Long Reads, Blogging, a New Way to Learn History

In my Global Cities and Black Labor House courses we didn’t write term papers. Although the term paper is the standard assignment for almost all history courses, my two professors decided to take different approach.

They asked us to create a website, make some blog posts, and write a “long read,” similar to New Yorker type essays.

A good chunk of our readings for the classes were long reads from publications such as The Atlantic, New York Times, and the like. These pieces were written by historians or journalists, and taught us a new way to research and write about history.

I made two blogs.

The first, “The Blog of Baghdad,” attempts to research global urban history using Baghdad as a case study. I wrote about everything from the meanings of billboards and street art to Indian troops occupying the city during the second world war.

The second, “Labors of the Mind,” investigates that history of African American intellectual labor history. I wrote about James Baldwin, Ida B. Wells, and concluded the blog with a 3,500 word piece on Black Studies and the San Francisco State College strike of 1968.

Writing these blogs taught me many things.I had to figure out a way to write about this history in an entertaining yet informative way. Although I had trouble at first straying away from the normal term paper format, I finally loosened up some of the tight rules and it allowed me to express my historical research in different ways. Additionally, the usage of multimedia opened up a lot of doors for my research, as I found out that including videos and pictures help transmit your argument just as much as a thesis statement would.

There is a history hungry public out there, and the lessons I garnered from these two classes will stick with me when I become an academic myself. No matter what you research, there is always a way to make it accessible, entertaining, and informative.

“Let us praise the Vietnamese and Koreans but let us pass the ammunition and do our own thing.”: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1967-1974

league.jpgIn the late 1960s, the United Auto Workers (UAW) “lost touch with its mass base, especially minorities.” Workers in Detroit grew disillusioned with the UAW, rampant racism pervaded factory floors, and capital flight and a tightening economy created a precarious atmosphere, particularly for minorities who just began to make gains within the auto plants. Turmoil in the factories of Detroit occurred at the same time as turmoil in the streets. Police brutality, urban renewal, slum clearance, and disparate poverty conjoined to create a heavily oppressed and exploited Black working class. While capitalism buckled in Detroit, self-deterministic movements arose, reviving earlier notions of Black nationalism that combined revolutionary philosophies with intense internationalism and critique of U.S. foreign policy.2The League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW or the League), a group of Black radicals that began organizing in Detroit factories and publishing newspapers in the late 1960s, was a unique organization that blended revolutionary philosophies, working class politics, and internationalism/anti-colonialism. In “The Overall Program of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers,” the first sentence exclaimed, “we are struggling for the liberation of black people in the confines of the United States as well as to play a major revolutionary role in the liberation of all oppressed people.”Focused on organizing workers at the point of production and arguing for a global Black-Brown-Yellow struggle, the League is an important case study where the Black working class utilized an analytical framework that connected the struggles of the Global South to the struggles in the factories and neighborhoods of Detroit.

download.jpgThis paper will examine the League’s analytical framework and critiques of U.S. foreign policy through its extensive print and audiovisual media it created. Although the League existed for a short time, 1967-1974, the impetus for its creation, its tenure, and legacy was unique amongst Black Power organizations. Rather than organize students and unemployed Black youth like the Black Panther Party (BPP) did, the League organized Black workers at the point of production. This paper will also compare the two organizations critiques of U.S. foreign policy and organizing styles. Although similar in their revolutionary philosophy roots and commentaries on racial capitalism and U.S. imperialism, they differed dramatically when it came to their role in foreign affairs and involvement with Global South anti-colonial movements.

“You can kill the revolutionary but, you can’t kill the revolution.”: The Extrajudicial Killing of Fred Hampton

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On December 4th, 1969, at about 1:30am, Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old Chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), fell asleep midway through a conversation with his mother. At 4:30am that same day, 14 officers from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) broke into Hampton’s West Side apartment, fired dozens of rounds, and killed several BPP members, including Hampton. According to Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s girlfriend and survivor of the attack, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, two officers walked into Hampton’s room, and soon after one of the officers said, “he’s still alive,” two gunshots were fired. They returned to the living room and announced “Fred Hampton, the Panther chairman, is dead.”

220px-Fred_Hampton_murder_scene_bedroom_bloody_mattressPlanned police slayings of Black men, especially those in the Black Power movement, were common in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the raid on Hampton’s apartment and subsequent killing is not another case of police violence on Black communities. The assassination of Fred Hampton had been a long-planned act of violence to disrupt the Black Panther Party, reduce militancy amongst radical political groups in Chicago, spread fear amongst Black activists, and be a spectacle of violence that implicitly expresses the governments condemnation of the Black Power Movement without expressing it in explicitly racial terms. This paper argues that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the CPD resorted to explicit violence when infiltration and disruption tactics no longer sufficed to destroy the BPP. Both worked in tangent to orchestrate an attack on Hampton, utilizing inside informants, and afterwards using the media to portray the raiders as selfless heroes practicing self-defense as they attempted to implement “law and order.”

This paper uses Fred Hampton’s assassination as a case study to better understand U.S. domestic state terrorism. The commonly accepted definition of domestic “terrorism” are created by states, thus they exclude state actors from being considered terrorists. However, Jonathan Matusitz argues that terrorism can be committed by undercover personal that serve their government. Even if the FBI is not a “terrorist” organization, the tactics that its operatives used, such as using fear as a weapon, infiltration and espionage, and public spectacles of violence to promote a specific goal, in this case weakening social movements, are all strategies utilized by terrorist groups. In addition, this paper also argues that to understand the assassination of Hampton and state terrorism more broadly, we must understand the perception of those effected by these tactics. The BPP and surrounding community viewed the FBI and CPD assassination of Fred Hampton as a case of domestic state terrorism, whereby the FBI and CPD were the terrorists, and the BPP were the innocent victims.

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“THIS HISTORIC HOME IS ENDANGERED”: PRESERVATION WAYNE AND THE FIGHT FOR THE MACKENZIE HOUSE, 1975-1982

Photo Jul 12, 3 06 47 PM.jpgThreatened by expansionary urban renewal, redevelopment policies, and slum clearance, historic structures in Detroit during the 1970’s faced erasure from history. Representing the ethos of building a new Detroit out of the ashes of the 1967′ Rebellion, Wayne State University, the largest public urban university in Michigan, expanded its campus by condemning, destroying, and building over the historic apartment buildings, houses, and storefronts surrounding campus.

A story of mid 20th century university expansion articulated well by scholars such as LaDale Wingling, Wayne State’s expansion was contentious and tenuous, and reflected the relationship between white controlled urban institutions and the growing black population around them in previously industrial cities. Seen as the solution to the inequities and urban crisis, institutions such as universities, hospitals, sports, and corporations were sanctioned by the city to rebuild and revive, ignoring the malign effects this policy had on the mostly Black working class residents.

Photo Apr 26, 2 00 23 PMAs Wayne State embarked on its expansion, the Cass Corridor, a working class mostly black, immigrant, and student composed neighborhood, lay in its cross-hairs. The university saw the potential of expansion in the quickly deteriorating neighborhood, but some of Detroit’s most valuable and historically important housing stock remained intact there, including the home of Wayne State University’s founder, David Mackenzie.

Long forgotten as the home of one of Michigan’s most famous educators, the building suffered disrepair under Wayne’s administration, and in 1972, it was slated for demolition to build a sewer pipe to the Forest Apartments, a now demolished student apartment complex. This plan, along with Wayne State’s disregard for the historic structures that made it up its university, urged a group of historically conscious students to form Preservation Wayne, Detroit’s first historic preservation group.

1977-2-24 Mackenzie House Faces Demolition Next QuarterA struggle ensued from the year 1975 to 1982, and through repeated gainsays by the university, the group preserved and managed to secure a victory; preserving, and restoring, and using the David Mackenzie House as the center for historic preservation in Detroit for the next four decades.

Through an internship with the Walter P. Reuther Library, I am one of the first contemporary historians to study and document the intricate history of the founding of Preservation Wayne and its fight for historic preservation on Wayne’s campus. This research tells the long forgotten history of a group of young, historically conscious, and determined students forged a group that would be the juggernaut of historic preservation in Detroit. This is a history of urban renewal, of a university’s identity and relationship with its surrounding community, and the exacting struggle that it took to establish historic preservation in Detroit; and in Detroit’s atmosphere of redevelopment and development, this history becomes a mirror.

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“OUR NEW CAMPUS”: WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY AND THE SHAPING OF DETROIT’S MIDTOWN

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Sifting through dozens of university records, from master plans to correspondences between architects and builders to protests against Wayne State University’s urban renewal programs, this project argues that starting in the late 1950s and lasting until today, Wayne State has been the major institutional force in what is now called Midtown Detroit.

Utilizing its vast resources, identity as a university, access to federal funds and eminent domain, and under the guise of “urban renewal” and “slum clearance” Wayne State University took part in major reshaping and rethinking of what is today Midtown. Ambitious in its scope and extensive in its building, Wayne State administrators and urban planners aimed to create a college campus that made distinctions from its urban surroundings. The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were a tumultuous and trans-formative time for Detroit. The city changed socially, racially, and physically, and Wayne State was the much driver for this change inside and around the Cass Corridor and University area.

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Reclaiming the City: Neoliberalism, Urban Renewal and Policing in Detroit, 1967-1977

 

48359871_2192746357661459_8985472419644833792_nOn January 14, 1973, then Mayor of Detroit Roman Gribbs, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Renaissance Center, a series of interconnected skyscrapers on the riverfront of Detroit, remarked that the project represented the “beginning of a vast revitalization of our riverfront which will stretch from bridge to bridge (from Belle Isle to the east to the Bridge to Canada to the west).” Financed by the Ford Motor Company, the Renaissance Center was the largest privately funded construction project in history to that point, and the urban neoliberal impulses the project embodied generated similarly giddy responses amongst the region’s business elite. Developers were eager to invest in Detroit’s downtown at a discount, and notable investors like Max Fisher, Robert Surdam, and Henry Ford II, poured millions of dollars into the inner city.  A sense of revanchism boosted this jump on the vacuum of disinvestment and disarray left behind in postindustrial Detroit, and an idea to make the city anew with investments through private-public partnerships that emphasized massive downtown buildings as a form of revitalization. These men, their companies, and city officials consciously mapped out a different Detroit; a city not made for the hundreds of thousands of largely Black working-class residents, but for white collar professionals.

Armed with a rifle, picture of STRESS officer

As the private sector embarked on its plan for downtown redevelopment, the city instituted a series of police reforms that would turn the Detroit Police Department (DPD) into the most violent police force in the nation. By the early 1970s, for example, Detroit notoriously had the highest number of civilian killings by police per capita. The most infamous of these initiatives was Stop The Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS). STRESS utilized reviving law enforcement tactics such as foot patrol, constant surveillance, and decoy squads. This new method of policing was replicated in city after city across the country. By 1973 STRESS was responsible for 6,000 arrests, 24 murders, and nearly 5 years of hyper-intensified policing of the Black community. The creation of STRESS was the outgrowth of a more muscular and militaristic approach to urban policing that began in 1965 following the Watts Rebellion. President Lyndon Johnson responded to what was then the largest urban uprising of the decade by investing millions of federal dollars as well as military equipment into urban police departments. “Criminology” and “criminal justice” experts began gaining legitimacy during this era, and the technocratic practitioners of these fields gave rise to new ideas, theories, and tactics that permeated discussions and policies designed to reduce the ever-increasing crime rates and to establish “law and order.” These new methods of policing were directly aimed towards policing the inner city and corresponded with the latest effort to “revitalize” Detroit’s downtown. same time urban renewal begun in downtown Detroit. White collar suburbanites refused to work in areas that had high crime rates as well as a black majority. To entice white professionals to work in Detroit, the city utilized intensive policing to “reclaim” the city, sanitizing it for suburbanites and pushing black and poor working-class whites further into the margins. Using earlier policing and STRESS as a case study, this paper argues that intense policing tactics were directly linked to urban renewal in the 1970s and sought to reshape downtown Detroit to “make the city safe” for white collar workers and investment. This paper also tries to understand and emphasize the black community’s response to STRESS. The black community consciously understood that this was one of many efforts to stymy the shift of Detroit’s racial geography. Under the leadership of Marxist lawyer and Wayne State University Law School graduate, Kenneth Cockrel, a grassroots movement of Black activists established a powerful anti-STRESS campaign that attacked the racism of both the DPD as well as business elites designs to facilitate racial and spatial segregation via privatized urban renewal.

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