The Black Community made demands of the Grand Rapids Police Department in 1970

There is ample evidence that African Americans in Grand Rapids have always been the target of intimidation, harassment and violence from law enforcement.

This history plagues the black community today, with recent incidents of police traumatizing black youth who were being held at gunpoint by the GRPD or the recent study acknowledging the disproportionate racial profiling of black drivers by those same cops.

If one reads either African Americans in the Furniture City (Jelks) or A City Within a City (Robinson), it is easy to see that the black community in Grand Rapids has experienced a great deal of harm from the GRPD, from the end of the 19th Century through the present.

Another example of this reality, can be found in 1970, when several members of the African American community submitted a position paper on April 30th of that year, to the Grand Rapids City Commission.

Based on a short article in the Grand Rapids Press, we know that some of the demands from the black community were that the city should hire a black aide to Police Superintendent Robert Anderson, the withdrawal of the police tactical unit from the inner city until an investigation of alleged police brutality is completed and a request that any time there is a request for a cruiser in the black community, if there are no black policemen available, do not send any.

Now, it is important to put these demands into context. First, the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids, was initiated when police used excessive force against several black youth after  pulling them over in what was believed to be a stolen car

For the next three days, the City of Grand Rapids became highly militarized by law enforcement agencies, including the GRPD, the Michigan State Police and members of the National Guard. People were shot at by the police during the riot, One hundred and eighty African Americans were arrested during the 67 riot, mostly for curfew violations. The City of Grand Rapids imposed a curfew, which was primarily enforced in the near southeast part of the city, which is documented in the City’s document called, Anatomy of a Riot.

In addition, in 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense had release their 10 Point Program, which included point seven, “We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.” 

In other words, the demands from the Grand Rapids black community was fairly consistent with the rest of the black community around the country, based on the lived experience of black people as targets of police violence.

The Grand Rapids Press article does say that, “A special commission meeting tentatively approved hiring a black aide and withdrawal of the tactical unit and called for a committee to work out solutions to the demands.

Unfortunately, the Press does not explore more about the demands and what it meant at the time. Instead, the Press reporter chose to focus on tensions between those who presented the demands, 3rd Ward Commissioner Lyman Parks and Franklin Gordon, director of the department of Community Relations.In fact, roughly two-thirds of the article was devote to these “conflicts,” instead of exploring the demands from the black community that challenged police presence and police violence in black neighborhoods.

Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Artwork depicts the very public display of White Supremacy in Grand Rapids 1925

A new print by Jamari Taylor, depicts the blatant display of White Supremacy in Grand Rapids in 1925, when the KKK organized a parade on the city’s westside.

This new artwork communicates a powerful message about the Klan, which turned out 3,000 members who marched down Bridge St and ended up at John Ball Park.

The print includes text taken from the original posting from this site, but what makes it so powerful is that the buildings in the background of the print are situated in contemporary downtown Grand Rapids. You can see the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, what appears to be St. Mary’s hospital and another building with a dollar sign above it. The dollar sign could easily represent the amount of money that white investors and developers have spent to “revise” the downtown area, to the exclusion of African Americans and other communities of color.

The print keeps the traditional hooded white robes images, but makes the connection between 1925 and 2018, showing that white supremacy and institutionalized racism continues to dominate the city.

Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Two Prints honor 1990s Feminist organization – Womyn’s Action Network

The Womyn’s Action Network (WAN) only lasted for three years (1992 – 1995) in Grand Rapids, but their impact was significant. 

Two new prints honor the work of WAN. The first print, created by Natalie Schunk, pays homage to the general spirit of the vision that the Womyn’s Action Network came to embody.

This print reflects the beauty, dignity and creativity that made up the ethos of the Womyn’s Action Network. The visually driven print captures the essence of the organization, both in image and the few words that accompany it…….All Bodies Deserve Respect and Fight Back Patriarchal Systems of Oppression.

The second print, created by Leticia, honors an annual event that WAN organized, the Dick & Jane awards. The whole idea of the Dick & Jane awards was to look critically at gender representation in media, both news and advertising.

The Womyn’s Action Network gave out Dick awards for the most misogynistic forms of media representation, and the Jane awards went to examples where women were represented as smart, powerful, confident and creative.

The Dick & Jane awards event was both informative and fun, since WAN was deeply committed to celebrating women, often using satire in the tradition of the Guerrilla Girls.


Posted in Feminist Movement, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Print captures the anti-war organizing during the 2003 US invasion/occupation of Iraq

In 2003, there was a group called the Grand Rapids People’s Alliance for Justice, which was the main anti-war organizing group in Grand Rapids opposing the US invasion/occupation of Iraq.

This group had begun to organize in response to the 2001 US invasion/bombing of Afghanistan and expanded its resistance work to Iraq in 2002, when the Bush administration began threatening Iraq and calling them responsible for 9/11.

The Grand Rapids People’s Alliance for Justice had organized teach-ins, created anti-war publications, demonstrations, marches and even civil disobedience at the office of Congressman Vern Ehlers, who represented the 3rd Congressional District.

After the action at Congressman Ehlers’ office, the Grand Rapids People’s Alliance for Justice organized a trial and brought charges against Rep. Ehlers for war crimes, including the torture and murder of Iraqi civilians. This creative action was called, The Trial of Vern Ehlers, and was video taped with actors, but was based upon actual data and reports from various human rights organizations monitoring the US war in Iraq.

This print depicts that creative action against Congressman Ehlers and was produced by Chelsea Carlson.

Posted in Anti-War/Anti-Imperialism, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

GR Press Coverage of the 1963 March on Detroit & Washington

Our last post looked at the Grand Rapids Press editorials on the 1963 March on Washington, with the main editorial practicing what we name as a form of white paternalism. Today’s post takes a look at the GR Press coverage of the 1963 march in Detroit and later in Washington DC.

There were two articles in the Grand Rapids Press (Pages 1 – 4) about the march on Detroit in June of 1963, some two months before the march on Washington. Neither of the articles on the Detroit march were on the front page and a great deal of the focus was on whether or not the march was peaceful. There was some coverage of the fact that a list of demands on civil rights were made, but only a few of those demands were mentioned in the articles.

The June 23, 1963 march on Detroit was organized primarily by Dr. King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the UAW. Both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the UAW President Walter Reuther were featured speakers at the march.

In many ways, the Detroit march was held as sort of a test run to see if these organizations could pull off a march with hundreds of thousands of people. Detroit was chosen because the UAW had a large number of union members in the Motor City and Detroit was also one of the most critical northern cities with a major black population that was representative of police violence against blacks and other forms of structural racism.

In Preparation for the 1963 March on Washington

The first article on the 1963 march on Washington, DC, is a piece about the various groups that were organization delegations to participate. The GR Press article (on page 5) states that the UAW, the NAACP and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), were all sending people to participate in the historic march.

The same article in the GR Press mentions that the AFL-CIO, the Grand Rapids Urban League and the Human Relations Commission from the City of Grand Rapids, did not send their members to the historic march.

The first article on the march in August of 1963 (page 6) uses a photo of marchers with the Washington Monument in the background, with the headline that read, “Huge Rights Parade in Capital Orderly.”

The national mainstream news coverage of the march on Washington was obsessed with the idea that the only way that the march could be successful would be if it was passive and orderly. In fact, most of the major labor organizations and the Catholic Church told Dr. King and the other Civil Rights leaders that if civil disobedience would be part of the march, they would pull their support.

Another aspect of the march on Washington, DC in 1963, which is rarely discussed or even acknowledged, is that the Federal government had mobilized the military and law enforcement to make sure that people were not going to disrupt business as usual in the nation’s capital.

According to Gary Younge’s book, The Speech, the White House codenamed the March on Washington, Operation Operation Steep Hill. Younge writes, “One thousand troops and 30 helicopters were deployed in the DC area. The Pentagon put 19,000 troops on stand by. The Eighty Second Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, stood by with C-82 boxcars loaded with guns, ammunition, and food, ready at a moment’s notice to make the 320 mile trip to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, from which soldiers would be dispatched to the Mall by helicopter to quell riots. About six thousand law enforcement officers of different kinds would be deployed that day, all armed with guns, clubs and tear gas. The one concession to civil rights sensitivities was that there would be no dogs.”

This was the context in which the march took place, in terms of what the state was willing to allow those march to do.

On page 10 of the document, the Grand Rapids Press did publish a list of the 10 demands that the marchers were bringing to the nation’s capital that day.

The very next article on page 11 & 12, shows markers from Grand Rapids meeting with then Congressman Gerald R. Ford, with a headline reflecting how Congress was not in a hurry to listed to the demands of the marchers.

The subsequent article on page 13 provides some feedback from the kennedy administration on the historic march. Kennedy is quoted as saying he thinks the march help to further the “Negro cause.” What the GR Press article does not mention is that President Kennedy pleaded with the organizers of the 1963 march to stress personal responsibility. “It seems to me with all the influence that all you gentlemen have in the Negro community, that we could emphasize, which I think the Jewish community has done, on educating their children, on making them study, making them stay in school and all the rest.

One final article from the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the 1963 March on Washington, was written after the marchers had returned from DC. The photo that accompanies the article shows 5 people, 4 with the NAACP and one from the UAW, looking at newspaper coverage of the march.

The article that accompanied the photo provided some basic reflection from the 5 featured in the article, about what they liked and what they were impressed by. Unfortunately, the article did not reflect any sense of urgency that the marchers had brought to DC that day, not much of a sense of the efforts put into making the march happen or the larger historical context of the 1963 march on Washington. Besides Gary Younge’s book, The Speech, another excellent resource is, Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington, by Charles Euchner.

Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

White Paternalism and the Grand Rapids Press Editorial on the 1963 March on Washington

In Jeanne Theoharis’s important book, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History, makes the point that we often look back to events like the 1963 march on Washington and think that the majority of the country supported such events.

The reality is much different. In fact, the federal government was monitoring the organizing leading up to the march and the event that day on August 28, 1963. The federal government was so concerned about what might be said, that they had it set up that they could cut the sound system when necessary, to make sure people were not calling for an uprising that day.

Another mechanism that the state used that day was to have over a thousands police officers attempting to manage the march in the nation’s capitol.

Lastly, the major news outlets around the country reported on the march with some suspicion, specifically how the march was too polarizing and that it did not reflect what most Americans wanted. This sentiment was true, based on polls taken during the 1960s. According to Theoharis, a Gallup Poll taken in 1961, showed that only 22 of Americans polled supported the Freedom Rides. In 1968, another poll that was taken by Gallop, shortly after Dr. King was assassinated, showed that 73% of whites said that blacks in their community were treated the same as whites.

As an example, our post today, takes a look at how the Grand Rapids Press editorialized about the 1963 March on Washington.

Besides the Grand Rapids Press editorial on the 1963 march on Washington, we include three opinion pieces from non-Grand Rapids sources. We include these piece, because this is what people were reading in the Grand Rapids Press in the editorial section, which also influences how people understand what took place in the summer of 1963 – which are linked here.

The Grand Rapids Press editorial uses supportive language and taken out of context might seem like those who wrote this editorial were endorsing the 1963 march on Washington. However, up closer review, within historic context, we can see that this editorial is really framed through the lens of White Paternalism.

The Press editorial staff practices White Paternalism by saying, “more orderly and better controlled.” This signals that has there been any civil resistance, the marchers would have lost all credibility, in the eyes of the GR Press editorial staff. The fact is, that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other black groups involved wanted to have civil disobedience as part of the march, but they were pressured by the Kennedy administration, the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Church not to engage in that kind of action.

The Press editorial writer then goes on to say that “this was a responsible assembly,” and then he compares it to the negative response from David Lawrence’s commentary, which the Press published alongside their editorial. (see link above).

Apparently the restraint exhibited in the marchers was also a demonstration to the world that these kinds of actions need not be violent, which would surely have been the case if this took place in Russia, at least according to the GR Press editorial.

The rest of the editorial again valorizes the fact that there was no violence expressed on the part of the marchers. Nothing is included in the editorial about what it was that those who spoke or the march organizers were demanding from the federal government. In fact, the only person identified by name in the editorial, was Congressman Gerald Ford. Black voices were not centered in this editorial, indeed they were completely absent and seemingly irrelevant.

Ironically, there was violence at the 1963 march on Washington. The violence was demonstrated on the part of the state, by rigging the microphone to cut off if what was said was not found acceptable. There was the threat of violence with the presence of over 1,000 cops ready to arrest people if they were not “orderly.” Then there was the violence of state surveillance, since we know that the communications between organizers was being monitored and their hotel rooms were being bugged by the FBI. In fact, there were an estimated 150 FBI agents there, just to monitor the crowd, according to Gary Younge’s book, The Speech.

Then there was the systemic violence, which is why thousands came to DC to express their grievances. The segregation, the white supremacy and the brutality of police violence that black people experience, as Dr. King pointed out in his speech at the march on Washington. King also made it clear that the federal government failed to make good on its promissory note to blacks to be granted equal rights. King makes it clear that the violence of poverty, poor housing and lack of jobs for black people was the violence that the system imposed on black people.

Our next post will look at the reporting from the Grand Rapids Press on the 1963 march on Washington.


Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

New Artwork celebrates Indigenous Sovereignty and exposes Settler Colonialism in Grand Rapids

A new print, created by Carly Wormmeester, provides a powerful image of the importance of our recognition of Indigenous Sovereignty in Michigan and the Settler Colonial reality of taking over land that belonged to the Anishinaabe.

Carly’s print is based on one of our articles under the heading of Indigenous Resistance, an article entitled, More White Lies: Grand Rapids and Settler Colonialism

The print provides just enough information that exposes the lies of Settler Colonialism in West Michigan and celebrates the Three Fires Tribes.

Posted in Indigenous Resistance, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , | Leave a comment