaborate teapots for his wealthier clients. By the 1760s, the colonies faced increased taxation as England attempted to pay off their war debt from the French and Indian War. High taxes on imports like tea angered colonists, resulting in boycotts that affected what Revere could produce as a silversmith.
These taxes led Revere to join a resistance group known as the "Sons of Liberty" whose members included some of his customers angered by the increased taxation. The organization helped fuel anti-British sentiment in the colonies and Revere aided the groups’ cause by printing propaganda that provoked colonist anger towards the Crown.
As a member of the Sons of Liberty, Paul Revere helped energize the movement toward American independence by printing illustrations like this one of the Boston Massacre. An active citizen, he was part of numerous other civic organizations. THF 8141
In 1773, with tensions mounting, Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty protested England's control over the tea trade by boarding recently docked British tea ships in the Boston harbor and dumping some of their tea chests overboard. The British responded to the event, known as the Boston Tea Party, by shutting the port of Boston and stripping the Massachusetts colony of its right to self-government.
War erupted in 1775 when Britain moved to seize the colonists' gunpowder and firearms outside of Boston. Revere made his famous midnight ride during this time to warn some of his fellow patriots that the British were on their way to arrest them. While patriot duties limited Paul Revere's silversmithing during the Revolutionary War, he returned to his craft as the war came to an end in the 1780s.
Post-war American silver customers preferred the neoclassical design that became popular in Europe during the war. In the years before the War, silver customers had preferred the Rococo style, an aesthetic known for its ornate decorations and curvilinear body designs. In contrast, neoclassical silver celebrated the classical style of Greece and Rome, making use of symmetry, hard lines, and an emphasis on simple forms. As a master craftsman, Revere developed an elegant and personal interpretation of the neoclassical style.
This 1782 teapot shows Revere’s experimentation with the neoclassical style.
The neoclassical teapot shown above was created in 1782 by Revere. Only six teapots featuring this cylindrical body are known to exist and were some of the last that Revere hand-forged, hammering or "raising" them up from a block of silver. In 1785 Revere acquired silver rolling machinery that he used to produce silver sheets. These sheets were cut to form standardized pieces and allowed Revere's shop to produce silver products more quickly. An example of a Revere teapot made from this later method can be seen in our collections here.
On the bottom of the 1782 teapot, the clear markings of Revere are stamped next to a monogram that can be attributed to Joseph and Sarah Henshaw of Boston. THF 166147
With the assistance of the Massachusetts Historical Society, home of the Revere Family Papers, Revere's own record books identified Joseph Henshaw as the patron for this teapot. The records show that on February 22, 1782 Paul Revere made a note that he needed to make a teapot and spoons for Joseph Henshaw. By April 27, 1782 it appears that Revere had completed the order and marked the weight of the teapot as "16-17". This weight of "16-17" can be seen scratched on the bottom of the teapot in the upper right of the picture above.
Joseph Henshaw was a prominent Boston merchant. With his wife Sarah, the two used their home to help plan further American resistance by occasionally hosting "Sons of Liberty" meetings. It was his membership in this radical group that led Joseph Henshaw to form a friendship with Paul Revere. While this teapot is a good representation of the tea culture that existed in the colonies, it is also a symbol of Revere and Henshaw's relationship, a relationship that helped establish the United States of America.
See more on Paul Revere's life from our Digital Collections in this expert set. Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
As cars became more widespread during the early 20th century, mechanized vehicles began to replace horses and wagons in wartime. While tanks were tested on the battlefield during World War I, there was also a need to remove wounded soldiers from the front quickly, safely, and efficiently. Ford Motor Company’s Model Ts were light, economical, and easy to operate, which made them perfect for this need.
We’ve just digitized dozens of photographs and drawings showing these innovative World War I–era Ford Model T ambulances, including this October 1918 demo picture, with the wartime message “On to Berlin” visible on the shoe soles of the “patient.”
Visit our Digital Collections to browse more photographs and technical drawings of Model T ambulances. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
The civil unrest in Detroit, along with violent uprisings in other cities across America during the “long hot summer” of 1967, demonstrated that urban African Americans were angry and frustrated by the lack of progress that had been made in achieving basic rights and equality. Despite the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such issues as substandard housing, unemployment, low-quality education, lack of access to medical facilities, police brutality, mistreatment by white merchants, shortage of city services, and white indifference to these problems were all cited as root causes of these uprisings. A combination of hopelessness and rage led many African Americans to believe that the only way to effect change was to take things into their own hands “by any means necessary.” This new sense of empowerment formed the basis of what came to be called the Black Power movement.
What history tends to remember about the Black Power movement is its more militant aspects—the symbol of the raised fist, the militaristic berets and leather jackets of the Black Panthers, the protesting athletes at the 1968 Olympics. But Black Power was actually an extensive, multi-faceted array of smaller movements and grass-roots attempts to improve quality of life, raise consciousness, and change mindsets.
Educators, specifically, felt that the key to effecting change within African American communities was through the re-education of its youth—a reshaping of curriculum that would have a long-term impact on reducing racism, instilling pride, and encouraging the kind of self-confidence and self-respect that would equip young African Americans to make a difference in society in ways in which their parents and grandparents could only dream.
The Henry Ford has in its collection the papers and personal library of one such educator. James Buntin, born in 1921, came to Ann Arbor in 1969, as a middle school social studies and civics teacher, and soon also became the Director of Personnel Administration at the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, and an Adjunct Professor at Wayne State University teaching in the College Program at Jackson Prison. Throughout his teaching career, Dr. Buntin was an active proponent of desegregation, a prominent advocate of a multi-ethnic curriculum, and a staunch defender of the need to hire more African Americans in the Ann Arbor school system.
The personal library that he accumulated not only reflects his own passions as an African American educator but also provides a unique window into the issues, topics, and debates of the Black Power era during the late 1960s and early 1970s—issues that still deeply resonate today. The following is an annotated selection of books from Dr. Buntin’s library, revealing insights into an era that is often overshadowed by the wider attention paid to the earlier Civil Rights movement.
Manchild in the Promised Land book cover, 1965/reprinted 1967 THF266618
The late 1960s brought a new appreciation for black memoirs and autobiographies, some of which were newly published, others—like this book—were reissued as out-of-print classics. These works offered a gritty, sometimes shocking, realism that did not make concessions to white readers or convey stereotypical African American roles.
Originally published in 1965, this autobiographical narrative recounts Claude Brown’s coming-of-age in 1940s-1950s Harlem, against the starkness of poverty and an astonishing culture of violence. Brown recounts the hopes, dreams, and struggles of the first generation of Northern urban African Americans to establish their place in the “promised land” of both New York City and America itself.
This collection of accounts of nearly 200 primary- and secondary-school children provides a rare child’s-eye-view into ghetto life. The children were asked to “think about themselves, their painfully limiting surroundings, and the broader world which they often know of only by hearsay.” The intent of the editor, a New York City educator, was to diminish the stigma of the words “ghetto” and “slums” among the broader public.
The writings in this book reveal that, when given the chance and encouragement to write, these children had a tremendous amount to say. Their writings were, indeed, often at odds with wider perceptions of disillusionment and hopelessness in ghetto neighborhoods, as themes of hope and renewal often emerged.
Why We Can’t Wait book cover, 1963/reprinted 1968 THF266487
By the late 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s long-running campaign of nonviolent direct action was falling out of favor with those who believed that more militant action was necessary. Then, in April 1968, King’s assassination sent shock waves of grief, fear, and anger throughout African American communities, leading to rioting and looting in more than 100 cities.
This 1963 book, considered King’s most incisive and eloquent work, was reprinted after his assassination with the editor’s hope that its distribution would “help preserve the memory of this wise and courageous America, so that his words may continue to guide the way toward human dignity for all.” The prophetic quote on the front cover of this edition comes from King’s speech to Memphis sanitation workers the night before he was assassinated.
At a freedom march in 1966, Stokely Carmichael (then Chairman of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) set a new tone for the black freedom movement by leading marchers in the chant, “We Want Black Power.” Drawing upon long traditions of racial pride and Black Nationalism, Black Power advocates believed that African Americans could no longer afford to believe their “liberation” would come through non-violent action or traditional political processes. As the authors of this seminal book argued, the poverty and powerlessness of this country’s black population had made it imperative to organize their own political structure and take control over their own communities and lives.
Balancing the more militant aspects of the Black Power era was the doctrine of Black Pride, which including being proud of one’s heritage. Until this time, social studies textbooks had depicted African Americans as either coming from a state of barbarism and savagery or transplanted from a place that simply had no history at all.
Books like this one both helped to remedy this situation as well as contribute to an emerging movement called “Pan-Africanism”—the recognition that the destinies of all people living in or having come from Africa were intertwined. African Americans eagerly shared pride in the recent gains made by African countries to win their independence.
Renewed interest in black heritage brought about a growing nationwide effort to develop Black Studies programs, curricula, and textbooks that presented a different and more equal treatment of African Americans.
James Buntin was a passionate advocate of implementing what was then called a multi-ethnic curriculum in schools—which sought to challenge prevailing Eurocentric curricula by recovering and reconstructing the stories of Americans whom history had traditionally neglected. To Be a Slave, considered a groundbreaking work of the time, included personal accounts of ex-slaves, “described in vivid and often painful detail.” Some of these oral history accounts had been published before, others were drawn from sources long forgotten.
This book, part of Dr. Buntin’s multi-ethnic curriculum collection, presented a graphic portrait of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The photographs were originally compiled for an exhibit at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum—a show that proved to be both controversial and highly popular.
The Black Panther Party, founded in 1966 in West Oakland, California, was one of the more militant groups to emerge out of the Black Power movement. Black Panthers both participated in armed patrols to protect local citizens from police brutality and organized myriad community service programs. At its peak, the Black Panther Party maintained chapters in 48 states in North America and support groups in other countries.
Amidst the student demonstrations, protests, and disruptions on college campuses during the late 1960s-early 1970s, African-American students demanded a greater voice in administrative policy. Referred to collectively as the Black Student or Black Action movement, these demands sometimes turned into bitter confrontations, including a student protest and strike in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in March 1970. The results of these confrontations varied, but many universities created Black, or Afro-American, Studies programs or departments in the 1970s.
In this book, author Harry Edward, a Sociology Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, places Black student movements within the larger contexts of the human rights struggle and the Black Power movement.
We Walk the Way of the World book cover, 1970/3rd printing 1971 THF266637
During this era, a blossoming Black Arts movement advocated a “black aesthetic,” meaning artistic expression rooted in African cultural heritage, incorporating the contemporary black experience, and aimed at Black audiences.
Poetry as a literary form flourished, as it was intended to be read aloud and often incorporated the direct “call and response” style of black churches. Don Lee, the author of this book of poems and a prominent figure in the Black Arts movement, was instrumental in reinforcing Black-spoken language, the language of familiar experience, in his poems.
The Black Arts movement helped lay the foundation authors such as Maya Angelou, hip-hop music and culture, and other later black cultural expressions.
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Talented African American jazz pianists played this piano at Detroit’s Club Harlem during the mid-1930s. How did the piano acquire its ivory finish? A few years after Club Harlem closed, the Warblers moved to Allen Park. The piano went with them. Perhaps the ivory lacquer was added by Maurine Warbler—a more appropriate look, perhaps, for a piano that now resided in a suburban home THF166445 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
The quiet ivory exterior of this unassuming little piano belies its jazz-infused past. Hidden beneath the ivory lacquer are glimpses of silver that offer a clue to its former life. Not only did this piano have a “front row seat” at one of the many jazz clubs that dotted Detroit’s Paradise Valley district during the 1930s and 1940s—it was part of the show.
In March 1934, this piano left the Wurlitzer company’s DeKalb, Illinois factory for its new destination—Detroit. It was delivered to a jazz club called Club Harlem, housed in the basement of the Lawn Apartment building on Vernor at Brush. To give the piano an appropriately “jazzy” look, the club’s managers painted over the piano’s rather reserved mahogany factory finish with aluminum paint. The back of the piano—the side visible to the audience—was covered with black velvet, decorated with large glittery musical notes. The piano’s small size—only 61-keys instead of the standard 88—was likely an asset to upstart Club Harlem in what may have been tight quarters filled with patrons in this basement nightclub. Too, its small size made it more affordable than a standard upright piano. Detroit’s economy was only beginning its slow and uneven recovery from the depths of the Depression.
More Alcohol, More Jazz The timing of this new club’s opening in early 1934 was no accident. Prohibition had ended the previous December—it was again legal to manufacture, sell and transport intoxicating beverages in the United States. During the 13 years that prohibition had been in force, “underground” establishments had continued to discreetly serve patrons liquor, as well as often offering food and live shows. Now they could do it openly.
During the 1920s, jazz, a musical form rooted in the African American experience, had taken America—and the world—by storm. The fresh, lively sound of jazz was different than anything that had come before. It was the perfect “accompaniment”—in fact, helped define—this more modern era. A 1919 song, Take Me to the Land of Jazz, captured things perfectly with these lyrics, “How in every cabaret, it’s the only thing they play.”
Detroit's Paradise Valley During the 1930s, a commercial center emerged in an area of Detroit (bounded by Gratiot, Vernor, Brush and Hastings streets) that became known as Paradise Valley. Racial discrimination had sequestered the city’s African American population into a tight-knit and vibrant community on Detroit’s near east side. Here, black-owned businesses dotted the streets and Detroit’s African American community could shop, eat, and enjoy their leisure time. Paradise Valley--with its clubs, theaters and dance halls—would become the major entertainment spot in Detroit, as a growing number of nightspots offered places where jazz could be enjoyed. Talented African American musicians and singers, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, lit up the nights. Paradise Valley experienced its most rapid growth after Prohibition ended in 1933, with many jazz clubs--including Club Harlem--added during the following decade.
During the day, Paradise Valley was predominantly Black. At night and into the wee hours of the morning, Paradise Valley became more racially balanced, as many white Detroiters sought the entertainment opportunities found there. A major factor was the development of the black-and-tan nightclub, which catered to both African American and white audiences. Club Harlem, located at the northern boundary of Paradise Valley, was one of these black-and-tan jazz clubs. Many of the black-and-tan clubs in the district were owned by African American businessmen. A few, like Club Harlem, were owned by whites.
Club Harlem Club Harlem’s owner was Morris Wasserman. Wasserman ran a loan business and owned a pawn shop. (It was said that Wasserman also had ties to Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang, criminals involved in the illegal liquor trade during Prohibition.) Wasserman hired Allen Warbler to manage the club. Warbler had previously worked for Jean Goldkette, a prominent band organizer and booking agent, at Goldkette’s popular Detroit ballroom, the Graystone, during its heyday of the 1920s. Warbler's wife, Maurine, who had worked for a theatrical booking agent, designed many of the costumes worn by the chorus performers at Club Harlem.
Among the performers who played Club Harlem was 19-year-old Milt Buckner. Orphaned at the age of 9 and adopted by members of Earl Walton’s band, Milt and his brother Ted were prominent jazz musicians in 1930s Detroit. A few years later, Milt Buckner would join Lionel Hampton’s band as pianist and key music arranger. Bands headed by Monk Culp and Ernest Cooper also played Club Harlem. Other musicians who entertained Club Harlem’s audiences were 23-year-old saxophone player Charles “Tubby” Bowen, who would later lead a band under the name Tubby Bowen and His Tubs, and 25-year-old Sammy Price, a Texas pianist who became the house pianist for Decca Records in New York City in 1938, recording with many of New York’s jazz and blues greats.
Club Harlem had a short run--it operated from just 1934 to 1935. Club Harlem’s piano, once played by musicians like Milt Buckner and Sammy Price, ended its jazz career. Allen Warbler, Club Harlem’s manager, went into the real restate business. Club Harlem’s owner, Morris Wasserman, would open the Flame Show Bar on John R in Detroit in 1949. The Flame Show Bar would become one of the city’s major jazz clubs during the 1950s.
Pianist Sammy Price in a publicity shot from the mid-1930s THF249299. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
These young women were likely dancers in Club Harlem’s “Shim Sham Shimmy” chorus THF249293 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
Farewell to Paradise Valley From the 1930s into the early 1950s, Paradise Valley bustled. But, in the 1950s and 1960s, urban renewal projects designed to “modernize” the city while eradicating “blight,” along with freeway construction for I-75, erased this vibrant African American community—scattering its inhabitants. Little remained of Paradise Valley and neighboring Black Bottom (named by French explorers for its rich soil), where the majority of Detroit’s African American community resided in rundown clapboard houses built to house the flood of German immigrants who arrived in the 1850s. No efforts were made by the city to support the relocation of the African Americans who had resided there. Detroit’s urban renewal projects—and their devastating effect on this community—helped fuel the growing resentment against racial discrimination that would culminate in the 1967 Detroit civil unrest.
A little of Paradise Valley hung on for a few decades, though. The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from the glory days of Detroit’s Paradise Valley. The club was located at 606 E. Adams from the 1930s to the 1950s. It had featured a floor show, an orchestra, and its owner John R. “Buffalo” James as emcee. Construction of the I-75 freeway forced the club to relocate to 1907 N. St. Antoine by the early 1960s. This last vestige of Paradise Valley’s legendary jazz clubs was demolished in 2002, the building razed as part of the Ford Field construction.
The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from Detroit’s legendary Paradise Valley THF166450 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Arthur A. Jadach.)
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.