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The History Behind the African American Downtown Festival

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 2:05pm by hmorse

Lucille Hall Porter
Lucille Hall Porter at the Community Leaning Post, 1993

On Saturday June 1, 2019, Ann Arbor residents will gather for music, dance, food, crafts, and local business wares at the African American Downtown Festival. The festival was founded in 1996 by community leader Lucille Hall Porter (1917-2007). It celebrates the vibrant history of black-owned businesses and community organizations located on East Ann Street and North Fourth Avenue throughout the twentieth century.

In its early years, the festival was sponsored by Porter’s nonprofit, the Community Leaning Post, which operated out of 209-211 N. Fourth Ave. The building used to be owned by the Colored Welfare League, and before that by several different African American hoteliers, including heavyweight champion Hank Griffin. In 1966, Porter’s brother J.D. Hall purchased the building, recognizing its history as a cornerstone of the Ann Street Black Business District. By the mid 1980’s, Hall’s Barber Shop was the only black-owned business left in the once-thriving district.

Now the Ann Arbor Cultural and Community Events Coalition puts on the African American Downtown Festival, but the event’s location remains central to its mission. For most of the twentieth century, dozens of barber shops, shoe repair shops, dry cleaners, restaurants, pool halls, and blues bars anchored Ann Arbor’s black community, until police crackdowns and redevelopment pushed them out.

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Paper, Ink, and Pi: Printing the Signal of Liberty (Part III)

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 9:42am by hmorse

Part III: “A Printer’s Supplies”

Like any other nineteenth-century newspaper, the Signal of Liberty relied on the receipt of printing supplies that were not always easy to come by in Western states and territories. Besides a press and typesetting equipment, printers needed several dozen cases of type and a regular supply of paper and ink. Local, as well as out-of-state, business connections with type foundries, paper mills, ink-makers, and bookstores were vital to the smooth operation of the Signal of Liberty. In some cases, these businesses’ support of the Signal also corresponded to the owner’s own antislavery convictions. Even when this was not the case, the Signal’s business networks paint a picture of industry and commerce in mid-nineteenth-century Ann Arbor, as well as the larger Great Lakes region.

 

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Paper, Ink, and Pi: Printing the Signal of Liberty (Part II)

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 3:49pm by hmorse

Signal of Liberty masthead, April 28, 1841

Part II: “Printers & Presses”

What printing press did the Signal of Liberty use? In his 1960 dissertation, John Edgar Kephart wrote that it was “probably” a Washington hand-press because of its popularity in America’s frontier states at the time. But he was not certain.

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Blog Post

Louisa Pieper, Dedicated Local Historian and Preservationist

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 3:43pm by andrewjmac

Louisa Pieper with Fred, July 1999

Louisa Pieper, longtime Ann Arbor Historic Preservation Coordinator, local historian, and friend to the Library passed away on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.  

After coming to Ann Arbor in 1968, Louisa spent years with Ann Arbor's Historic District Commission, first as staff director and then as Historic Preservation Coordinator for the last 17 years of her career.  In these positions she fought to preserve the fabric of Ann Arbor's past through architecture, helping to establish 12 of the city's Historic Districts.  Many of the buildings in these areas would long since have disappeared or been changed beyond recognition were it not for her tireless efforts.  She was also a founding member of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, which works on legislative issues at the state level to protect and restore Michigan's architectural heritage.

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Paper, Ink, and Pi: Printing the Signal of Liberty (Part I)

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 9:20am by hmorse

Part I: “Pi”

On April 14, 1845 the editors of the Signal of Liberty (1841-1848), a weekly Ann Arbor antislavery newspaper, ran an apologetic notice stating that “Last week our whole advertising page was knocked into pi, and we were obliged to insert some advertisements in two places, while others did not appear at all.” While twenty-first-century readers may wonder whether they dropped the page into someone’s dessert (or a geometric formula), the term meant something quite different to a nineteenth-century printer. Newspapers such as the Signal of Liberty relied on a laborious technique of arranging individual pieces of cast metal type into lines, columns, and page-sized “forms” before they could be inked and pressed. Types became “pied” if they were mixed up, dropped, or otherwise jumbled to the extent that each letter and punctuation mark had to be manually resorted into cases before the printer could resume composing. For a whole page of a 4-page issue to be “knocked into pi”—that’s up to 56,000 pieces of type!—was quite a disaster, indeed.

To become a printer, you had to master the counter-intuitive practice of setting letters into your composing stick upside-down and backwards—no easy feat—as well as the vocabulary of the printing trade. In fact, the origin of the saying “mind your p’s and q’s” may very well have been in printing shops, where compositors had to double-check their selection of these easily-confused letters. It certainly helped to have a “lower case” and an “upper case,” which were wooden boxes designed to place the most commonly-used letters close to hand. Other printers’ terms included “devil,” a nickname for a young apprentice who got the messiest, most tedious jobs like rolling ink, sorting pied type out of the “hellbox,” and “distributing” it back into the proper cases. As one Signal of Liberty article joked, a mischievous newspaper printer might tell his young “devil”: “get your stick and conclude the horrid murder which Joe began last night—wash your hands and come to dinner, and then see that all the pi is cleared up.”

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Blog Post

Remembering Donald Hall, 1928-2018

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 12:29pm by amy

Donald HallDonald Hall, one of the last major poets of his generation, former University of Michigan professor, and 14th Poet Laureate of the United States, died June 23 on his farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire, where he'd been in declining health. 

Last year, AADL celebrated Hall's poem "Eating the Pig" with a website chronicling in poetry, prose, photographs, and paintings the now-famous Ann Arbor literary dinner that inspired his poem.

Listen to Donald Hall reading his poem "Eating the Pig."

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See Vintage Photos of 1970s Ann Arbor

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 9:09am by antdevee

Commuter Bus/IM BuildingCheck out this collection of black and white photos of Ann Arbor from over 40 years ago!

Shared by local resident RJ Godin, this collection includes vintage shots of past local businesses like the Flame Bar, Omega Pizza and Central Cafe

Also in this collection are charming street scenes of downtown Ann Arbor; and shots of iconic campus locations like the Observatory, Nickels Arcade and the Campus Corner. You can see more from this collection here.

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76 years ago this week in Ann Arbor: A bus of WWII draftees departs from Courthouse Square, May 13, 1942

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 9:56am by amy

Draftees leaving Courthouse Square "Just before the bus left this morning, taking him to Detroit and induction in the armed services, the last Ann Arbor draftee in the second bus (above) received the most appropriate of all farewells. More than 500 townspeople heard Mayor Leigh J. Young and the University ROTC and marching bands in the send-off program for the men of Selective Service Board No. 1 this morning."

More photos from that day here.

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Blog Post

Runners Celebrate!

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 12:08pm by oldnews

Starting Line of the Dexter-Ann Arbor RunThe Dexter-Ann Arbor Run turns 45 next year and the Ann Arbor Track Club, who among many things helps to sponsor the run, turns 50 this year! You can see all the spectacular moments from start to finish like the winner of the first run. Participants range from the oldest to one of the youngest as well as those in wheelchairs. There are photos of the victors to those just clearly exhausted. See the moms & dads that participated, one carried his kids in the race and others pushed their strollers through it all while still other parents ran with their kids. But the most inspiring photos are those that show support between runners as well from family & friends here and here. So enjoy the walk (or run as the case may be) down memory lane with articles & more photos for the DX-A2 Run. You can also see more of the Ann Arbor Track Club like their relay team from 1966 and others here.

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Calling All High School Students!

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 2:51pm by amy

Do you love local history? If so, you or your team could win the annual Ray Detter Local History Award for up to one thousand dollars! And our Oldnews team at AADL can help! Possible projects you could consider include, but are not limited to one of the following:

  • Document an historic site in Ann Arbor.
  • Assist with Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit tours.
  • Develop material for a local historical museum: e.g., Kempf House Museum, Cobblestone Farm, Museum on Main Street.
  • Produce media that promotes local history, e.g. Community TV; graphic novel.
  • Document an interview with a local historian.
  • Contribute to local history efforts at the Ann Arbor District Library.
  • Develop a program to promote this Award to all Ann Arbor high schools.

Watch this video for more information about the award, or email project director Ilene Tyler at historicA2@gmail.com.