Inequities and disparities are toxins planted with intention and inattention into the souls, soil, and systems within our communities. Our ‘strategies of choice’ in addressing inequities and disparities too often prioritize the comfort of the oppressor over and above the liberation of the oppressed.
Detroit, MI is known for being an important stop on the Underground Railroad. You may not know that people were also enslaved in Detroit and surrounding areas. Many roads, schools, and places are named after wealthy slave-owning families. If you live in or near Detroit, you will recognize these names, Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Dequindre, and Groesbeck Livernois, Rivard, and many others. From its founding in 1750, slavery existed during Detroit’s existence as a French, British, and then American settlement. The Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library has an original ledger book of William Macomb. The ledger lists his property and includes over 20 enslaved individuals. The first mayor of Detroit, John R. Williams (two streets bear his name), also owned slaves along with priests of the Catholic Church in Detroit. The men who financed the Detroit Free Press were also former slave owners. The Free Press used its platform to support slavery prior to the Civil War.
People of African and Native/Indigenous descent were both enslaved in Detroit. Enslavement of native peoples occurred first. Slavery played an integral role in the relationship between European settlers and Native tribes. The Native system of enslavement involved taking captives to settle conflicts or build alliances. This would occur by women and children of rival factions being exchanged or given to confirm an alliance or settle a dispute. When the French arrived, they also adopted this practice to establish trade alliances with Native peoples as well. Native women were victims of labor trafficking and sexual violence. The enslaved were used as pawns to help bolster trading alliances between European settlers and Native tribes. Slavery continued to exist in the Northwest Territory (which included Michigan) even though it was abolished in 1787. Slave owners used loopholes or flat out ignored the law to maintain their ownership of the enslaved.
Robert Robinson Taylor (1858 – 1942) is recognized as the first academically trained Black architect in the U.S. Taylor grew up in North Carolina, where he worked for his father (Henry Taylor) as a carpenter and foreman. Henry Taylor was a successful builder. Robert Taylor’s mother was Emilie Taylor. Both Henry Taylor and Emilie Taylor were reported to be of mixed race.
Robert Taylor graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The final project he completed for his bachelor’s degree in Architecture was “Design for a Soldier’s Home.” The project examined suggested a design to provide housing for aging civil war veterans. He graduated from MIT in 1892 at the top of his class with a bachelor of science degree in architecture. Taylor was the first black person to graduate from MIT with an architectural degree.
Esteban Hotesse (1919 – 1946) is the only known Latinx member of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen was a black military unit that saw combat during World War II. Hotesse was born in Moca, Dominican Republic and immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and younger sister in 1923. The family settled in Manhattan. Hotesse enlisted into the Army Air Corp in 1942. He was first assigned to the 619th Bombadier Squadron, which later merged with the 477th Bomdadier Group M in 1944. The 477th was one of the Tuskegee Airmen squadrons that remained stationed in the U.S. and did not see combat overseas. The 477th did, however have to combat racism and discrimination on U.S. soil. The 477th and 619th merged after the military leaders began receiving pressure to provide more opportunities for black soldiers to fill key positions in the air corp.
McKissack & McKissack is the oldest black-owned architecture, construction, and engineering company in the U.S. The company was started in 1905 by brothers Moses McKissack III (l879-1952) and Calvin Lunsford McKissack (1890-1968). Their knowledge of the construction trade was passed down from their father (Gabriel Moses II) and enslaved grandfather (Moses McKissack I). Calvin and Moses III were educated at Pulaski Colored High School and attended Fisk University, a historically black college. They started the company in Pulaski, TN, and then relocated the business to Nashville, TN.
State requirements for architects changed in 1922, requiring all architects to be licensed and registered. The McKissack brothers took correspondence courses and obtained architectural degrees to meet the licensing requirements. When the brothers passed the state licensing exam in 1922, they were some of the state’s first registered architects. Some of their most well known projects were several public schools in the 1930’s and the Tennessee State University Library in 1927. McKissack & McKissack architects was awarded its largest contract in 1942, a $5-$7 million contract with the U.S. government to design and build Tuskegee Army Airfield. The airfield was the training site for the Tuskegee Airmen. The firm attend greater notoriety as a result of this project and by 1945 were licensed to work in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi.
Today, I came across a quote I shared on social media on “predatory blending”. It is just as true today as it was 11 years ago and inspired more reflection to flow from my pen:
Beware of “Predatory Blending”. Your associations should embrace you not erase you. -Enid Gaddis, Black Mail Founder
I created the term, “predatory blending” to describe the assimilation that can be expected from black people or other people of color as we navigate, infiltrate, integrate, and situate ourselves in various settings from employment, entrepreneurship, community involvement, civic engagement, education, etc.
There are times when our “acceptance” or even or “eligibility” for inclusion is based on our ability to assimilate. Assimilation leads to erasure. When assimilation is required for acceptance, the often hidden but powerful forces of “predatory blending” are at work.
Don’t allow your wisdom, wit, and work to be manipulated and re-worked so that your influence and imprint is watered down and unrecognizable. Don’t let systems and shysters mine the riches of your intellect and innovation co-opting it for causes that refuse to accept the totality and phenomenality of your essence and presence. Bring the fullness of YOU into these spaces. Refuse to be erased.
Using data from online consumer business ratings, researchers have now been able to quantify the dollar value impact on revenue growth for businesses located in black neighborhoods. The research suggests that businesses in black neighborhoods face a negative stigma because of their location within black communities. The stigma centers around businesses being considered as less capable, having less quality, etc.
According to the Brookings Institution data, businesses in black neighborhoods that are highly rated by customers using the Yelp platform experience a significantly lower rate of revenue growth than businesses not located in black neighborhoods. The report indicates that the unrealized revenue equates to approximately $3.9 billion in lost revenue annually for businesses with high ratings located in black neighborhoods. According to Brookings Institution lead researcher Andre Perry, “These businesses in black neighborhoods that have high ratings should experience higher revenue growth, but they are not.” He goes on to also say, “Our model shows that it’s the concentration of blackness in the neighborhood that correlates with the lack of revenue growth.”Continue reading “Location, Location, Location: The Cost of Racism for Businesses In Black Neighborhoods”→
Dunbar Hospital in Detroit, MI, was founded in 1918. Healthcare for Detroit’s African Americans was severely inferior to care available for white patients. At this time more than 30,000 African-Americans lived in Detroit. The city was very segregated. Black physicians could not join the staff of Detroit’s White hospitals and patients were denied care at the city’s White hospitals. Thus, 30 Black doctors, members of the Allied Medical Society (now the Detroit Medical Society), incorporated Dunbar Hospital, the city’s first nonprofit community hospital for the African-American population.
In drafting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson challenged the inhumanity of slavery. However, Jefferson enslaved over 600 people throughout his lifetime. Out of the 600 people he enslaved, he only freed seven. Jefferson believed that the enslaved were incapable of caring for themselves and therefore should not be freed. He felt that freeing the enslaved would be harmful to them. Continue reading “The Deleted Passage Of The Declaration of Independence That Denounced Slavery”→