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The Labadie Collection A Hidden Treasure In Our Midst

The Labadie Collection A Hidden Treasure In Our Midst image
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Agenda Publications
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What is it that you have come here to learn? Is it here in AGENDA where you expect to find at least a glimpse of the other side of the story? Is it here, at school, where you expect new horizons to come creeping up on you? The question, rephrased, is this: to what do you want to be exposed? Perhaps, but not necessarily, you have heard of the Rare Books Department. It is located on the seventh floor of the U-M's Harían Hatcher Gradúate Library. In this department, overlooking campus and the rest of the city, is the Labadie Collection. "There is this point about the Labadie Collection," said curator Edward Weber in a recent interview, "you feel that you better get what is offbeat. What we really have to do here is to try to collect the material that no one else is going to bother with." Donated to U-M in 1911 by Joseph A. Labadie, the Labadie Collection is, unfortunately, a well-hidden treasure. It is the richest source of anarchist materials in this hemisphere, according to Weber. Also, the collection 's broad scope of social protest literature and political views from both the radical right and radical left include such subjects as: socialism, pacifism, communism, free thought, sexual freedom, women's liberation, gay libera - tion, the underground press, colonialism, imperialism, and civil liberties with an emphasis on racial minorities. Before understanding fully the significance of the collection , however, it is helpful to know about Joseph Labadie himself. His lifc and his philosophys, although those of only one man, are relevant in thal they served as the base for the once-infant collection. Labadie 1933) was a nativeof Michigan, born in Paw Paw, of French-Indian descent (his grandmother was the daughter of a Potawatomi chief.) He received little formal education, but fortunately attained a printer's apprenticeship in Indiana when he was 1 8. The apprenticeship not only contributed to his education, but was the Ímpetus for his first invol vement with organized labor. Before returning to Detroit from Indiana in 1 877, Labadie travelcd a great deal and bccame in volved with the "Bix Six" typographical union of New York City. He was one of the first field organizers for the Noble Order of Knights of Labor, the Greenback Labor Party candidato for mayor of Detroit in 1878, and the first president of the Michigan Federation of Labor. Referred to as the "gentle anarchist," Labadie was known for his commitment to the bctterment of human kind. R.C. Stewart, in an artiele entitled "The Labadie Labor Collection" (Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review, May 10, 1947), cxplains this term as wcli as Labadie's character and intcgrity: "If Labadie bccame known lo his mullilude of friends as the 'gentle anarchist,' it was bccausc he was first and foremost a good ncighbor, a humanitarian, who despised (humans' cruelty to cach othcr) and foughl it with such moral and intcllcctual resources as hc had in his keeping. He never measurcd himself greater than his noonday shadow; hc never claimcd righl and justicc as the peculiar possession of thosc who agreed with him. In debate hc appcars to have been rcasonably contentious, and hc regardcd angcr as a childish wcakness. His tolcrancc, as he used to say, extended even to the things hc dislikcd." Whcn Labiadic was in his sixlics. Cari Schmidt (a wcallhy Detroit tanncr) gave him a forty-acre farm which was located in what is now Kcnsington Metro Park. Only the tions of the house remain and the nearby nature center hands out a few pamphlets on Labadie. At this time (1911), Labadie donated the material he had collected throughout his life to U-M. It was still wrapped when, over 10 years later, Agnes Inglis took over the task of organizing and caring for the collection. Inglis ( 1 8701952), also an anarchist, categorized much of the collection and played a vital part in the acquisition of more material. The collection has since grown to include 20,000 pamphlets, 7,000 books, numerous brochures, leaflets, flyers, union cards, buttons and badges, about 600 current periodicals (including AGENDA), cassette tapes, phonograph records and more. There are no definite guidelines as to what is to be included in the collection. And if the collection is to continue to reflectLabadie's"tolerance,"theso-calledguide- lines will remain as nonexistent as they are. "I think that policies and guidelines can be valuable," said Weber, "but I don't think that they should be rigidly enforced necessarily. Judgement should be left in the hands of the collector. . . for example, gay liberation was certainly not anything that was in the original Labadie plan." Some eye-catching titles in the collection, evidence of the collection 's narrow (out of-iheordinary) yet inclusive (most anything out-ofthe-ordinary) format, include "In terrupt: Computer People for Peace," "The Anti-Bolshevist" (radical right) and "Birth Control Review: Dcdicated to Voluntary Motherhood." The collection, someümes referred to as the "Labadie Labor Collection," contains a good deal of American labor history material dating back to the 1860s. The auto workers' unionsare well-represented (in content if not size), as are more radical organizations as the Knights of Labor, Industrial Workers of the World, and the Internationale Arbeiter-Union von Amerika (one of the oldest radical labor organizations in the United States). One unfortunatc aspect of the collection (although undcrstandablc) is that it must remain secured. Hoursand hoursof fascinating browsing, therefore, is not possible and you won't find material from the collcclion listed in the Gradúate Library 's second-floor catalogs. The collection is made accessiblc through bibliographies, indexes, an on-line data base for all seriáis and pamphlcis, and a guidc to manuscripts, which are available in the Rare Books Department. Dcspite these restrictions, the Labadie Collection is the most frcqucntly consulted separate unit in the deparimcnt and is used constantly by students and rcscarchcrs from all over the world. The amount the collection is uscd, as wel 1 as the mere existence of it, is perhaps cvidcncc of the power of onc persoh's visión. "He (Labadie) workcd for things thal were not necessarily in the radical programs," said Wcbcr, "rcducing hoursof work - anything toamclioratc the lot of the regular work ing man. (Whcn I say 'working man' il sounds as if hc werc scxisl, which wasn't truc at all, of coursc, bccausc as an anarchist hc bclicvcd in the cquality of the sexes.) It's a belief nol only n intelligcncc of mankind, collcctive ntclligcncc, which grows and grows. But I think you have lo bclicvc in the goodness of man, loo. You have lo belicvc thal if you are informed cnough, allruistic motives will bc powcrful. His belief was thal if people would open their minds enough to listen, a climatc would gradually bc created where people coulcl live fullcr livcs."


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