Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Different and related histories

Dearborn is a city alongside the southwest side of Detroit. From 1942 to 1978 its mayor was Orville Hubbard, yes, elected 15 times. He did lots of good things for the growing city, but he was also racist, determined to keep Dearborn white while Detroit became majority black. For example, in addition to racist housing laws (some perpetrated by federal policies) Hubbard made sure that city parks had signs saying city parks were for residents only.

I started working in Dearborn in 1979 for the auto industry, and continued until I retired in 2007. In that time Dearborn became the center of the largest Middle-East population outside the Middle-East. A week ago Fatina Abdrabboh wrote a letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press. Abdrabboh is the director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's Michigan Regional Office. Her office is perhaps in the Arab-American National Museum across the street from Dearborn's City Hall – which features a statue of Orville Hubbard on the plaza. Abdrabboh made many of the same arguments as were made about Confederate flag in the South. Perhaps Orville should be moved to a museum.

This past Sunday Stephen Henderson, the Freep Editorial Page Editor, discussed Abdrabboh's letter and includes a discussion he had with Kidada Williams, a professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit. Williams discusses something my friend and debate partner has said many times: the solution to offensive free speech (a statue of Hubbard) is more free speech.
Williams, whose studies have been about race and racism, racial progress and struggle, said she doesn't support "sanitizing" history, wiping away painful reminders of what was in the name of delivering justice to an aggrieved population. She would have Confederate flags taken down, for instance, because they hold no real historical significance.

But she would preserve Confederate monuments, which adorn parks and squares in cities all over the country, and insist that they be accompanied by their proper historic context.

"The figures memorialized are important to history, whether local, regional, state or national," Williams said. "At the same time, there is a history in the memorial campaigns — who gets memorialized when and who doesn't — that intersects with the rise of Jim Crow that should be taught along with more accurate, integrated histories of the United States."

She'd also make important additions to displays.

"I would support counter-memorials, ones that tell different but related histories, and ideally these would appear in the same spaces as the original ones," Williams said.
Henderson proposes a series of questions for the residents of Dearborn to discuss: Why was a statue of Hubbard erected? Was there opposition? How was that handled? Should a counter-monument be placed beside the statue? What other historical stories should be included in that new display?

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