Welcome to the Detroit History Podcast. We’ll mine this city’s history, telling the story through this town’s cultural, social, political, musical and automotive heritage. Our chosen tool is the podcast.
During the second season we’ll be dealing with topics as varied as Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism; Detroit’s 1943 riot, which killed 34 people; the National Football League Champion Detroit Lions of 1957; and a history of one of this country’s last great newspaper saloons, the Anchor Bar.
Tim Kiska hosts the program, which will be running Mondays in February through April. Hope you enjoy.
Detroit was becoming an eclectic mix of cultures during the 1920s -- African-Americans from the south, immigrants from southern Europe, and a growing Catholic population. The Ku Klux Klan exploited the fear of outsiders and almost elected a Detroit lawyer named Charles Bowles during that decade. He ran again and won the Detroit mayoral seat in 1929, but as gang violence climaxed with the assassination of a popular radio commentator, his promise of law and order was not delivered. He would be recalled from office. We'll explain, with help from Michael Placco, of Macomb Community College, and Kenneth Shepherd, of Henry Ford College.
There must be some reason behind Detroit’s bad luck in the last three-plus centuries. We have the explanation: Du Nain Rouge in French, or the Red Dwarf in English. Legend has it the creature has been spotted whenever something really awful happens. And now, some fun-loving, creative types in this city have turned it into a Mardi Gras-like celebration. We talk with Francis Grunow, co-founder of Marche Du Nain Rouge; and Janet Langlois, a retired folklore expert with Wayne State University’s English Department.
Season Two - Episode Eight: General Motors in the 1920s: How A Struggling Company Became the Chrome Colossus
In 1920, General Motors was a company in trouble. Its founder was fired – for a second time. Henry Ford was eating GM’s lunch with his Model T. But a decade later, GM had revamped itself into the model of a big business, and would remain so for decades, largely by following the same playbook written by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. in the 1920s. We’ll follow its resurgence with help from Paul Lienert, a veteran auto writer and Detroit correspondent for Reuters.
Irene McCabe, a Pontiac mother and anti-busing spokeswoman at an anti-busing rally. Photo via Associated Press.
The topic of busing proved to be one of the most volatile issues in metro Detroit during the early 1970s. This came to a head in the case of Milliken v. Bradley. Two federal court orders mandated the forced busing of children to remedy segregation in metro Detroit. The reaction: The KKK dynamited buses in Pontiac. Thousands took to the streets. The question eventually landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 5-4 decision put a stop to the planned move.
It's been more than 60 years since the Detroit Lions won an NFL Championship. In the 50s, the Lions were one of the most dominant dynasties in the league, winning three championships in six years. It was a season of comebacks with their coach quitting weeks before the season and star QB Bobby Layne going down with a broken ankle. Their backup QB Tobin Rote would have to put the offense on his back, and he did: as they would go on to complete one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history against the 49ers before they trounced the Cleveland Browns in the championship game. We interview hall of fame linebacker Joe Schmidt, as well as Steve Junker, the rookie tight end who scored two touchdown's in the championship game. We also talk with Lions beat writer Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press, and MSU professor Joanne Gerstner. Football analyst Jim Brandstatter takes us through the pages of Sports Illustrated and the Detroit newspapers from that year.
Bluesman John Lee Hooker's recording career spanned more than 40 years -- from his hit record, Boogie Chillen', which was recorded in Detroit in 1948, to his Grammy Award-winning LP The Healer. Hooker is a total product of Detroit's Black Bottom, the city's African-American neighborhood. We track his career, with help from John Lee Hooker's son, John Lee Hooker Jr.; to Marsha Music, whose father, Joe von Battle, owned Joe's Record Shop, one of Hooker's hangouts. Detroit musician R.J. Spangler places Hooker in this country's blues galaxy. Stick around after the credits for a preview of John Lee Hooker Jr.'s new song: Testify.
For two days in 1943, Detroit erupted into a flat-out race war. Thirty-four people died as whites and African-Americans battled each other in the streets. People were ripped from street cars and beaten senseless. Of the 25 deceased African-Americans, 17 were killed by police. It ended only as the U.S. Army came in with rifles and bayonets. Two historians, Thomas Klug and Jamon Jordan, discuss the historic event. A young NAACP lawyer by the name of Thurgood Marshall arrived here within days to investigate the catastrophe. He filed a report. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer reads Marshall’s own words. And we hear from the late Bill Bonds, who tells us (in an interview recorded eight years ago) what he witnessed firsthand.
Before radio, TV, and the internet magician Harry Houdini was described as the world's first rock star. So when he died in Detroit after a performance here in 1926, people around the world took note. We unspool Houdini's death, and his various Detroit connections. That includes his 1906 leap off the Belle Isle Bridge. Veteran newsman Joe Donovan, a serious student of history, recreates that jump in classic CKLW 20/20 new style. We also talk with magicians Ming Louie, Michael Belitsos, and Ron Carnell, pop culture expert Tim Caldwell, and reporter Steve Neavling.
The Anchor Bar, situated on the western end of downtown Detroit, was once one of the country’s best-known newspaper bars. As one of the city's most notorious watering holes, it was also the site of a federal raid because the feds thought one of its patrons was running a $15 million-a-year bookie operation (uh, it did have four telephones). After 60 years, the place has just changed ownership. We look at the bar’s history. We talk with Vaughn Derderian, son of Leo Derderian, who created the place's mystique; former Detroit News columnist Pete Waldmeir; Berl Falbaum, who wrote a book about the place; and Julie Altesleben, a Detroit News copy editor/page designer, who brings us into the 21st century.
Warning: Explicit Language, F Bombs Galore
Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent newspaper published a series of anti-Semitic articles in the 1920s. They gained wide traction, were translated into several languages and gathered together in a four-volume series, The International Jew. Nearly 100 years later, the Dearborn Historian, an obscure quarterly publication, released a story examining the anti-Semitic propaganda. Dearborn’s mayor mothballed the issue, and Historian’s editor Bill McGraw was informed that his services were no longer needed. In this episode of The Detroit History Podcast, we talk with McGraw, University of Michigan-Dearborn professor Ron Stockton, and Mike Smith, principal archivist at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library and an archivist with Detroit’s Jewish News, about Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism and the controversy surrounding the Dearborn Historian’s issue.