Interview with an Anishinaabe working in the the Grand Rapids Public Schools – 1992

This interview was conducted by one of the co-editor’s of the independent newspaper in Grand Rapids during the 1990s, The Fundamentalist.

The interview, published in its entirety, was part of an issue of the independent newspaper that was completely devoted to indigenous issues, around the 5ooth anniversary of the European colonization of what are now referred to as the Americas.

The Native American Education Program in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, which is discussed in this interview, lost its funding and no longer exists.

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Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #10 – the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement

Last semester, art students in Brett Colley’s class on printmaking, invited me to come talk about the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. The intent of the class was to have students investigate their own part of a People’s History of Grand Rapids and then make a print based upon an individual social movement or a particular moment in Grand Rapids history.

This print is by Jenny DeWitt and celebrates the 1985 Grand Rapids School Board vote in favor of divesting from Apartheid South Africa. The GRPS School Board voted 7 – 2 in favor of divesting from South African Apartheid. This effort was part of a decades long campaign that included getting the City of Grand Rapids to divest and Calvin College to divest from Apartheid South African. The only entity that did not endorse the campaign was the Kent County Commission.

One can read about the decades long campaign against South African Apartheid, by clicking here to read the 92 pages on the Grand Rapids anti-Apartheid movement.

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High rent and overcrowding was a potential threat of “slum development” for blacks in a 1947 Grand Rapids Urban League study

We would like to thank the staff at the Grand Rapids Public Library in their History and Special Collections sections for assisting us in find the documents needed for this post.

phillips_webThree weeks ago we posted an article about a 1940 survey done by the Grand Rapids Urban League on the state of African Americans. 

The 1940 Urban League study looked a several major indicators on the quality of life for African Americans in Grand Rapids, such as jobs, health, education and housing. We came across another study conducted in 1947, also by the Grand Rapids Urban League, a study that was led by one of the leaders of the black community, Paul I. Phillips. (pictured here)

The study made some comparisons between white and black housing dynamics. White had a higher rate of home ownership, while black families had more people living in homes or apartments than their white counterparts. There is a difference in the condition of the homes, the size of the dwellings and the cost of rent for those who were not homeowners, as you can see from the chart below.


The 1947 study by the Grand Rapids Urban League provides important context for post-WWII housing issues along racial lines that can inform us about contemporary housing issues that the black community is facing.

The summary of the study states:

A housing crisis exists that is affecting all groups of people. For the majority of white families, it is a temporary problem. But for the majority of Negro families, it is a permanent problem unless a change occurs in the present pattern, so that Negro-American families obtain the opportunity for movement and expansion.

Of the majority of houses, the general physical conditions are good, but there is a potential threat of slum development in several areas.

And let it be remembered that overcrowding in living conditions tends to affect the health and the cultural and moral development of the family.

One additional part from the study included comments from both white and black residents in Grand Rapids. The questions asked had to do with race relations, employment and housing. The responses are instructive and you can read them all at end of the study, by going to this link

Here are two examples, the first from a white person and the second from a black person. 



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Giving til it hurts others: Another look and Rich DeVos & Jay Van Andel’s benevolence – 1998

screen-shot-2016-03-21-at-2-30-35-am(Our post last week was in reaction to a Grand Rapids Press article from 1998 that featured some information on the philanthropy of Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel. The article is a critique of the GR Press coverage. Today’s post is from the same issue of the Summer 1998 of the independent newspaper, The Fundamentalist, where it provides details on some of the organizations receiving money from the Amway co-founder’s foundations and what role these groups play in state and national policy.) 

“There has always been poverty in the world, and it does not help the situation for men, or nations, of material strength to wallow in some kind of guilt about that fact.”    Rich DeVos, Believe

Imagine the Amway co-founders coming to the Grand Rapids Press and offering them a nice fat check to run a glowing five-piece series on their tremendous benevolence. Sadly, this is exactly what the Press did without even receiving a check from the local robber barons. I did not investigate, but it is safe to say that Amway did not have to pay the Press. Why would it? The Press shares the same values as Rich and Jay, “free markets for us, labor and poverty for everybody else.”

One could argue at length why the Press chose to do a series of the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations, a series that practically canonizes them, but I believe it is more important to point out the grave implications that the Amway co-founder’s “giving” has for democracy at home and abroad.

To its credit, the Press did obtain the documents that lays out for us the details of which groups received funds from the tow foundations. To not question the integrity and motivation of the organizations receiving these funds however, is just bad journalism.

It is bad enough that the Press did not explain how this “giving” is simply a major tax write off, but to treat the foundation money simply as promoting Conservative and Christian causes is very dangerous. Indeed, it fails to present the very deliberate and conscious effort of the Amway co-founders to promote policies that have resulted in limiting people’s access to equality, denied religious freedom, and in some cases, caused the murder of innocent people. What follows is a look at some of the more prominent organizations that have received money from the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

The DeVos Foundation alone gave nearly $14 million over the past seven years to this Florida-based church. Aside from telling us that DeVos and Coral Ridge pastor James Kennedy play tennis, the Press f=gives us little substance on what role Kennedy plays in the Religious Right across the country.screen-shot-2016-06-14-at-10-51-51-am

James Kennedy was an original member of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority organization, a group that has promoted anti-gay policies/anti-gay violence, the notion that women should be submissive to men and that the State of Israel should receive complete support from the US.

Kennedy also serves as a spokesperson for the Promise Keepers and has been a board member of the Coalition for Religious Freedom, a front group for the pseudo-fascist Rev. Moon.

Most disturbing is the Reconstructionist theology that Kennedy and the Amway co-founders endorse. This type of theology believes that civil law should be replaced by biblical law. According to author Fred Clarkson, Kennedy gave a keynote speech at the 1996 American Vision conference and made the following comments:

Nobody has the right to worship on this planet any other God than Jehovah. And therefore the state does not have the responsibility to defend anybody’s psuedo right to worship an idol.” Eternal Hostility, Fred Clarkson, 1997

Kennedy, who also hosts a national conference, Reclaiming America, has a weekly TV program that airs on 360 stations and five cable networks in the US and Russia, as well as the Armed Forces Network. His 30-minute radio show, Truths that Transform, is heard six days a week on over 300 radio stations. Thus, Kennedy has unlimited access to promote his anti-democratic doctrine.

Michigan Family Forum

Closer to home the Michigan Family Forum (MFF) promotes hatred towards the LGBT community, has close ties to Gov. Engler and has been creating political action committee in churches across the state.

In his book, The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, author Russ Bellant states that MFF works closely with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family to organize Community Impact Communities. Standard reading material for these groups are Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue, a fanatically anti-choice text and Fr. Enrique Rueda’s, Gays, AIDS & You, which teaches hate towards the LGBT community. Another author recommended is Paul de Parris, whose name appeared on a letter endorsing the murder of Dr. David Gunn by anti-abortionist Paul Hill in Florida.

Because of their political organizing, Gov. Engler has involved MFF in the Michigan Abstinence Partnership, sponsored by the Michigan Department of Public Health. They are also represented on a review committee working on curricula for AIDS/HIV with the State Department of Education.NED LOGO VEKTOR

National Endowment for Democracy

Maybe the least known of the groups that Van Andel has been deeply involved with, was the National Endowment for Democracy, also known as NED. NED was created during the Reagan years as a mechanism to push neoliberal economic policies around the world and funding governments or political parties that would best serve the interest of the US. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” 

Jay Van Andel was on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy and served in that capacity while the NED was funding death squad governments in Central America, funding opposition parties in Nicaragua and supporting pro-US dictatorships throughout Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

The Heritage Foundation

A major recipient from both the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations, the Heritage Foundation is the most active think tank in the US that promotes anti-democratic values. Founded in 1973 by beer baron Joseph Coors (a close friend of DeVos), this organization has promoted White Supremacy and a contempt for the poor.heritage-foundation-logo

From 1973 – 82 the Chairman of the board of the Heritage Foundation was former Congressman Ben Blackburn, who said, “voting was not an inherent right but a privilege that should be qualified by some sort of literacy test.” In testimony before a House committee Blackburn advocated for publicly hanging housing tenants who fell behind their rent payment.

Most notable has been the Heritage Foundation’s promotion of conservative economic programs. They wrote the incoming Reagan administration’s policy guide, Mandate for Change, that advocated for the elimination of Food Stamps, Medicare, child nutrition assistance, farm assistance, legal services for the poor and the repeal of a $1,000 tax exemption for the elderly. Heritage’s current director is Ed Feulner. Feulner has been a member of numerous organizations that have supported dictatorships throughout the world. He is a member of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL), which has toes to several death squads in Latin America and the Free Congress Foundation, which is another recipient of DeVos Foundation money.

Free Congress Foundation, Council for National Policy & the Conservative Caucus

These three organizations have missions and board members that overlap. Rich DeVos even served as a board member of the Council for National Policy (CPN) at one time. All three groups have supported US foreign policies that have resulter in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. The Free Congress Foundation (FCF) actively supported the Contra terrorist forces in the 1980s in Central America, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Islamic fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan, all of which  committed massive atrocities against civilians in the 1980s. According to author Russ Bellant, FCF’s Paul Weyrich has also involved the organization in the World Anti-Communist League, CIA covert actions and support for Eastern European Nazi collaborators.


The CNP is an organization made up of people like former drug and gun runner Oliver North and R.J. Rushdoony, a Christian Reconstructionist who believes that children should be given the death penalty for disobeying their parents. This group chastised the reagan administration in the 1980s for not being supportive enough of the South African Apartheid government. One board member, Don McAlvany, while on a trip to South Africa in 1989, suggested that someone might want to kill Archbishop Tutu. In the US, the CNP promotes the theories of groups like the Pioneer Fund that believes that Blacks are genetically inferior to Whites.

The Conservative Caucus (CC) is headed by Howard Phillips, who has for years maintained close ties to the John Birch Society. The CC has been involved in many of the same causes as the CNP and the FCF, but one country’s politics has been dear to them for years.

Angola has been at the center of the CC’s foreign policy concerns for years. CC has backed the terrorist Jonas Savimbi, leader of the group UNITA. UNITA has one of the worst human rights records in all of Africa, according to both Amnesty International and Africa Watch, and has been a political tool of numerous US administrations from Reagan until today. Phillips and the CC have been lobbying Congress for years in favor of UNITA.

Other noted recipients of the “untold million” from the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations are Hillsale College. The President of Hillsdale College, George Roche, also sits on the advisory board of the US affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League. This educational institution has hosted forums with speakers such as Manuel Ayau, a member of Guatemala’s Amigos del Pais, a group linked to the death squads in Guatemala.

Hillsdale also houses the late John Bircher Clarence Manion’s tape collection, with lectures from former Nicaraguan Dictator Anastasio Somoza Hillsdale’s magazine, Imprimis, provides a forum for anti-minority views. In one issue they gave space to the director of English Only (another DeVos and Van Andel Foundation recipient) to condemn advocates of cultural diversity and bilingual education. This compliments foundation money that goes to TEACH Michigan and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which are militantly anti-Public Education groups.

This is only a sampling of the groups that both the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations have contributed to. Even if a small dose of this information had appeared in the GR Press, at least the public would have more to go on before the Amway co-founders were given sainthood.

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Responding to the GR Press Pro-Amway Propaganda – 1998

“Our people are seeking inspiration all the time, as most people are. Some people find it in the Rotary Club, some people find it at church and some people like to go to Amway meetings.” Rich DeVos, in, “The Power of Positive Inspiration,” Forbes 12/9/91

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-12-52-57-am“In many ways Amway is more like a fundamentalist religion than a direct marketing business, with money as the god.” – from Dangerous Persuaders, by Louise Samways

“Now I realize what people mean by Amway Brainwashing; they leave one unable to trust themselves or their capabilities. I have experienced that and it has led to a great lack of self esteem and a diminished self image which I have to work on now on a daily basis just to cope. I have had to seek a doctor’s care and treatment. I have to take medication to deal with the depression as it is too much to deal with at this time without it.” former Amway distributor

In April of 1998, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page series on the “generosity” of Amway’s two founders, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel. What follows is the response from the independent newspaper, The Fundamentalist in the summer of 1998.


To read the entire article from 1998 that critiques Amway and the GR Press coverage, click here.

Posted in Anti-Capitalism/Labor, Indy Media, Religious Right | Tagged , | 1 Comment

State of the Black Community in Grand Rapids – 1940

n 1940, the Urban League conducted a survey of the black community in Grand Rapids . The survey revealed some interesting trends and dynamics and can be instructive for those of us who want to learn from history.

The report published in 1940, was put together by Warren Banner, in a publication entitled, The Negro Population of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1940: a social study conducted for the Interracial Committee of the Council of Social Agencies by the National Urban League.

According to the introduction of the report, the idea of the survey came about because several African American pastors had been discussing a way to pay off the mortgages of some of the black churches. There is no evidence we could find that this ever came to fruition, but it did lead to the survey conducted by the Urban League and its 160 page report, which can be found at the Grand Rapids Library in the History and Special Collections section on the 4th floor.

The survey is important for a variety of reasons, but mostly because there was a significant increase in the black population between 1920 and 1940. More and more blacks were moving from the south to the north, mostly looking for work and economic opportunities.

Based on the African American families that were surveyed in 1940, many of them came from the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

Most African Americans moved to the Third Ward in Grand Rapids. The Urban League report notes that, “the trend was away from the First Ward in 1930 insofar as the Negro is concerned.” The Third Ward continues to be the area that is most populated by the black community, even 75 years after the survey was completed. Segregation was prominent then and it is prominent now.

Another section in the 1940 Urban League report looks at what areas of employment African Americans were more likely to obtain. The report notes, “the majority of the Negro population must look to employment in unskilled and domestic jobs.” The report also notes that “making a living” was a significant problem for many in the black community, based on the jobs and wages available, but also because of the systemic racism they faced.

One area of discrimination was the failure of Labor Unions to hire African Americans in various trades. The chart below shows how exclusionary the unions were along racial lines.


Housing Conditions

In addition to lack of economic opportunity and decent wages, housing conditions were a major issue for African Americans in 1940. As we noted in a recent posting, factors that impacted housing for blacks in Grand Rapids were based on red lining from banks and other lending institutions, outright racism by white people who wanted to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods and the ever present threat of violence directed at blacks by White Supremacists. grandrapidsholcmap-med

In 1940, roughly one third of blacks owned their own home, while two thirds were renters. Not surprising, the conditions of the rental units were often poor and in need to significant repair. The Urban League report states on page 49:

“In many instances the two-family houses are converted single family structures. Only one-fifth of the structures are in good conditions, one-third of them need either major repairs or are unfit for use. Nineteen families of the 205 (renters) do not have toilet facilities within their own unit; a greater number of families (84) do not have private baths. Over half of them live in cold water flats where they must furnish heat from small stoves, there being no central heating plant.”

Many of those surveyed in 1940 said they would rather have lived in better housing conditions, but that “was impossible because the rent was too high” or that landlords would not “rent to Negroes in certain areas.” You can go to this link for a more detailed look at the housing stock in the mid-1930s in Grand Rapids. The map shows the four grades of housing areas in the city, based on color coding. 

The Urban League report also looked at some health and education indicators, but the bulk of the report focused on employment and housing. One notable health indicator dealt with Infant Mortality. For every 1,000 births of a white infant, 46 died. For every 1,000 births of a black infant, 140 died. African American babies were 3.5 times more likely to die at birth that white babies.

Report Conclusion

The summary of the Urban League report begins on page 109 and states the following, shown here:


What is revealing here is that conditions did not get better from the 1920s through 1940 or they became worse. This was in no way due to the efforts of the black community to improve themselves, rather, it was the direct result of structural racism and white supremacist values that dominated Grand Rapids just prior to the US entrance into World War II.

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W. E. B. Du Bois spoke in Grand Rapids two times in the early part of the 20th Century


The great African American intellectual and author W. E. B. Du Bois came to Grand Rapids on two separate occasions, first in 1917 and later in 1928.

On his first visit in 1917, he spoke to the Sunday Evening Club at an event organized by Park Congregational Church. Before his talk there was an announcement in the Grand Rapids Herald, with the headline shown here on the right.

Du Bois, speaking just months after the US got involved in World War I, made the point that there was a large number of African Americans drafted into that war, despite the fact that their rights were not granted to them by the country they were now fighting on behalf of.

Du Bois was always looking at ways to connect the struggle of black Americans with the international struggles for liberation and he wanted to provide a global context for the struggle that blacks in the US were engaged in, so as to not see themselves as being isolated from other struggles for liberation.

The Grand Rapids Press did not report on the lecture by Du Bois, rather, they published an editorial piece on May 4 of 1917, entitled, Sharing the White Man’s Burden. The Press editorial followed a very patronizing and white supremacist pattern of thinking. The Press editorial suggests that the negro shouldn’t blame everything on the white race and that they should move forward on the “path of progress” and not mourn what the white government has done to them. The Press editorial makes a mockery of the history of slavery and institutionalized racism directed at African Americans and instead, implores them to not dwell on the past, but to look to the future. Here is that editorial in its entirety below.


Du Bois was invited back to Grand Rapids in 1928 by the Interracial Council. The author and head of the NAACP, spoke at Trinity United Methodist Church. This time the Grand Rapids Herald reported on the lecture, with the headline, Negroes Part in US Civilization Cited by Leader of Race.

Unlike the visits by Booker T. Washington to Grand Rapids some 25 years earlier, there is no evidence that white people, particularly white businessmen, were drawn to the words of Du Bois. The contrast between Washington and Du Bois could not be stronger and although Du Bois was in favor of blacks lifting themselves up through education, he differed from Washington on the question of systemic racism and how it made it nearly impossible for blacks to overcome injustice and find equality while the system benefited whites.

Unfortunately, there was no recording or transcription of the talk Du Bois gave in 1928, so it is hard to say completely what he talked about. But here in what the Grand Rapids Herald reported below.


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