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African-American History

Cass Adair

 


As Timothy Douglas gave his cast some advice before a recent rehearsal, giggles broke out when he mimicked one of the characters. Douglas laughed along with the University of Michigan student actors, who were taking notes from their seats in the campus’s Arthur Miller Theatre.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Women's Hall of Fame welcomed its latest group of honorees late last year.

Among the five contemporary honorees was Olivia Letts. She was the first African-American teacher hired by the Lansing School District. She started that job in 1951 and from there, Letts spent her life as an advocate for education, community service and civil rights.

Courtesy of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

No matter where you are, when you say the words "Detroit" and "music," someone's going to exclaim "Motown!"

But Detroit's music history is much deeper and wider than Motown. There are some locations around the city that have been forgotten and are important in the telling of Detroit's black history, and the history of music.

Courtesy of Monroe County Library System

 

Each February, the libraries in Monroe undergo a transformation. The Black History Month Blues Festival turns these sedate study spaces into concert spaces full of “laughing, singing, clapping,” and “stomping,” said Bill Reiser, the library manager at Ellis Library in Monroe.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In honor of Black History Month, we visited with Amas Muhammad at Selden Standard in Detroit. He has a drink recipe for us below, but we wanted to know more about the role of people of color in developing the craft cocktail industry.

Muhammad says for a craft that’s obsessed with the history of drinks and the bartenders who invented them, his colleagues miss a huge swath of contributors.

“People of color have been instrumental since the beginning of spirits in America,” Muhammad said.

Today's silent march in Ypsilanti.
Courtesy of Lynne Settles

There is extra special importance to this Martin Luther King Day in Ypsilanti.

Remarkably, it was 150 years ago on this day that abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass spoke in Ypsilanti – one of three visits Douglass made to the town.

Today, Ypsilanti High School students are marking both MLK Day and the Douglass visit with a silent march to the site of that speech that happened in 1867. In commemoration, they’re also opening an art exhibit.

Courtesy of Shirley Burke

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in Washington. One of the items on display is a violin that, until now, was in Michigan with Shirley Burke.

Courtesy of Michigan Tech Archieves

The history of Copper Country in the Upper Peninsula tends to focus on mining and the mostly European immigrants who worked those mines. 

That traditional history is missing something: the presence of African-Americans.

Angela Flournoy
LaToya T. Duncan

Angela Flournoy’s new novel, The Turner House, is receiving praise across the literary spectrum, from The New York Times to Buzzfeed.

It was also a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction.

Benjamin Hall

Back in the mid-1800s, a slave by the name of Frank Demas purchased his freedom from a Kentucky slave owner. Demas later settled in Michigan and 170 years later, the document that set him free has survived -- thanks to his family. His family has passed the document, called a manumission, down from generation to generation and now, the great-great-great grandson of Frank Demas has donated it to the Archives of Michigan.

The manumission, as well as some of his Demas’ wife’s belongings, are now on display at the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing.   

We are in the middle of what is officially black history month. These days, so far as I can tell, that mostly means elementary school kids have to do a report on Martin Luther King Jr., and read a few paragraphs from the famous speech.

The rest of us mainly ignore it. Which is too bad, because black history is filled with fascinating and untold stories, and I want to tell you about a riveting new book about one.


Courtesy of Lynne Settles

When Ypsilanti High School art teacher Lynne Settles first arrived in town, she was unaware of the city's history. After a walking tour with a local historian, Settles was amazed by Ypsilanti's rich yet little-known African-American heritage.

"I was totally blown away and shocked by how much history was here," Settles tells Stateside host Cynthia Canty.

That experience ultimately led her to organize students to work together to create murals to celebrate Ypsilanti's African-American history.