We started the week by continuing our investigation into the trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet. After reading through testimony and both sides’ closing arguments, students acted as jurors and determined a verdict (not guilty). Then, we went to the Bentley Historical Library to look through primary sources related to the trial, including transcripts on microfilm, the personal diaries of the judge’s secretary (Judge Frank Murphy, before he became mayor), newspaper articles from 1925 with stories about the trial, and other related documents. One of the goals of this endeavor was to put a human face on historical events, especially events that have shaped local history.
We then turned our attention to the work of Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. We read one of Randall’s poems, “Booker T. and W.E.B” and discussed the different philosophies of Washington and DuBois.
We also spent time exploring the “Mapping Inequalities,” a digitized collection of “security maps” and area descriptions produced by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation as part of the New Deal. These maps, which were created to help realtors, developers, and lenders assess an area’s risk and credit worthiness, help to tell the story of housing segregation in the United States (and the government’s role in it). Of course, our focus was on the ways that Detroit neighborhoods were evaluated, but we also explored cities all over the country. Putting our own observations into a historical context helps us to understand how the past shapes the present and gives us a chance to think about what we can do to make positive changes in the future.
Students are also starting to create notecards for their individual research papers related to an aspect of the history of Detroit. Topics include Detroit as the “arsenal of democracy” during World War II, the impact of different types of music on communities, iconic Detroit food, the history of Belle Isle, public art, influential architects and architectural styles, different immigrant groups and their culinary influence, the history of significant monuments, the history of the Purple Gang, Woodward’s original city plans, the relationship between race and standardized test scores, the relationship between test scores and job growth over time, the Detroit Tigers, and the ecological impact of gentrification. Of course, as research continues, topics are subject to change. After the students take notes on index cards, they’ll turn their cards into an outline and, eventually, turn that into a research paper.
After a week of hard work, we decided to follow in the footsteps of generations of Detroiters and spend the afternoon on Belle Isle. In addition to a lovely picnic and jaunt on the massive playground, we also visited the Belle Isle Aquarium (oldest public aquarium in the continental United States), the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. It was a perfect way to end the week.
P.S. Check out the new photos added to the class album this week.