Pashon Murray of Detroit Dirt believes communities should be composting and managing their own waste streams. / Photo by c’mon team
Pashon Murray could be called a next-generation Rachel Carson—fearless, outspoken, and willing to take on the big boys. Murray saw that food waste had become an epidemic—a 2020 estimate in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics valued food waste by U.S. consumers at $240 billion a year—and that was a driving factor in developing Detroit Dirt, her full-circle composting company.
Detroit Dirt’s mission is to push forward a low-carbon economy by way of organic waste diversion. Murray designed a closed-loop system that treats waste as a resource, saving 50 to 70 tons of renewable waste annually from entering landfills and instead turning it into fertile compost.
Photo by c’mon team
Murray asks: “Why truck food waste 30 miles outside the city? Composting is a natural process. All communities should be composting and managing their waste streams.”
Murray started simply with a pilot program that composted food waste from General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in Detroit. Now her company works with a wide selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and corporations that look to Murray to help them manage their waste streams more efficiently.
Detroit Dirt’s composting site near downtown Detroit is producing rich, healthy soil for local farms, backyard gardeners, and community gardens, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for Murray’s delicious dirt grew daily.
Detroit Dirt has a composting site that is transforming renewable waste from local restaurants, coffee shops, and corporations into rich, healthy soil. It’s packaged and available for purchase, starting at $15 for a five-pound bag. / Photo by c’mon team
A one-woman force with a dedicated team of collaborators—including the Detroit Zoological Society, which provides the herbivore waste critical to her compost—Murray has helped to change the carbon footprint of Detroit by revitalizing neighborhoods and finding solutions for everyday waste.
“Our health and the health of the planet depend on the soil,” said Murray. “If we’re not investing in soil, then the consequences are detrimental to the ecosystem. Globally, we can make byproducts with food waste. It’s a resource, not a waste.”
Statistics on municipal solid waste in America.
When we checked in with Detroit Dirt during late spring 2020, production of their rich compost had slowed significantly as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Obviously, the waste stream from local businesses hadn’t been flowing in typical fashion since everything went on lockdown. For Pashon Murray, these challenging times gave her opportunity for reflection, brainstorming, and collaboration. She looked for ways to work more closely with local officials, food distributors, urban farmers, other composters, food banks, and more to develop better crisis management models for recovering and repurposing food surplus. “I believe this pandemic is going to help us in the future, shining a light on the voids and giving a heightened focus to our broken food system,” said Murray. “We all have to look at our own footprints and waste streams to understand why there is an abundance for some and some don’t have enough—and start painting a picture of why a viable waste material management model is so important.”
Photo by c’mon team
Murray has shown that with a small shift in perspective, you can empower and influence people to take big steps toward protecting and enriching their environment so that we can all thrive.
Protest Poster, "I Will Listen and Take Action," 2020 / THF610765
In every issue of The Henry Ford Magazine, staff from The Henry Ford suggest books, podcasts, apps, television shows, and websites that have caught their eye (or ear). For the January–May 2021 issue, the selections reflected the issue’s theme of “connecting with community,” with our staff interpreting this theme through the lenses of social activism, social justice and injustice, and diversity. Check out our picks below.
I remember sitting on my mom’s lap reading my childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. Today, I appreciate how books for the youngest readers distill complex stories into compelling images and clear, action-oriented ideas.
My latest read is No! My First Book of Protest. Little ones will enjoy saying “No, No!” with each activist. They will learn that a “No!” followed up with collective action can change the world.
Many social innovators featured on these pages have a home in our collections, programs, and exhibits, including Frederick Douglass, Alice Paul, and Rosa Parks. Judith Heumann, a disability rights activist, is someone I knew less about and was glad to discover. Greta Thunberg has influenced some of our recent collecting, including signs made by students for the climate marches of 2019–2020.
I hope all of us take this book’s message to heart: “Great people made big changes when they said ‘No, No!’ Someday you can protest too (when you’ve had time to grow).”
--Cynthia Jones, Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement
The COVID-19 quarantine has allowed me to spend time with family and revisit some of my favorite stress-relieving hobbies, like guitar and Chinese martial arts. But the current political climate has stirred my inner community activist.
Friends recommended the following books to me: Shaun King’s Make Change along with Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Both reads are very timely and offer insights to solutions and alternatives during this wake-up call for racial and social reform in America.
This American TV sitcom series chronicles the complexities of raising an upper-middle-class Black family in Los Angeles’ white suburbia. While rooted in comedy, the show addresses hard-hitting cultural and social topics that Black Americans face on a daily basis. It is presented in a way that doesn’t lose its significance and provides multiple vantage points on Black culture.
I find the show to be very timely and poignant during a time when an overconsumption of political news can be discouraging.
--Anita Davis, Program Manager, Corporate Professional Development
The Negro Motorist Green Book has been at the forefront of the cultural psyche for the last three years, but the Macmillan podcast, Driving the Green Book, brilliantly journeys into its roots, from the Underground Railroad to firsthand accounts of racism today, by highlighting Black female entrepreneurship, civic pioneers, and communities, both physical and social.
--Sophia Kloc, Historical Resources Administrator
Community Deconstructed: Recommendations from Our Library
Grow your knowledge about community making, the power of an organized voice, and the role of farming, past and present with these book suggestions from our library collection. For help with access, contact the Research Center.
Waajeed has worn many hats in his musical career. Besides the stylish Borsalino he usually sports, he’s been the DJ for rap group Slum Village, half of R&B duo Platinum Pied Pipers, an acclaimed producer of hip-hop and house music, and proprietor of his own label, Dirt Tech Reck. But it’s his latest venture that feels closest to his heart: educator.
The 45-year-old Detroit native is now the director of the Underground Music Academy (UMA), a school set to launch in 2022 that will guide students through every step of tackling the music industry obstacle course. “You can learn how to make the music, put it out, publish it, own your company, and reap the benefits,” he said of his vision for UMA. “A one-stop shop.”
Photo by Bill Bowen
While Waajeed initially broke into music via hip-hop, UMA will, at least at first, focus on electronic dance music. Detroit is internationally renowned for techno, a form of electronic dance music first created in the Motor City in the mid-1980s by a group of young African American producers and DJs. But as the music exploded globally, particularly in Europe, techno became associated with a predominantly white audience. While Detroit’s pioneers were busy abroad introducing the music to foreign markets, the number of new, young Black practitioners at home kept dwindling.
UMA’s initial spark hit Waajeed a few years ago, when he was spending endless hours on planes and in airports, jetting to DJ gigs around the world. “On almost every flight I jumped on, I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me, and it didn’t feel right,” he said. “All of this energy that’s being put into building Europe’s connection to our music and our past and our history, and it’s like, this needs to be happening in our own backyard. It was an awakening.”
Waajeed performing at Brunch Electronik Lisboa in Portugal. / Photo courtesy Brunch in the Park
Waajeed spoke to Mike Banks, a founder of the fiercely independent techno collective Underground Resistance, about how best to communicate to younger Black listeners that this music, primarily associated with Germans and Brits for the last 30 years, is actually an African American art form. The genesis of UMA flowed from their discussions. Waajeed described Underground Resistance’s credo of self-determination and mentorship as “a moral and business code that’s been the landmark cornerstone for our community.”
Another huge inspiration came from older musicians like Amp Fiddler, a keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic whose home in Detroit’s Conant Gardens neighborhood was close to Waajeed’s high school, Pershing. Whenever Waajeed and his friends (like future hip-hop producer J Dilla) skipped class, they’d end up in Fiddler’s basement, where he taught the teens how to use instruments and recording gear. “It started with people like Amp,” Waajeed said, “taking these disobedient kids in the neighborhood and giving us a shot in his basement, to trust us to come down there and use what felt like million-dollar equipment at the time, teaching us how to use those drum machines and keyboards. Amp put us in the position to be great at music.”
After years in the making, Waajeed is hoping to welcome students to the physical space for his Underground Music Academy in 2022. It will be located on Detroit’s East Grand Boulevard, near the internationally known Motown Museum. / Photo by Bill Bowen
Waajeed hopes UMA will institutionalize that same “each one teach one” tradition, not only with respect to music-making but also business and social acumen. “I heard stories about people who worked with Motown that would teach you what forks to use so you could sit down for a formal dinner, and that’s what I’m more interested in,” he said. “As much as being a beat maker is important, it’s just as important to be a person who is adamant about your business: knowing how to handle yourself the first time you go on tour, or how to set up publishing companies and bank accounts for those companies. That’s what we’re trying to do, to make that instruction more available so you have no excuses to fail.”
Until the physical space is ready to host students—scheduled for 2022, though the COVID-19 pandemic may alter that plan—UMA is concentrating on video tutorials that can be watched online, as well as fundraising, curriculum planning, and brainstorming about how best to reach the academy’s future pupils.
Waajeed sits on the steps of the future Underground Music Academy in Detroit. / Photo by Bill Bowen
“The result of this is something that will happen in another generation from us. We just need to plant the seed so that this thing will grow and be something of substance five or ten years from now,” Waajeed said. “I would be happy with a new generation of techno producers, but I would be happier with a new generation of producers creating something that has never been done before.”
Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker. / Photo by Thomas S. England/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images
Sometimes serious work leads to serious play—with seriously successful results. Did you know that the Super Soaker® water gun was an accidental invention by NASA rocket scientist Lonnie Johnson?
Johnson was passionate about inventing not only at his day job as an engineer working with hundreds of colleagues, but also working on his own inventions in his spare time. In 1982, Johnson was in his home workshop developing an environmentally friendly cooling system. To test his idea of using circulating water and air pressure, instead of the chemical Freon, Johnson connected a high-pressure nozzle to his bathroom faucet, aimed the nozzle, turned it on, and then blasted a powerful stream of water into the bathtub. He quickly recognized its potential as a toy—a pressurized water gun that didn’t require batteries and was safe enough for kids to play with.
Johnson quickly produced a prototype using Plexiglas, PVC pipe, a two-liter soda bottle and other materials. Over the next few years, he continued to make improvements. In 1989, Johnson licensed his design for the Super Soaker® to Larami. The company launched the toy in 1990.
Within two years, the Super Soaker® generated over $200 million in sales, becoming the top-selling toy in the United States. Improved versions of the Super Soaker® debuted during the following years. By 2016, Super Soaker sales were approximately $1 billion.
Johnson didn’t just take his royalty money and retire. It was a means to achieving his real goal—to establish his own research company, Johnson Research & Development Co. Today, Johnson has more than 100 patents and is currently developing innovative technology to efficiently convert solar energy into electricity with world-changing results.
Johnson’s Super Soaker®, familiar to millions of kids, can inspire new generations of inventors and entrepreneurs. The message? Creative play can lead to great achievements.
Corey Williams, Dearborn Truck Plant Manager, will tell you that the culture at the plant where the F-150 is built is one of a kind. / Photo by Nick Hagen
Corey Williams has been a part of the Dearborn Truck Plant management team for nearly four years, promoted to plant manager in January 2021, and he’s worked at many Ford facilities in a variety of management positions over the 25-plus years he’s been with Ford. He’ll tell you with conviction that the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the Ford F-150 is built and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour welcomes thousands of visitors a year, is unlike anywhere else in the world.
“Every Ford plant has the same goals, metrics and objectives—we all want to deliver the best, highest-quality product to the customer that we can,” said Williams. “But at Dearborn Truck, the culture is different. And when I say different, I mean everyone here understands that we are building America’s bestselling truck and the sense of pride in that is like no other.”
“Everybody knows that we are leaders, never followers,” he added. “That if it can be done, it will be done at DTP [Dearborn Truck Plant]—at not only the highest rate and volumes but with the greatest efficiency.”
Ford F-150 Truck Assembly at the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Ford Rouge Complex
That attitude and mental mantra fit perfectly with Williams’ persona. He’s not afraid to admit he’s an ultracompetitive guy who feeds off having to face the next challenge.
“I’ve been a sports guy my entire life,” he said. “I love to compete and like the idea of a team—the collaborative part of it and how you have to work together toward a common goal.”
And when asked about the new set of players—vehicles as well as workers—that are now ready to call the Ford Rouge Complex home along with Dearborn Truck Plant, Williams couldn’t be more excited. In 2022, the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center is slated to open, employing hundreds of new hires and manufacturing the all-new battery-electric F-150. “Not a day goes by that people don’t ask me about our new hybrid, the EV center, and electric truck—the buzz and amazement just grows,” said Williams. “It’s a huge step in continuing our truck leadership and dominance. We are changing the game.”
Play to Work
Staff from Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford trace some of their interest in STEM and manufacturing to childhood television, toys, and games, like this 1960s Clue set in our collection. / THF188744
We asked Corey and other members of Ford Motor Company’s vehicle launch team and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour what games, TV shows, toys, etc., they remember growing up that helped spark their interest in STEM and manufacturing.
Corey Williams, Plant Manager at Ford: Playing team sports in his younger years is a key precursor to his manufacturing management skills today. “Involving yourself in team events where you need to collaborate and compete as a team toward a common objective is extremely relevant from a STEM standpoint,” he said.
James Housel, Bodyshop Launch Manager at Ford: “Saturday morning cartoons watching ‘Wile E. Coyote, SUUUUUUPER Genius.’” The cartoon character is always obtaining crazy gizmos from fictional mail-order company Acme in the hopes of capturing the Road Runner.
Cynthia Jones,Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement, at The Henry Ford: “I loved to play the board games Risk and Clue. Both of those helped me identify patterns, test hypotheses, set strategy goals and learn from failure.” Like Williams, Jones, a dedicated swimmer through high school, credits competitive sports too.
Doug Plond, Senior Manager, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, at The Henry Ford: “As a really young tyke, I loved to build with my red cardboard brick set—knocking them down was the fun part. Once I got a bit older, I moved up to Lincoln Logs.”
In 2017, at age 22, Sara Trail launched the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) to empower youth to advocate for social justice through textile making. Though she was notably young to found a nonprofit, she was not new to sewing. She took needle to cloth for the first time at age 4, under the guidance of her mother and grandmother, and quickly showed a propensity for it. Within a few years, she had gained mastery and could sew clothing, quilts, and upholstery. A wunderkind, by age 15, she had written a book for other kids, Sew with Sara, about how to sew and sell one’s work, and licensed her own pattern and fabric collections.
She was, for all intents and purposes, content with her sewing practice. “I liked the freedom and independence it gave me,” she recalled. “I liked the idea that I could make something that was going to last and that I could do something that a lot of other kids my age couldn’t do.”
And then her attitude—and self-expectation—changed profoundly in 2012, when Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager in Florida, was shot by a white man for no apparent reason other than he thought Martin looked suspicious. “I went from wanting to learn skills, make gifts, master something to knowing I needed to take the skills my mentors had given me and use them for a purpose,” Trail said. She made a fabric portrait of Martin wearing the hoodie he had on the night he was shot, and that quilt became the seed of SJSA.
Sara Trail’s handmade quilt, Rest in Power, commemorates the life of murdered Black teenager Trayvon Martin and marks her first experience combining her lifelong interest in sewing with social activism. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy
Today, Trail describes the volunteer-run organization she founded as a 21st-century sewing circle that bridges social, racial, ethnic, generational, and geographic lines. The quilts begin in workshops in schools, community centers, and prisons across the United States. Participants, typically aged 12 and up, create art blocks to express their concerns, thoughts, and beliefs, gluing fabric in place if they are not inclined to sew.
The blocks are forwarded to volunteers around the world to finish the necessary stitching and join them together into a patchwork. Hundreds of SJSA quilts have gone on to be exhibited at quilt shows, museums, and galleries nationwide.
Trail often thinks back to the time in middle school when she was teaching sewing to kids in her neighborhood. “My class was $75 and my students were rich white kids. Low-income kids couldn’t pay that much to learn how to make something they may or may not have even liked in the end or end up using. Through conversations, especially with my parents, I realized what a privilege it was to make.”
She now seeks to pass on that privilege, an understanding of the power that resides in our hands, to make textiles—and to make change.
This block, made by SJSA participant Autumn Roberts during a workshop on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, is a statement about culture and tribe. Her artist statement: “…I created this as an image of what had happened at the DAPL [Dakota Access Pipeline protest] camp. I shall be the change the reservation will wish to see. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy
“I want to make sewing accessible and equitable,” Trail said. “I want to make quilts that matter.”
Our new limited-engagement exhibit, Collecting Mobility: New Objects, New Stories, opening to the public October 23, 2021, takes you behind the scenes at The Henry Ford to show you how we continue to grow our vast collection of more than 26 million artifacts. One key question the exhibit asks is why we collect the items we collect. To get more insight on the artifacts on exhibit and future trends that may impact our collecting, we reached out to several of our partners. In this post from that series, our friends at Hagerty tackle questions about trends in mobility and in car collecting—both today and tomorrow.
What aspect of mobility history (artifacts, topics, or themes) preserved at The Henry Ford feels the most significant in the current moment?
The Henry Ford’s amazing collection of self-propelled transportation machinery ranges from the diminutive 1896 Ford Quadricycle runabout that weighs just 500 pounds with an engine making four horsepower, to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s gargantuan 1941 Allegheny steam locomotive weighing in at an unimaginable 1.2 million pounds and making 7,500 horsepower.
Of all these, however, the most powerful is an unassuming lime, white, and gold bus that powered the country out of its dark past of segregation into a future where laws would not discriminate against the nation’s citizens simply on the color of their skin. Especially when viewed through the prism of current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the 1948 General Motors (GM) bus where Rosa Parks made her stand against racial discrimination by sitting down is the most significant piece of mobility history in The Henry Ford’s collection.
The Rosa Parks Bus, on exhibit in With Liberty and Justice for All in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, is Hagerty’s pick for the most significant artifact from The Henry Ford’s collections in the current moment. / THF14922
What cars are popular with collectors right now that might eventually make their way into museum collections?
Definitely include the Tesla Roadster as the start of an incredible story about Elon Musk. It’s also the first vehicle to make electrics cool. The McLaren P1 hybrid supercar was important for establishing electrification as a must-have feature in the supercar class, making every other supercar seem outdated. Any current Formula One car, as their complex hybrid powerplants are achieving formerly unheard-of efficiency rates of over 50 percent, which is the future of the internal combustion engine … assuming it has a future. The Chevy Bolt will be remembered as the turning point for General Motors’ reputation and the industry as a whole, transforming GM from the company that notoriously “killed the electric car” (the EV1) to one of the technology’s chief proponents. The same holds true for a Volkswagen diesel, circa 2010—an enormously influential moment in which the world’s largest automaker was forced by its own actions to pivot to fully embracing electric tech, thus spurring the industry as a whole to commit to electrification.
One of Hagerty’s suggestions for cars that might make their way into museum collections is a Tesla Roadster—like this one, photographed in 2008 and owned by Elon Musk himself (photographed by Michelle Andonian). / THF55832
Are there vehicle(s), innovator stories, or mobility technologies you think The Henry Ford should add to its collections right now? Why?
An early fuel-cell vehicle, either a Honda Clarity or Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Tucson FCEV, would represent how the industry has placed bets on various technologies—and how at that moment in time, it wasn’t clear which would win out (one could debate whether it is clear even now). Obviously, a Tesla Model S with autopilot tells the story of Silicon Valley’s attempt to disrupt the auto industry through fast-paced innovation common in big tech, but unknown in the historically cautious and slow-moving auto industry. A retired Waymo or GM Cruise taxi studded with LiDAR sensors would be an example of the first attempts to commercialize autonomous vehicles.
What mobility artifacts, innovator stories, or technologies do you think The Henry Ford will be collecting in 10 years? 50 years? 100 years?
Batteries are the new frontier, as are electric motors—and the relentless drive for efficiency in both. Nothing else defines this era so aptly. Also, semiconductor manufacturing. We have seen how beholden the industry is to a component that wasn’t even used in cars just a few decades ago. The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in; every automaker is turning itself into a tech company whose primary competitive advantage will be in software.
By 1990, computer engine controls were nearly universal on American automobiles. This GM computer module controlled a gasoline engine's ignition firing sequence. Hagerty notes that “The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in.” / THF109463
Aluminum construction is important, too. The 2015 Ford F-150, the first aluminum-body truck, is a watershed moment for aluminum in high-volume vehicles. It is an open question now whether aluminum will spread beyond that experiment, but no automaker has made such a high-stakes gamble as Ford with the F-150. New materials and manufacturing methods are coming as the battle to reduce weight continues into the electrification era.
What aspects of mobility is Hagerty paying the most attention to right now?
The act of getting behind the wheel, twisting the key, and hitting the road is an act of personal freedom, and we believe anyone and everyone who wants to experience that should be able to. Our longstanding Hagerty Driving Experience has put thousands of young people all over North America behind the wheels of classic cars, alongside passionate owners, to teach the basics of operating a manual transmission. Through the nonprofit Hagerty Drivers Foundation, we launched the “License to the Future” program, which provides financial assistance to kids ages 14–18 to cover the expense of driver’s training. And the Hagerty Driving Academy partners with Skip Barber Racing School at dozens of events around the country to teach safe, proficient driving skills in a variety of situations.
Ensuring young people have access to driver training is important. In this 1940 photo, a young man takes a driver’s test as part of the Ford Motor Company Good Drivers League at the New York World’s Fair. / THF216125
We also regularly report on developments taking place in the realm of autonomous vehicles as a trusted voice to assure our members that this beloved activity that connects us—driving—is under no threat from the far-off future.
Will the future make owning classic vehicles more difficult or less difficult? Servicing older vehicles is already becoming harder, due to shortages in knowledge and parts, but will new technologies such as 3D printing or electric conversion mean that older vehicles will have new lives and relevance in the future?
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Aaron Robinson is Editor-at-Large, Kirk Seaman is Senior Editor, and Stefan Lombard is Executive Editor at Hagerty. Hagerty is an automotive enthusiast brand and the world's largest membership organization for car lovers everywhere. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.
A wooden case encloses the working parts of the cotton gin model shown above, which is currently on display in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. When you turn the handle, a group of circular saw blades rotate, removing cotton seed from cotton fiber. To see that process, you’d have to dismantle the box and look inside. Such exploration helps us see how the machine functions. But much more about this cotton gin model remains hidden from view.
This gin helps us learn about one early inventor, Henry Ogden Holmes. He lived in South Carolina and worked as a blacksmith and mechanic on a plantation. In 1787, Holmes applied for a patent caveat—a document that protected his ownership of this invention. The U.S. Patent Office did not exist at that time, but President Washington signed the caveat on March 24, 1789, allowing Holmes’ ownership of his invention for five years.
You may wonder: Didn’t Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin? Whitney received his first cotton gin patent on March 14, 1794, days before Holmes’ caveat expired. Whitney’s gin used wire teeth on rollers to tear the fibers from the cotton seeds, though he adopted saw teeth in later patents. This paved the way for numerous lawsuits about who had the right to claim the cotton gin as an invention.
This 1853 engraving, "The Levee at New Orleans," gives a sense of scale for cotton production in the American South in the mid-19th century. / THF204264
School children learn about Eli Whitney, but not about “Hogden” Holmes. Nor do they always learn about the negative consequences of the invention. Speeding up the process of removing seeds from cotton made it possible for growers to plant more cotton to meet demand from an expanding textile industry. To raise more cotton, they needed more land and labor—and this led to removal of Indian nations from, and expansion of enslavement into, the southeastern United States during the 1830s and 1840s.
This stereograph depicts people picking cotton while a man on horseback oversees the work. This juxtaposition reinforced associations between African Americans and enslavement, long after the Civil War. / THF278808
The history of the cotton gin has a long-standing and seemingly straightforward narrative based in problem solving and opportunity. But, just as technologies can have unintended consequences, so can stories conceal or stray.
This post was adapted from a stop on our forthcoming “Hidden Stories of Manufacturing” tour of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the THF Connect app, written by Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. To learn more about or download the THF Connect app, click here.
This 1885 Harper's Weekly cover celebrated the freedom of enslaved African Americans 22 years after emancipation with the text, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants." / THF11676
Liberty stands as one of the ideals that inspired the United States from its beginning, as the following quotes from founding documents indicate:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” –Declaration of Independence, 1776
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general Welfare, and ensure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” –Constitution of the United States, 1788
National aspirations for liberty resonated, but “liberty” for some trapped others in servitude. United States expansion came at the highest cost to indigenous and enslaved individuals. For them, liberty rang hollow.
The Union victory in the Civil War affirmed the nation’s authority to abolish slavery, expand citizenship and civil rights protection, and grant universal manhood suffrage. The Fourteenth Amendment affirmed that “No state shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” Yet, newly freed Black Americans faced discrimination that deprived them of these unalienable rights.
Throughout this tumultuous history, the word “liberty” has been on all U.S. coins. The Coinage Act of 1792 established the U.S. Mint and decreed that all coins include an “impression emblematic of liberty” and the word “liberty.” Thus, the lawful tender in the United States, from the start of our national currency, emphasized liberty—even as the nation built its economy on and around the enslavement of people of African origin and descent.
The United States marked its 170th anniversary in the year that the U.S. Mint first linked “liberty” to Black history. Congress authorized production of a 50-cent coin to “commemorate the life and perpetuate the ideals and teachings of Booker T. Washington,” about 30 years after Washington’s death, on August 7, 1946 (Public Law 610-79th Congress, Chapter 763-2D Session, H.R 6528 August 7, 1946). Washington, noted educator and advocate for economic independence and Black autonomy, built his reputation as he built a segregated public school in Tuskegee, Alabama, into an engine of Black economic development. The Tuskegee alumni networks enthusiastically sustained his ideals, including liberty achieved regardless of racism and separate-but-equal segregation.
Commemorative Half Dollar Coin Featuring Booker T. Washington, 1946. / THF170779
In addition to the word “liberty,” the coin’s reverse side summarized Washington’s evolution, from his birth as an enslaved person to his induction into the Hall of Fame for Great Americansin 1945.
The Black sculptor who designed the coin, Isaac Scott Hathaway, summarized Washington’s life story on a trajectory from enslavement to recognition. Hathaway had pursued this work for most of his life, convinced that Black Americans warranted representation in classical forms—specifically on busts and bas-relief plaques—that rivaled those of gods and goddesses. He mass-produced plaster busts and plaques of more than 200 Black women and men for customers to purchase and display in homes, schools, and churches. He divided his time between memorializing Black individuals and teaching in Tuskegee Institute’s Department of Ceramics, which he founded. His connection to Tuskegee helped secure his appointment as the first Black artist to design a coin for the U.S. Mint in 1945.
George Washington Carver Plaque, 1945. Hathaway knew Carver, and he cast this small bas-relief plaster plaque out of respect for “this venerable man whose acquaintance and friendship I enjoyed for 40 years.” He donated this plaque, as well as a plaster cast of Carver’s hand, to The Henry Ford in December 1945. / THF152082
The commemorative half-dollar coin featuring Booker T. Washington remained in production between 1946 and 1951. Sales of the commemorative sets, however, fell short of expectations. The U.S. Congress amended the August 7, 1946, act, reauthorizing a redesigned coin that added Tuskegee Institute agricultural scientist George Washington Carver to the front, and a patriotic message on the back (Public Law 151-82d Congress, Chapter 408, 1st Session. H.R. 3176 September 21, 1951). The Mint again retained Hathaway to design this second coin. One and one-half million Washington coins were melted and recast into the new issue.
Commemorative Half Dollar Coin Featuring George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, 1953. / THF152213
Reverse Side, Commemorative Half Dollar Coin Featuring George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, 1953, Produced at Denver, Colorado. / THF152214
Proceeds from sales of both of these commemorative coins were ear-marked for completion of the only national monuments documenting Black history at the time—the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial in Virginia and the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri. But sluggish sales did not generate the anticipated income for these two projects. When the amended act expired on August 7, 1954, the remaining million coins minted but not sold were melted and used for other coins. The practice of issuing commemorative coins for private initiatives—funding historic sites and memorials, in the case of these two coins—also ended with the expiration of the Washington commemorative coin act.
Artwork Used in a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall in Bath, Maine, circa 1866 / THF119558
Following the end of the Civil War, numerous fraternal veterans’ societies were formed. These societies enabled veterans to socialize with individuals who had similar experiences and also allowed them to work towards similar goals.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson formed the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) for all honorably discharged Union veterans on April 6, 1866, in Decatur, Illinois, and it quickly grew to encompass ten states and the District of Columbia. The G.A.R.’s growth was astronomical, peaking in the 1890s with nearly 400,000 members spread out through almost 9,000 posts in all 50 states, as well as a few in Canada, one in Mexico, and one in Peru. These posts were organized into departments, which were typically divided by state, but could include multiple states depending on the population of Union veterans in the area.
Woman's Relief Corps (W.R.C.) Conductor Badge, 1883-1920 / THF254030
Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War Membership Badge, circa 1900 / THF254033
The tenets of the G.A.R. were “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty,” and are depicted in the seal of the G.A.R. The fraternity aspect was met by fraternal gatherings such as meetings, as well as annual reunions known as encampments at the departmental and national level. Charity was demonstrated through fundraising for veterans’ issues, including welfare, medical assistance, and loans until work could be found, as well as opening soldiers’ and sailors’ homes and orphanages. Loyalty was demonstrated in several ways, including erecting monuments, preserving Civil War sites and relics, donating cannons and other relics to be displayed in parks and courthouses, and donating battle flags to museums.The G.A.R. was assisted in all of their work by their auxiliary organizations, known as the Allied Orders of the G.A.R.: the Women’s Relief Corps, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), the Auxiliary to the SUVCW, and the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War—all of which are still active today.
Additionally, the G.A.R. was instrumental in having the tradition of memorializing the dead and decorating their graves recognized as the federal holiday Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day. From its origins in smaller, localized observances throughout the country, it gained national recognition after Commander-in-Chief General John A. Logan issued a proclamation on May 30, 1868. Programs like the one above detail the order of events of these celebrations, and some even detail how to appropriately contribute.
Members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Visiting Mount Vernon, September 21, 1892 / THF254036
The annual and national encampments were not just big events for the G.A.R. and the Allied Orders of the G.A.R, but also for the railroads and cities in which the encampments were held. Railroad companies, such as the Maine Central Railroad Company, advertised the encampments and offered round-trip tickets to attendees. A typical schedule of events for encampments included speeches, business meetings where delegates voted on resolutions and other organizational business, receptions for the G.A.R. and the Allied Orders, parades reminiscent of the Grand Review of the Armies following the end of the Civil War, campfire activities, concerts, outings to nature or historic points of interest, and reunions of other groups, including regimental and other veteran organizations. Attendees to the 1892 Washington, D.C., National Encampment were able to visit Mount Vernon.
Members would show up in their uniforms, which often included hats with G.A.R. insignia, as well as their G.A.R. membership badge, an example of which can be seen above. Membership badges denoted the wearer’s rank at the time they mustered out and would also show what rank within the G.A.R. they held; Commander-in-Chief badges would be substantially more ornate.
In addition to their membership badges, attendees would also represent their home state, posts, or departments with ribbons or badges stating where they were from. An example is the Forsyth Post badge used at the 1908 Toledo, Ohio National Encampment. These ribbon badges are all unique to the host city—for instance, Detroit’s national encampments’ badges featured an image of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac sailing to Detroit, signifying the city’s founding in 1701; national encampments held in California typically featured a grizzly bear, like their state flag; Denver’s 1905 National Encampment featured a cowboy on a bucking bronco; and Holland, Michigan’s 1904 and 1910 Annual Encampments featured wooden shoes and windmills.
Badges help tell the story of the G.A.R., and make these events more relatable to modern audiences—who hasn’t bought a souvenir on vacation or at an event? Beginning in 1882, The G.A.R. produced official souvenir badges for purchase in addition to the membership badges. Some of these souvenirs were made from captured Confederate cannons authorized for destruction by acts of Congress. In the case of the G.A.R., badges were so important that in the 50th Congress, 1st Session, a bill (Report No. 784) was passed to “prevent the unlawful wearing of the badge or insignia of the Grand Army of the Republic or other soldier organizations.”
Watching the highly decorated G.A.R. members march in the parade was a sight that drew many thousands of spectators wherever the encampments were held. The members would have likely marched in their G.A.R. uniforms, which included a double-breasted, dark blue coat with G.A.R. buttons and a hat (either kepi or slouch felt) with G.A.R. insignia. Other uniform pieces, such as leather gauntlets with G.A.R. insignia, are known to exist, but they do not appear to be commonplace. As they had done in the Grand Review of the Armies, they would march with their flags. In 2013, one such flag was conserved by The Henry Ford, as documented in this blog post: “Conserving a G.A.R. Parade Flag.”
Grand Army of the Republic Parade at Campus Martius, Detroit, Michigan, 1881 / THF623825
As the G.A.R. members aged, the number capable of walking an entire parade route dwindled, but luckily for them, the rise of the automobile ensured that they could still participate. For veterans who did not take their personal automobiles to the encampments, calls were sent out to round up enough vehicles to provide each veteran with a car for the parade. In the case of the 1920 Indianapolis National Encampment, John B. Orman, Automobile Committee Chairman, sought to get enough automobiles for all of the veterans requiring them and said “The ‘boys’ of ’61 are no longer boys. Today the distance from the monument erected to their memory to Sixteenth Street is longer than the red road from Sumter to Appomattox.” Local dealerships loaned their cars for the parade, much like today’s parade sponsors sending cars or attaching their names to floats in parades.
At the 83rd and final G.A.R. National Encampment, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949, six of the last sixteen G.A.R. members not only made the trip to Indianapolis but were able to “march” in the final parade—thanks to the automobile.
Joseph Clovese, one of the six to have participated in the final parade, can be seen with fellow G.A.R. members adorned with their G.A.R. badges on his Find a Grave page. Clovese was born into slavery on a plantation at St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, in 1844. He joined the Union Army during the siege of Vicksburg as a drummer boy, and then later became an infantryman in the 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry Regiment (later the 65thU.S. Colored Troops Regiment). Following the war, Clovese worked on riverboats on the Mississippi River and assisted with the construction of the first telegraph line between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Clovese received a citation and medal at the “Blue and Gray” reunion, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938. At age 104, he moved to Pontiac, Michigan, with his niece, and, according to his obituary in the New York Times, he would take daily walks and was hardly ever ill. He died July 13, 1951, in the Dearborn Veterans Hospital at the age of 107. More information about his long and fascinating life, as well as additional photos of him wearing his G.A.R. badges, can be seen in his Fold3 Gallery.
The G.A.R. officially dissolved in 1956 with the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, but the spirit of the organization lives on through the Allied Orders of the G.A.R.