DRUM

The intersections of radical Black and working-class politics in Detroit

By Dr. Andy Clark

DRUM Membership, image provided by author

DRUM Membership, image provided by author

Undertaking my Master of Arts at Central Michigan University, I developed an interest in radical Black politics. I opted to focus my main research paper on this topic. Despite limited prior knowledge, conversations with Professor Timothy O’Neill introduced me to the unique and fascinating history of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and the formation of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit’s auto industry following the race rebellion of 1967. The findings led to my argument that the intersections of race and class in the radical politics of the movement are crucial in understanding their aims, and the historical context within which they emerged.

The Hamtramck Assembly Plant (formerly Dodge Main), owned by the Chrysler Corporation, was located a Polish ‘enclave’ within the geographical boundary of Detroit. By the 1960s, the workforce at the plant was around sixty percent African American, and there was a history of racism and confrontation amongst the workforce. The establishment of DRUM was a reaction to the disciplinary procedure of Chrysler following a wildcat strike of White and Black workers against the speed up of the production line on May 2nd 1968, which had halted production the following day. The United Auto Workers (UAW) stated that strike action was ‘unauthorized’ and were working ‘to get them to call off the pickets,’ whilst Chrysler stated that they had received no official notification of the action. Following the strike, African Americans were disciplined disproportionately. This led to the formation of DRUM, with the first issue of their self-titled newsletter stating that ‘we as Black men and women looking for equal opportunity in employment can not tolerate this.’

DRUM continued to agitate and organise within the Hamtramck Plant, with the publication of a regular newsletter and direct action to achieve their aims. They participated in the local democratic processes of the UAW, and sought their members elected to key posts, albeit with limited success (amidst accusations of racism against the local branch). DRUM led to the creation of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, who strove to develop the struggle against oppression outside the auto industry and challenge the racial and capitalist oppression of Black Americans.

DRUM, and the League, have most frequently been described as a Black Nationalist organisation in extant literature on the politics of the period. Through an analysis of DRUM’s literature, it is evident that while they were a racially exclusive organization—with membership restricted to Black workers—their long-term ambition was international socialism and the end of the economic exploitation of all workers. This positions their ideology outside of the dominant discourse of race-based nationalism. My research indicated that the politics of DRUM were both a race and class-based response to the socio-economic position of the Black population in Detroit. The social structures in which DRUM emerged are crucial in explaining their ideological motivations, the nature of the organization, and their objectives.

Table 1: Percentage of Detroit’s African Americans living in White or predominately White areas, 1940-1960.

Percentage of African Americans living in predominantly White areas

City of Detroit

1940 51

1960 15

Metropolitan Detroit

1940 31

1960 15.6

As table 1 demonstrates, Black Detroiters increasingly lived in separate locations through the process of White Flight. Overwhelmingly located in the poorest housing, Black’s perspectives on racial and economic structures of society were vastly different from much of the White population. As a result, working-class Black organizations assumed a racial differentiation from Whites and visibly constituted a distinct group within Detroit society. Many Black radicals used the terms of colonized and colonizer in describing the relationship between Blacks and Whites. DRUM’s approach highlighted this class struggle. Although the final aim of the Black workers’ struggle was a unified working-class movement to overthrow capitalism; in the social context of Detroit, DRUM believed that they had to first engage in an anti-colonial struggle, to free the Black population from racial oppression, before assuming a vanguard role that united working-class struggle.

That being said, there existed a racially defined labour aristocracy in the auto industry. The notion of a labour aristocracy is based on factors such as wage security, skill status, geographical differentiation, and union representation. These factors were evident in the Detroit auto industry and race was the primary indicator of these differentials. The relegated position of Black workers at Hamtramck was substantial. Despite Blacks accounting for approximately 60% of the workforce in the late 1960s, 99% of General Foremen, 95% of all Foremen, 100% of Superintendents, and 90% of skilled apprentices were White. Due to the lack of action by the UAW over the position of Black workers, DRUM attacked the union and accused it of failing its Black membership. However, this was also a reaction to the perceived conservatism of the union in representing the interests of all workers, not purely a struggle based on racial separatism. As with the social structure in Detroit, the racial aspect of the labour aristocracy largely predisposed that the struggle of Black workers within the auto industry would embody a race-based critique of the UAW.

Rather than viewing DRUM as a ‘Black Nationalist’ organisation, it is evident that their politics emerged from the lived experience of the Black population in Detroit and its auto industry in the late 1960s. In seeking to overthrow the oppression of capitalism, DRUM asserted that Black freedom was a necessary precondition. This highlights the nuanced intersections between race and class politics in the period, moving the discussion beyond racial assumptions of political activism. The position of DRUM, in their own words, was clearly international, intersectional socialism:

White workers are being cheated and yet hate Black workers. Capitalism lives off the hate of racism and America lusts after death...WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE!


Andy Clark is a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Newcastle University Oral History Unit in the UK. He completed his MA at CMU in 2012 before obtaining his PhD at the University of Strathclyde in 2017. He has recently signed a contract to publish his first book, Dynamics of Activism: Scottish Women’s Factory Occupations, 1980-1982 with Liverpool University Press (2021).

Life After Grad School, Part 2

Some suggestions to help prepare you for the job market:

By Kevin T. Hall

Whether you are in the beginning, middle, or nearing the end of your degree, the big question that looms over every student is: what do I do after graduation? It can be very intimidating, stressful, and even cause anxiety. The key goal, of course, is to not just graduate (though that is a great accomplishment), but also to find a job using your hard earned degree.

It is important to know that it can be a difficult process to find a job due to stiff competition, especially in the field of history (and in humanities in general). Graduates do not often have the luxury to choose what job they want. Rather, they must apply for hundreds of positions and hope for an interview. It is not unheard of that there are 1,000 applications for a single postdoctoral position. As you can imagine, receiving an interview can be quite the luxury. However, no matter how many rejection letters you receive, keep applying for positions, tweaking your applications, practice interviewing, and talking to your professors about their experiences and if they have any suggestions. It is also key to try to stay positive, motivated, and determined.

If your goal is for a position in academia, it is very important to gain teaching experience (by being a teaching assistant and an adjunct), publish with peer-reviewed journals (as well as trying to publish your dissertation), present at national conferences, join professional organizations in your respective fields, and continue to expand your professional network. Exhausting but worth it.

It is important early in your studies to set goals for your career ambitions and what steps will assist you down the road. For me, I decided during my undergraduate degree that I wanted to become a professor of German history—a goal I still have and am working towards. My first step was fluency in German, which led me to study abroad. This was an amazing experience and greatly impacted my personal and professional life. I highly recommend study abroad, as it forces you out of your comfort zone as well as experiencing new cultures and ways of thinking. All of which will positively impact your future, regardless of career ambitions. I was fortunate to be able to study abroad for a second time as part of CMU’s doctoral history program and allowed me to conduct a large amount of my dissertation research. Not found in many doctoral programs, this a unique opportunity.

The importance of getting to know your professors, for example by visiting them during their office hours, cannot be overstated. For me, this was key throughout my academic studies. Their support greatly assisted me in gaining further insight into specific topics, obtaining internships, gaining grants and scholarships, and expanding my professional network. Letters of recommendation are very important when applying for internships, grants, and eventually for jobs, and you should remember to ask for these well in advance (and make sure these remain current). The widely used “Interfolio” is very helpful for requesting electronic letters of recommendation as well as submitting documents for academic positions. It is also helpful to have a professor who knows your work well to look over your application documents, especially the cover letter. They have a watchful eye to make sure you’re on the right track.

Attending conferences, and presenting your research, alongside publishing can help significantly when you later apply for positions. This expands your professional network and also markets you and your work and capabilities as a researcher. Connections from conferences, workshops, and publications have the potential to result in a future jobs and interviews. Obviously, there are numerous factors that will come into play; however, it is an important first step. While seminar papers are not ready to submit to journals right away, make the effort and spend the extra time improving them based on your professors’ feedback. While writing book reviews is a great way for graduate students to begin publishing, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals will be much more helpful when applying for jobs.

Do not hesitate in applying for prestigious grants, internships, and eventually for highly desired jobs. You never know what could happen! 

Aloha!

Aloha!


Kevin T. Hall is a recently graduated PhD from the Central Michigan University Department of History. He received his doctorate in 2018 under the supervision of Dr. Eric Johnson. He has now moved to Hawaii to work for the DPAA. His book: Terror Flyers: The Lynching of American Airmen in Nazi Germany is forthcoming with Indiana University Press.

Life After Grad School, Part 1

By Kevin T. Hall

When Gillian first approached me about writing for the blog, I agreed happily as it is a great opportunity to explain my job as a historian for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and provide a brief history of the recovery of U.S. soldiers, who went missing during foreign wars. But more importantly in part two of this post to offer some advice, based on my experiences, regarding what students can do during their studies to be best prepared for the job market.

The DPAA is an agency within the Department of Defense tasked with finding, recovering, and identifying over 81,000 U.S. personnel who went missing between World War II and the Gulf Wars. As a historian in the Indo-Pacific Directorate, the main conflict on which I focus is the Korean War. My main duty involves researching the events surrounding the loss of U.S. soldiers on the Korean peninsula, including the most likely location of their remains. This information partially determines where field teams conduct their searches, supports forensic analysis once remains are recovered or disinterred, and provides families with current, detailed information regarding the loss of their family member. It is truly a meaningful job to not only help account for these missing servicemen who gave the ultimate sacrifice, but also to help provide long-awaited answers and closure for families.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) located on Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam, Hawaii

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) located on Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam, Hawaii

The recovery of U.S. soldiers’ remains has a long history that dates to the Spanish-American War. Unique to the States, no other country seeks the repatriation of its missing soldiers from foreign soil. Following both World Wars, the American Graves Registration Services (AGRS) worked tirelessly to provide the permanent internment of servicemen in foreign cemeteries, or, if families so chose, the repatriation of soldiers’ remains. While this set the standards for the burial and repatriation of soldiers during subsequent conflicts, it was not until the Korean War that concurrent returns became standard. This meant that the AGRS repatriated remains before the cessation of hostilities—something that had never been done. This change in policy reflected the rapidly changing battle lines, challenging terrain, logistic difficulties, as well as the initial shortage of AGRS members, as every soldier was needed to fight.

During the first several months of war, soldiers are forced to quickly bury their deceased comrades in makeshift cemeteries or even in foxholes. In numerous instances, U.S. forces were forced to leave the dead and wounded where they rested, as enemy forces overran their positions, and withdrawal was vital for their survival. While U.S. forces recorded the location as best as possible, the remains were often gone once they returned. Soldiers’ remains were buried in unknown locations by locals and the wounded were taken prisoner. However, being a POW offered little safety, with numerous examples of torture and murder.

While concurrent returns aids in identification, numerous isolated graves and unknown burials makes accounting for lost servicemen complicated. Even if the isolated graves were clearly marked, the devastation wreaked and often destroyed any recognizable signs and occasionally, locals would move the remains of soldiers to unknown areas. Moreover, any written or verbal account of such burials had to survive the war. While this did hinder AGRS efforts, they were able to recover over 30,000 American service men from 1951 to 1955, and identified over 97 percent of the remains.

The remains ready to be repatriated from Korea were sent to the Central Identification Unit in Kokura, Japan to be processed, identified, and prepared for transport and burial. The task was daunting and overwhelming, as identifying remains could be difficult, and even impossible, given their state and the technology available at the time. It caused families great anguish waiting to receive an update about their missing son, father, brother, grandson, or nephew, and this suffering was further compounded the longer their status remained “Missing-in-Action” (MIA). For the remains that could not be identified, they were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii as “Unknowns.”

Currently, the DPAA is disinterring these Unknown Korean War servicemen in several phases to identify them as well as the ongoing investigations and searches in South Korea. While there have been successful exchanges of U.S. remains from North Korea in the past, it has been difficult to conduct investigations there due to tense political relations. Despite this, the North Korean government repatriated 55 boxes of remains in the summer of 2018. These are currently undergoing analysis for identification. There are currently over 7,600 U.S. soldiers still unaccounted from the Korean War.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a crash site of WWII B-24 Liberator Bomber (44-40332). Where I gained a deeper understanding about the search and recovery missions. This aircraft in particular crashed on the island of Oahu on May 5, 1944, after it departed Hickam airfield. It failed to clear the ridgeline and subsequently crashed, killing all ten airmen (three of whom were actually from Michigan). The airmen’s remains were recovered.

With the sole mission of the DPAA being to account for missing servicemen, relics, artifacts, and wreckage are usually left behind. That is, unless it can assist in identifying remains. After a few mile hike, we had to climb down a ravine to see some of the remaining wreckage. Over the years, the wreckage slid down into the valley below and is very difficult to access. The boot heel discovered is possibly from one of the crewmembers.


Kevin T. Hall is a recently graduated PhD from the Central Michigan University Department of History. He received his doctorate in 2018 under the supervision of Dr. Eric Johnson. He has now moved to Hawaii to work for the DPAA. His book: Terror Flyers: The Lynching of American Airmen in Nazi Germany is forthcoming with Indiana University Press.

Skills that Pay the Bills

Some light desk reading

Some light desk reading

Impacting the 9-5 with a History Degree

By Carol Ossenheimer

How anticlimactic life felt when my dream job was not handed to me the day after receiving my diploma (thanks Obama). With student loans looming, the best option for me at the time was to apply my History undergrad where it could really make an impact (i.e. whatever place would hire me). Trading in my late nights researching for days at a desk job did not mean I had to discard everything my history courses taught me. A constant interest for improvement, knack for organizing vast amounts of information, and a global mindset are unique abilities crafted as a history undergraduate and that when applied to any job, can make any history student a valuable member to whatever career path they take.  

When sharing our research and discussing readings in our history courses, we are encouraged to push and challenge the views of our classmates. This was a way for us to find gaps in each other’s arguments and strengthen one another’s critical thinking skills. From this practice, we develop a strong drive for improvement and a curiosity about how the world works. An office can be filled with individuals that are all too comfortable in accepting an outdated process as, “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” I was given that answer at my current job when I asked why everyone was throwing paper into the garbage cans. Shortly after, I talked to my supervisor and now every department in our building has a recycling bin. A small victory, but this is one of many examples where the hunger of a history major to look for new ways of thinking will drive you to seek solutions to problems others may have given up on or have not thought of. You may not always find ultimate solutions to every problem you encounter (welcome to Adulthood), but it is the drive to remain curious and seek improvement that moves your career forward, and may even encourage your colleagues to seek progress in their own work.

No history professor would accept a research paper without detailed evidence and a fine-tuned bibliographic citation. Such expectations craft history majors into tenacious beings when supporting our own arguments. We should take pride in our prowess to traverse fidgety microfilms, fading manuscripts, long-forgotten languages, and any other primary source we can decipher to support our findings. Gratefully I’m no longer required to use Chicago style citation to support my work, but the skill of organizing and interpreting vast amounts of detailed information can have the entire office see you as both a reliable and independent worker.  

 Co-workers are initially spellbound by the amount of emails I’ve kept and archived in my many digital folders, but when they require information from a specific email sent out six months ago, or that PDF the customer sent us last year, who do they seek for assistance? The History Major. Time is money in the 9-5 and being able to supply precise information in a quick manner makes you a reliable wealth of knowledge. Many of your coworkers can feel overwhelmed and bogged down by the amount of information that passes through shared emails, PDFs, Excels, and databases. Staying on top of the extensive amount of information will not only keep you organized and efficient, but make you someone that can work independently with minimal supervision, another company time saver.

A third skill we learn as history majors is the ability to see our lives on a global scale. One example of this would be understanding that other countries your company might work with have different cultures and holidays than we do in the States. This might sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised the shock expressions I receive from co-workers when I tell them our Thailand supplier is off for a week in the springtime when we in the States, are not.

Being aware of and respecting the holidays of my non-US suppliers requires me to plan ahead. Should a customer request an emergency order when my Thailand constituents are out of the office, I can support our customer’s needs without having to involve Thailand during their time-off. In return, my non-US suppliers know that my company is closed during the Christmas holidays and plan their needs around our downtime. Having a global mindset and being able to take a step back from ourselves and see how you fit in the world allows success in your work and relationships with those from a different culture than your own.  

While we may not always find ourselves in a job directly related to our field of study, it does not mean that we must abandon all our scholarly skills. There are multiple abilities aside from these three that I have developed from my time behind the tomes and while I do miss the academic ambiance this time of the year, I do enjoy reading a biography these days without needing to write a book review after.

The author out exploring

The author out exploring


Carol is pleasingly employed in the automotive industry as her company’s top Purchasing Planner and Import/Export Consultant. When she’s not on the 9-5 grind or brushing up on her reading, she’s baking, hiking, and saving up for her next travel adventure.

We’re Listening

By Dr. Brittany Fremion

In fall of 1973, as the leaves began to take on brilliant hues that defied name, a dairy farmer in southwestern Michigan noticed something wrong with his herd. Milk production plummeted and his heifers exhibited strange health problems, such as watery eyes, patchy skin, and loss of appetite. They aborted calves and those that survived would not eat. Over the course of nine months, with much unease and persistence, the farmer, Rick Halbert, discovered the cause of his herd’s ailments: a fire retardant, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), had accidentally been added to his livestock feed at a local coop instead of a nutritive supplement. But it was not just Halbert’s animals that had fallen ill. Other farmers across the state noticed similar problems with their herds, as well as other animalsswine, sheep, chickens, rabbits, horses, quail, ducks, and geese.[1] Farm families—men, women, and children—started to notice changes in their health, too. Many of their concerns and observations were dismissed by peers or public officials, even as information about the tragedy unfolded. A community member recalled, “they were hurting. And nobody listened to them.”[2]

What Halbert discovered was “a massive exposure,”[3] one of the largest chemical contaminations in U.S. history. PBB had chemically entered the human food chain via farm products—eggs, pork, poultry, beef, and dairy goods—exposing millions of people. When the company that manufactured PBB, Velsicol Chemical (formerly Michigan Chemical), closed its St. Louis facility doors in 1978, it left behind a heavily contaminated community.[4] The Michigan Department of Public Health (now Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) initiated research into acute health effects in 1974 and established a long-term study in 1976 with a consortium of federal agencies. Research into the long-term health effects of PBB exposure is ongoing.[5] Yet, few Americans know about the Michigan PBB contamination or its legacy.

The Michigan PBB Oral History Project documents the history of the PBB mix-up through a series of audio-recorded interviews with community members—farmers, chemical workers, consumers, public officials, researchers, and activists. Each interview is transcribed and audited. Then, a copy of the audio file and transcript are returned to each participant for feedback and clarification. Once interviewing concludes, the oral histories will be donated to the Museum of Cultural and Natural History at CMU and will be preserved in a special research collection made available to community members, researchers, and educators, with the hope that they will be used for educational purposes. These oral histories establish an important and permanent community presence in the historical record. The interviews are emotional in a way that documentary evidence is not—or cannot be. Oral histories are personal. And they are powerful.

Much of this work would not be possible without the support of CMU students, whose involvement also makes this project special. From April 2018 to the present, six undergraduate and five graduate students from history, cultural resource management, and education programs have spent nearly 2,000 hours conducting, transcribing, and auditing interviews, attending community events, and preserving donated personal papers. To date, we have conducted more than 40 interviews with 50 individuals, amounting to almost 60 hours of audio recordings. The students—Lea, Nikki, Candy, Carolyn, Tom, CJ, Emily, Anna, Elizabeth, Luke, and Logan—learned about oral history theory, methods, and ethics in their time working on the project. They also learned a great deal about the ways PBB contamination changed individual lives, communities, industry, and research, and thought deeply about why this history matters.

For instance, Candy, a graduate student in history, observed that “these stories stick with you.” She was moved to tears in a panel presentation this spring, wherein she shared insights from interviews with farm family members. Anna, an education major, wrote, “history, to me, is no longer just about places and ideas you can read about in a book, but something much more personal.” Logan and Elizabeth, education majors, have asked how the history of the PBB mix-up can be made part of Michigan’s educational standards and plan to bring their experiences from the project into their own classrooms.

These students have shared in the pain and sorrow expressed by many community members, as well as celebrated moments of joy and triumph. They have heard the voices of those who, for a long time, felt unheard. Most importantly, they have been good stewards of the past, which seems ever present, as the past is never in the past, especially when chemicals are involved. Their work matters. And the stories they have helped to preserve will make in indelible mark on future listeners. That is pretty incredible.

Many thanks to the community members who have graciously shared their time and memories, whose stories have forever changed us, and to those whose stories we have yet to document.  

We’re listening.

Capture.PNG

The Michigan PBB Oral History Project is a collaborative endeavor inspired by community members and researchers at Emory University, which maintains The Michigan PBB Registry, the long-term health study. The oral history project is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, with additional support provided by the Museum of Cultural and Natural History, Department of History, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Clarke Historical Library, and Office of Research and Graduate Studies at CMU, as well as research partners at Emory University and the University of Michigan.

[1] Michigan Department of Agriculture, “PBB Contamination Status Report,” June 16, 1975, in Dr. Alpha Clark Papers, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University (accessible by request).

[2] Patrick Muldoon interviewed by Brittany Fremion in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 10, 2018 for the Michigan PBB Oral History Project.

[3] Frederic and Sandra Halbert, Bitter Harvest: The Investigation of the PBB Contamination: A Personal Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 158.

[4] After closing the St. Louis, Michigan, plant in 1978, Velsicol estimates it paid the state $38.5 million to clean-up. The total cost to date is $480 million and includes Pine River sediment remediation, a radioactive site, and three Superfund sites. The Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force formed in 1998 and mobilized community members to oversee EPA clean-up efforts. It is one of the most successful EPA-designated Community Advisory Groups (CAG) in the country. For more information, visit their website: http://www.pinerivercag.org

[5] According to recent studies, 6 out of 10 Michiganders still have elevated levels of PBB in their bodies (higher than 95% of the U.S. population). For more information about findings and research, visit the Michigan PBB Registry: http://pbbregistry.emory.edu


Brittany Fremion is an environmental and oral historian at CMU. She is the project director for the Michigan PBB Oral History Project, a proud member of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force, and new board member for the Michigan Oral History Association.

A Family Affair

Michigan’s Mexican-American Migrants

By Ethan Veenhuis

On 12 June 1993, the Frank O. Barrera Chapter of the American G.I. Forum held a ceremony in Flint, Michigan, to honor the Mexican American veterans of the Second World War who hailed from Genesee County. Private First Class Epifanio V. Barajas was one of the honorees that night. Barajas, a member of F Company, 47th Infantry, 9th Division of the U.S. Army during the war, was amongst the most highly decorated Latinx veterans from the state of Michigan. During his time in the army, he saw action in the North African theater, Germany, and France in the initial D-Day invasion force that landed on Omaha Beach. For his service the Army awarded him (among other medals), two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and special recognition for his skill as a sharpshooter.

Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1921, Barajas came to Michigan with his family sometime before the war began. The Barajas family worked as migrant farm labor in Texas picking cotton and other agricultural products whenever and wherever they could before following a wave of workers north to the upper Midwest and Michigan. According to the historian Steven Rosales, by the mid-1920s, agricultural workers of Mexican descent made up between “75-90%” of the work force in the sugar beet fields of Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and, of course, Michigan. These workers came to the region as migrant farm labor. Recruited in Texas these workers were promised free travel, high wages, and in some cases even a house to live in. Many of these promises fell through but were effective nonetheless as workers came by the thousands every year. They settled across Michigan especially in the cities of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Saginaw, where they found work harvesting sugar beets, cucumbers, apples, and cherries. When the United States entered the Second World War, many of these migrant farmers enlisted in the armed forces and served their country proudly.

After the war Barajas returned to Flint, and like so many others in Michigan’s Mexican-American community, took a job working for General Motors, raised a family, and found the better life that his parents had hoped for when they arrived in the early 1920s. Epifanio Barajas’ story is one small part of a much larger tale that began in Central Texas and found its conclusion right here in mid-Michigan. A story shared by thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans who came to the upper Midwest as migrant farm labor seeking the “American Dream” for their families, and wound up contributing significantly to their country in the process. This larger story is the focus of my current research and I plan to build and expand on what Steven Rosales began in his fantastic book Soldados Razos At War: Chicano Politics, Identity, and Masculinity in the U.S. Military from World War II to Vietnam.

Despite pioneering work on migration to Michigan, Rosales’ work on Mexican and Mexican American migration to Michigan is largely limited to the colonia in Saginaw and used in a discussion of life for these workers that lead up to their participation in the Second World War. My research goal and aspirations are to expand the scope of the project and include the rest of the significant Mexican colonias in the state. Furthermore, examine what life was like for these workers and their families leading up to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the war. By utilizing the lenses of labor, gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, immigration, migration, and cultural expression I hope to offer a more complete picture of our state’s often overlooked and erased Mexican American community during this significant period. It is incredibly important that we continually strive to revisit the moments in our history where entire groups of people have been relegated to the margins and create works that center their perspectives and magnify their voices. Since I quite literally would not be here without my abuelo, Private First Class Epifanio Barajas, telling his story and the stories of thousands of others like him is the very least I can do as a grandson and as a historian.


Ethan Veenhuis is a CMU History Masters Alumnus who graduated in December 2018. Ethan is a dog-dad from Flint, Michigan. His current research expands upon Rosales’ pioneering work, especially the Mexican-American story in Michigan. Further research interests are in Chicano History from the Second World War through the Civil Rights Movement. For more information or to contact him: veenh1ed@icmich.edu

The Japanese Emperor Abdicates

Emperor Akihito walks during a ritual called Taiirei Tojitsu Kashikodokoro Omae no Gi, a ceremony for the emperor to report the abdication ceremony to the goddess Amaterasu, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on April 30, 2019.

By Dr. Jennifer Liu

Rituals filled the day of the abdication of Japan’s Emperor Akihito on April 30, 2019. According to Japanese mythology, the 2,600-year imperial line begins with the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu. At dawn, the 85-year-old Akihito told the goddess he would be abdicating. Later, at the abdication ceremony (which lasted just over 10 minutes), he symbolically ended his reign by returning the “three sacred treasures” (a sword, jewels, and seals) that symbolize the throne. A crowd of nearly 300 politicians, Supreme Court judges, and their spouses attended. The following morning, Naruhito – the new emperor and Akihito’s elder son – returned to the same room at the palace to receive the regalia. Akihito’s Heisei (“achieving peace”) reign ended and Naruhito became the 126th emperor, beginning the Reiwa (“beautiful harmony”) era. Japan’s annual spring holiday, the “Golden Week break,” was extended to ten days to mark the occasion.

The enormously popular Akihito is the first emperor to abdicate in 200 years. The last Japanese monarch to do so was Kokaku in 1817. In August 2016, Akihito, citing concerns about his age and declining health, expressed his wish to abdicate while he was still well and capable. Having been treated for prostate cancer in 2003 and undergoing heart surgery in 2012, he sought understanding in a message to his people and immediately won overwhelming public support and sympathy, paving the way for the government’s approval. With Japan’s Imperial House Law lacking a provision on abdication by a reigning emperor and virtually allowing only posthumous succession, the government enacted a one-time law to allow Akihito’s abdication in 2017.

Akihito, joined by Empress Michiko and members of the royal family, speaks during his abdication ceremony on April 30.

Japan has the world’s oldest continuing hereditary monarchy. Legend dates it to about 660 BCE. Formerly the emperors were seen as living gods, but Hirohito – Akihito’s father – publicly renounced his divinity as part of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. Akihito became the first emperor who was a constitutionally defined symbol with no political power when he succeeded in 1989.

Nevertheless, Akihito was pivotal in helping repair Japan’s postwar reputation. He sought to make amends by traveling throughout Asia to apologize for his country’s wartime atrocities and acted as Japan’s chief consoler during times of disaster including the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left approximately 20,000 people dead or missing. Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, visited survivors at shelters and were generally heralded by the public for their compassion in helping the battered nation recover.

The succession leaves only three heirs to the Chrysanthemum Throne: Akihito’s younger brother, Prince Hitachi; Naruhito’s younger brother, Akishino; and Prince Hisahito, Akishino’s only son. Japan’s current law forbids women from inheriting the throne. Should more female family members relinquish their royal status upon marriage to a commoner, as stipulated by law, it will be more difficult for the imperial family to carry out official activities. In retirement, Akihito no longer performs official duties. Known by the title joko (emperor emeritus), he and Michiko have moved into Togu Palace, a smaller royal residence in Tokyo.

Naruhito is taking the throne at a time when Japan faces numerous challenges, including plummeting birthrates and a declining, aging population. The country is making efforts to open itself to foreign workers, change Japan’s brutal, entrenched work culture, and reduce gender inequality. The emperor has no power to address any of these issues directly, but he can set an important tone. Analysts have been scrutinizing Naruhito’s previous public statements for hints of what his reign might look like. He has indicated that he believes the monarchy should adjust to modernity and is likely to continue emphasizing pacifism and war remembrance as well as continuing his father’s efforts to humanize the throne.

Naruhito delivers his first speech after his ascension to the throne on May 1.


Dr. Jennifer Liu Demas is a Professor of History at Central Michigan University. Dr. Liu specializes in the political and social history of twentieth-century China, particularly education, youth culture, student protest, and ethnic identity. Her current project, Indoctrinating the Youth, examines the Nationalist (Guomindang) government’s attempts to inculcate political loyalty through youth groups, compulsory military training, and secondary school curriculum from 1930–1960. For more information and to contact her please visit her faculty page.

In search of Marion Facinger

Marion Facinger - image provided by Jane Freidson

Marion Facinger - image provided by Jane Freidson

A pioneering historian of medieval queenship only published one article on the subject. What became of her?

By Michael Evans

A few years ago, I was working on a book about the image of Eleanor of Aquitaine. As part of my research, I read the pioneering article written by Marion Facinger in 1968, “A Study of Medieval Queenship: Capetian France, 987-1237.” No academics really did queenship before the 1960s: the assumption that queens were merely passive consorts, valued only as wives and mothers, meant that the concept of queenship as an institution, involving female political agency, was largely discounted. Even today, MS Word flags “queenship” as a typo, emphatically underscored with a wavy red line. Facinger was one of the first scholars to take medieval queens seriously: historian Nina Verbanaz writes that she “first introduced a systematic study of queenship as an office.”

But who was Marion Facinger? Her article changed the study of medieval queens, yet she seemed never to have published again. The editors of a collection of essays on Eleanor of Aquitaine (John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler) credited Facinger’s work, and a biography of Eleanor by Marion Meade, to the same author, one “Marion (Facinger) Meade.” Yet I found it hard to believe that Facinger’s scholarly article, and the romanticizing and slightly speculative biography by Meade, were from the same pen. Had Facinger changed direction to write a mass-market biography of Eleanor? It is one thing for a writer to change their style to write for a popular audience, quite another to reverse their entire interpretive approach. And Facinger’s married name was Freidson – maybe Meade was a nom-de-plume? To confuse matters further, Marion Facinger Freidson had also published on nineteenth-century Italian literature.

So I took to email; one of the editors of the Eleanor of Aquitaine volume assured me that yes, Marion Meade and Marion Facinger were the same person. However, Marion Meade told me that no, she was not Marion Facinger. And so the matter was resolved and became a footnote in my book.

I thought little more about it, but I must have mentioned the Mystery of the Missing Medievalist in the medieval graduate colloquium that I taught at CMU a few years ago. One of my graduate students sent me a link to the website of Marion Meade’s daughter, Jane Freidson, who is a ceramics artist in New York. Freidson has produced a series in honor of her mother called the “Ladies’ Room Project.” I had, patronizingly, thought of Facinger as a lost talent because she had not pursued a career in academia, but Freidson’s website reveals that her mother lived a full and active life before and after graduate school:

She served as an army nurse in North Africa and Italy, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. After the war, she entered the University of Chicago on the GI bill and achieved an M.A. and a Ph.D. in medieval history. Her doctoral thesis on French queens in the middle ages is still cited as an early feminist work. She married and became a housewife, raising two children, one of whom had special needs. After a divorce in the mid-1960's, she returned to nursing and worked for decades at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, NJ. She was elected to several terms on the Leonia (NJ) town council where she advocated for environmental issues and against nuclear armaments and war. She loved her family, nature, and intellectual conversation. She was an avid reader, a writer of letters, a gardener, seamstress, baker, birdwatcher, and much beloved by her friends and colleagues.

Like many talented women in the 1950s, Facinger saw her career take second place to that of her husband, the sociologist Eliot Freidson. Jane Freidson told me that after her mother’s time at Chicago they moved frequently, “finally to N.J. in 1957. All these moves were for my dad's career. So everything Marion did on her dissertation was long after she left Chicago - she must have been working from afar.” Facinger’s return to nursing “must have offered a higher salary without all the politics of the ivory tower.” Plus ça change…

In learning about Marion Facinger, I discovered the rich life of someone I had known previously only as the name attached to an article. She may not have made academia her career, but she demonstrates that the work of graduate students can change an entire field – or even create a new one.

I would like to thank the following people for their assistance: Jane Freidson, for giving me permission to use pictures from her website, and providing additional information about Marion Facinger’s life; John Carmi Parsons and Marion Meade for responding to my emails; Derrick English for informing me about Jane Freidson’s work.


Michael Evans is an instructor in History at Delta College, and a former lecturer in CMU’s History Department. He is also the author of several works on medieval queenship including: Michael Evans, Inventing Eleanor: The Medieval and Post-Medieval Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). For more information or to contact him visit the Delta Faculty page.

An Experience to Remember: CMU’s History Department

By Analiese Guettler

Central Michigan University’s history department has filled my college experience with a wide range of opportunities of which, the opportunity to both learn from and learn with professors, graduate assistants, and my fellow students has been very rewarding. Though I may have my favorite professors, each and every one of them are excited and passionate about the topics and areas of history that they are teaching. All the professors have unique viewpoints and want to share as much of their knowledge as they can with their students. Though each student’s experience is different, my time in the history department was memorable.

One of my favorite classes was History 323: History of Native Americans taught by Dr. Cassidy. The class is a writing intensive and fills a requirement for my degree. Dr. Cassidy herself is an asset to the department. She is so knowledgeable and always willing to help with resources for class projects or final essays. I am always recommending her class to other students, both in and out of the history department, whether they need a Writing Intensive class or not because of how much I enjoyed my experience. The class focuses on the Native American Experience, the Native Ground, and the American Indian Movement.

One of the best assets that the history department has to offer students are their Graduate Assistants. It has been my experience that getting to know one of the GAs in a class and asking them for help is one of the best ways to achieve success—and the grade you want—particularly, when working through material or a class format that is not suited to your particular learning style. On more than on occasion I have walked into one of my Graduate Assistants’ offices and gone over material and difficult concepts in order to make me feel more comfortable. Our conversations have made lecture and doing assignments so much easier; it’s okay to ask for help if you need it! During my experience with History 112 The Struggle for Equality: The United States 1865-Present, interactions with my TA Gillian helped me make sense of the Reacting to the Past pedagogy. She helped me with my reflections and assignments so that the concepts like Marxism and Socialism were more approachable and understandable and for gaining points (PIPs) during the game.

Extract from HST201 Syllabus

Extract from HST201 Syllabus

Because of the nature of my degree, I have tried to take as many different classes with different professors as possible. Since I want to be an educator, I felt that it was important to see all the different ways to set-up classes and then explore what I thought were the strengths and weaknesses of each format. The game-based learning structure in History 201: World History to 1500—taught by Dr. Truitt—was probably my favorite format to learn in. Dr. Truitt allows students to explore different ways of learning and to pick and choose the type of assignments that they want to complete, making it an extremely inclusive class for all different types of learners. Furthermore, it accommodates students’ crazy schedules by giving them a small amount of flexibility when assignments are due. For example, the final in Dr Truitt’s class was game based, which meant that we created a game as a group about our chosen topic of interest and ran it as a class final which was a really cool way of being examined rather than the traditional written exam at the end.

Each and every one of the professors that I have taken classes with focus on getting students involved with not only the material but also each other. We discuss ideas in both group projects and discussion where different views and ideas and how best to approach different topics. Alongside this, we discuss what each student finds particularly interesting about the class. I have found this aspect of classes to be extremely helpful with finding new information, new interpretations, and continuing to expand my knowledge beyond what I have read to also include what my fellow students have to say as well. Overall, I have had a very positive experience and I will continue to encourage other students to take history classes for not only their interest but also to experience different teaching styles.


Analiese Guettler is a final year undergraduate student who is studying secondary social studies with a concentration in political science and a history minor. She is also part of the Central Michigan University Band. For more information or to contact her:

Email: guett1am@cmich.edu or on twitter: @AGuettler