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Rob Goodspeed
rob.goodspeed at
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6/30: dcist concert @black cat
7/2: live8 in philly
7/13: nat'l student conference
8/15+: student activist training in a2
10/23: detroit marathon

--: Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century
6/27: Arc of Justice

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Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Land Politics

When I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota a few years back I wondered why there seemed to be so many white-owned ranches on ostensibly native land. Turns out the feds lease the land to the whites, and pass along the check along to the true owners. (Well, some of it at least - remember the billions of dollars of native money they “lost"?) This from an op-ed in the Times:

As the land under their control dwindled, they presumed that Indians were not “competent” to own land outright. It had to be placed under the agency’s own enlightened trusteeship. They kept allotting parcels of this “trust land” to individual Indians, but an Indian couldn’t sell or lease his parcel without permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The rules discouraged sales and encouraged parcels of land to be passed on to multiple heirs. Today it’s common to find a tract with dozens or hundreds of owners. Instead of inheriting the family ranch, which they could work themselves or use as collateral to start another business, these Indians inherit the right to collect checks from the federal bureaucrats who lease their land to others, usually non-Indians. …

Some Indians are trying to go back to the old system, but it’s not easy, as Gus Gardner has discovered. For five years he has been hoping to exchange his trust lands - tiny portions of more 100 different tracts on the Crow reservation - for one big piece of land for his own cattle ranch. But he figures the paperwork involved will take at least another three years. …

Comments (0) • Posted to PoliticsHistoryJustice by Rob at 11:20 am

Sunday, June 26th, 2005


I just finished Kevin Boyle’s excellent book Arc of Justice. Up next: James and Grace Lee Boggs’ Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century

Comments (0) • Posted to BooksHistory by Rob at 11:55 pm

Friday, June 10th, 2005

A Cry in the Blogosphere

I am looking for any information about a now defunct organization called the Center for Campus Organizing. I would also like to get in touch with either of the staffers listed on this website: Bill Capowski or Nikki Morse. If you can help please email (address to the left) or leave a comment. Thanks!

They had some email lists and published this organizing guide, and were active as recently as 2000. An archive of their old website is here, before the domain name was taken by a Kansas church.

Comments (0) • Posted to PoliticsHistory by Rob at 12:34 pm

Friday, May 27th, 2005

Why Academics Should Embrace the Web

What has happened since I posted my honors thesis online?

• I was contacted by a former reporter for the Michigan Chronicle who wrote a number of articles I cited in my thesis. She is now in her 80s and living in Sweden, and we exchanged some interesting emails about the politics of the newspaper at the time and Detroit in the 1940s.

• I was contacted by the city planner for the city of Detroit who said my thesis was “very useful” for their planning of a new city park to commemorate the Paradise Valley neighborhood destroyed in urban “renewal” projects. He said he would provided my thesis to the architects interested in submitting designs for the project.

• I was contacted by someone who has compiled a very interesting and detailed website about one particular house in Detroit: 63 Alfred Street.

• Finally, today I was contacted by someone who grew up, and attended school in Highland Park (a city inside Detroit) in the 1950s. The email is below and continues after the jump.

In sort, it has put me in touch with some of the people directly connected with the history I wrote about, and enabled me to enter into a much larger discussion about the topic that would have occured if I had simply let it sit in the library.

I just finished reading your thesis; hopefully you got an A. I grew up in Highland Park between 1952 and 1972. My family came up from the South in the early 50’s. We started out on 12th st and Buena Vista (3yrs), then on to Edward St in HP, 39 Glendale, off Woodward AVE from about 1958-1965, and then finally to Grove Street near 6 mi road until 1973 – the first and only single family home.

All of those residences, except the last one, were flats or apartments, and that is the way I grew up . Highland Park, Detroit, even with all of the racial problems, was a great place to live. I just have never been able to understand, or fathom the waste that ensued in the last 50 years relative to the neighborhoods, communities, and housing. There were huge numbers of very substantial apartment buildings, bricked from top to bottom. Three, four, and five family flats, as they were called could be found on most streets. The houses in Highland Park were five feet apart with front and back yards and sturdily built.


Comments (0) • Posted to History by Rob at 4:23 pm

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Memorial Day Weekend on the Outer Banks

This weekend I’ll be heading to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with some friends. It will be my second time there, I visited once when my brother was working as a jet ski jockey. I remember the beach was beautiful, but it was too suburban for my tastes. My parents and I are not the most particular people, but only found one restaurant that we genuinely liked - Owen’s Restaurant, which although was significantly more expensive than most of the others had a quality of service and food far above anything else I tried out there.

The outer banks is an interesting place - in the summer I have heard the barrier island can have over 200,000 people on it, and in most places it is less than 1 mile across. However, as there are only two major north-south roads, there are frequently traffic problems. I think they should build massive parking garages where the bridges come over from the mainland, and construct a light rail line to ferry people up and down the coast. Although it’s on a smaller scale South Florida has a linear system connecting West Palm Beach and Miami that I’ve ridden.

Although mostly a suburban waste land of Food Lions and drive-through liquor stores, the area is not without its interesting points. There’s the Fort Raleigh National National Historic Site on Roanoke island, the site of the first attempt by the British to colonize North America (in 1585). The colony at Roanoke is most widely known as “The Lost Colony” as a return voyage discovered the site in ruins and the inhabitants gone. There’s actually pretty good evidence at least some of the settlers intermarried with a friendly tribe, and their descendents still live in the area. I read a book on the history of the Roanoke colony on my trip there written by an Outer Banks historian, which I found to be a fairly easy to read telling of the story: Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America. Of course, the next British colony would fail as well - Popham in Maine, which was evacuated after one devastating winter. Also along the Outer Banks is the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Last time I also created an ephemeral art piece on the beach inspired by the work of Andy Goldsworthy I like to call “wind and waves” …

Finally, I couldn’t remember if I had Sprint service out there. I turns out I only had analog roaming, but it was not before I discovered this very interesting map of every Sprint tower in the U.S. …

Comments (4) • Posted to HistoryTechnology by Rob at 1:42 pm

Sunday, May 22nd, 2005

Pierre L’Enfant’s Tomb

This is the top of Pierre L’Enfant’s Tomb at Arlington National Cemetary.

Comments (0) • Posted to HistoryPhotos by Rob at 12:28 am

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Michigamua Class of 1966

Comments (0) • Posted to University of MichiganMichigamuaHistoryPhotos by Rob at 3:29 am

Michigamua Help Needed

I am preparing a flurry of new publicity surrounding Michigamua. I have a few names from this year’s and last year’s classes - help me complete my list. Your confidentiality is ensured: rob at

Comments (4) • Posted to MichigamuaHistory by Rob at 3:20 am

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

A New Use for Flickr

Obtaining photocopies at an official historical archive can be difficult. They usually charge per copy, and sometimes require you have them make the copies, which is time consuming. In some archives photocopies are sometimes prohibited, which makes transcribing documents a tedious prospect. However, many archives will allow digital photography of their holdings - but the problem is then what to do with the photos. They don’t print very well, and you can’t read the text well if you shrink it down to view or distribute on the web. The answer? The photo sharing site Flickr - where I can post comments, make available full versions of the images for those that are interested, and even categorize them with multiple keywords.

> See historical documents on the U-M secret society Michigamua
> My Michigamua primer
> All major entries on Michigamua

Comments (0) • Posted to MichigamuaHistoryPhotosTechnology by Rob at 1:10 am

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

Detroit’s Ransom Gillis Home

Old college roommates John Kossik and Andy Crause set out one day to “find some ruins” in Detroit last summer. Kossik is from Detroit and Crause lives in Ferndale. They ended up stubling into the dramatic remains of the Ransom Gillis Home located at 63 Alfred Street. Kossik began to investigate the structure and discovered that although many had photographed it, none had researched its history in depth. He has created a website and blog with some of the materials he has collected. He’s assembled an impressive collection of historical facts, photos, and aerial maps and images.

Comments (1) • Posted to History by Rob at 4:32 pm

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

My Papers in the Bentley

Yesterday, I turned over many of my papers I accumulated during my four and a half years living in Ann Arbor to the Bentley Historical Collection at the University of Michigan.

While I have been told it will take some time before the papers are publicly available as they receive a large amount of donations I thought I would post a description of its contents.

The collection, which will be available under my name, will include the following things:

Why the Bentley? First, I wanted this information preserved in a public yet secure location. Most of its salient information is already replicated on this website, and although something of a conspiracy theorist I believed they would follow my wishes and make the information public. Second, as the University’s official archive their funding and future seems assured for the forseeable future. They recently expanded, and the University has a vested interest in the health and future of the archive.

Searching This WebsiteThere are three ways to find information on this website:
> First, you can conduct a simple google search by clicking here, or in google add the text “” to the end of your keywords. This method includes all the content I have posted and should be your first post.
> Second, to search in just the blog entries, use the small search box on the upper right. This does not include much of the older content like salaries or political giving.
> Third, browse by topic. On the bottom left there is a “categories” section. Most of the larger posts on the topics listed have been categorized - simply click on the subjects to browse the posts.
If you have any trouble finding anything, let me know: rob at

Comments (0) • Posted to University of MichiganAnn ArborBAM-NMichigamuaStudent GovernmentAffirmative ActionHistoryUrban Development by Rob at 5:18 pm

Monday, February 7th, 2005

The Charles Fenwick Bridge

The Charles Fenwick Bridge is used by the Metro’s Yellow Line to cross the Potomac River.

Comments (0) • Posted to Washington D.C.HistoryPhotosUrban Development by Rob at 2:15 am

Saturday, February 5th, 2005

Writer and Actor Ossie Davis Dies

Ossie Davis, the imposing, deep-voiced actor who with his wife and acting partner, Ruby Dee, helped widen horizons for blacks on stage and screen while fighting zealously for civil rights from Washington to Hollywood, died yesterday in Miami. He was 87.

His son, Guy, said Mr. Davis was found dead at a hotel. He said that the cause had not been determined, but that his father had a history of heart problems and had recently recovered from pneumonia.

Mr. Davis initially intended to be a writer, but his fame came from his incisive and wide-ranging acting performances over five decades, even as he wrote plays and screenplays and directed and produced in both media. So many of his performances were with Ms. Dee - 11 stage productions and five movies during long parallel careers - that the two have been compared with the Lunts or Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. …

At a news conference in Manhattan yesterday, Harry Belafonte, with tears in his eyes, compared Mr. Davis to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, W. E .B. DuBois and Fanny Lou Hamer, all of whom were Mr. Davis’s friends. In particular, Mr. Davis remained fiercely loyal to Robeson even as he was denounced by other show-business figures for his openly Communist sympathies. …

> NYTimes: “Ossie Davis, Actor, Writer and Eloquent Champion of Racial Justice, Dies at 87″

Comments (0) • Posted to GeneralHistory by Rob at 3:55 pm

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

Blogs in Historical Perspective

Thomas Paine was basically a blogger — in 1776.

Martin Luther’s version of blogs totally ticked off the Holy Roman Emperor, who issued the Edict of Worms banning Luther’s writings.

George Orwell was a blogger. So was Brian Lamb, the guy who started C-Span.

Blogs are really an Internet phenomenon of just the past couple of years. But the essence — the je ne sais quoi — of blogs is that an emerging technology makes it possible for individuals outside the mainstream media to reach an audience. Blogs can be subversive, giving rise to ideas or arguments that would otherwise stay buried.

Today, software tools make it cheap and simple to post personal journals on the Web, so more people do. “I wouldn’t underestimate how much of this is driven by the tools,” says Jonathan Weber, the former editor of the defunct Industry Standard, now starting a blog-infused Web site about the Rocky Mountain region.

Blogs and the reasons they exist have historical antecedents.

Take Luther in the early 1500s. About 60 years before, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Before that, only the church and governments could afford to reproduce and manage information, keeping a lock on ideas and power. The printing press gave Luther a way to distribute his thesis — an early version of blogging. Next thing, we had Protestants.

In Paine’s time, the key was the falling cost of printing pamphlets. That allowed Paine to get out his ideas in Common Sense, which greatly influenced the American Revolution. Pamphleteering was quite the bloglike craze in the 1700s, though most amateur writers stuck to politics and religion. The colonists didn’t get anything like one current blog, called, “Adventures of a Domestic Engineer: The day-to-day travails of a sleep-deprived mother of three.”

Orwell wrote pamphlets before writing 1984. Lamb was maybe the first video blogger, or vlogger. In the 1970s, when ABC, NBC and CBS reigned supreme, cable opened TV to low-budget operations. Lamb worked in the Pentagon’s public relations department before launching C-Span in 1979. He was a nobody who took a small bite out of major media’s influence.

In the 1990s, personal Web sites became the next step toward blogs, which aren’t much more than streamlined, single-purpose personal Web sites. …

That’s all very much part of the sweep of history. The cost of producing, distributing and managing information has steadily fallen — and will keep falling. Traditional barriers to entry disappear. Newcomers stick their noses in. Existing media have to adjust by playing the new game (traditional media outlets starting Web sites) and/or creating high-end products that offer something the “amateurs” can’t touch.

Some outlets won’t or can’t adjust, and they’ll get whacked. Monks no doubt kept hand-copying manuscripts, and sometime around the Renaissance, got driven out of the book business.

Blogs will push media to change. At some point, some blogs will gain real influence and make money, and they will get bought by big media companies. That’s how it often works. …

> USA Today: “Chill, blogophiles; you’re not the first to do what you’re doing” (via CyberJournalist)

While reading this article I thought “Wow, what a great article.” Until I got to two paragraphs at the end, which reminded me exactly who was publishing this little bit of blog history:

One thing, though: Despite the claims of consumer groups, major media can’t become all-powerful, however much they consolidate. The falling cost of information will create new kinds of competitors and voices, much as it created bloggers and pamphleteers.

I don’t know if this is as clear-cut as the author thinks. When Fox News or Sinclair Broadcasting are allowed to purchase an unlimited number of local channels, and then distribute centrally-dictated editorial directives, it seems to me they ARE becoming too powerful. Perhaps not measuring up to the hysterics of some critics, but disturbing nonetheless. Second paragraph:

“That traditional media are shrinking down to a few dominant players actually reinforces this point,” says Larry Downes, author of The Strategy Machine. “When old methods of communication mature, it’s natural for them to merge. Diversity in media will win out, thanks to faster, cheaper and smaller computing power.”

I don’t buy this sort of “well, it’s natural” argument. Media has been allowed to shrink down to a few dominant players because the government re-wrote regulations limiting the number of radio and television stations individual media companies could own, and other barriers to corporate consolidation. What Robert McChesney has correctly pointed out wasn’t really de-regulation but the replacement of public regulation (government) with private regulation (corporations). I try to be optimistic and think that diversity in media will win out, but it won’t happen organically or “naturally” without struggle and debate.

Comments (0) • Posted to HistoryBlogosphereTechnology by Rob at 12:31 am

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

Paid History Fellowships in NYC

Last summer I participated in the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s History Scholars Program. The program has two parts: 15 sophomores and juniors are selected to participate in a paid program where they conduct archival research in New York City and participate in other programs for 6 weeks. Travel and room and board are covered, and participants are paid a $2,400 stipend.

The program also identifies 40 finalists for the scholars program which are invited to New York for an all-expenses paid one-week trip where they hear lectures from historians, visit archives, and do some sightseeing. I participated in the finalist program, and found it extremely worthwhile.

> Click here for more information or to apply
> Click here to download 1-page information sheet

Comments (0) • Posted to HistoryNew York City by Rob at 4:55 pm

Monday, January 24th, 2005

‘Activism At Michigan’ Event

I got this email recently, it sounds like an interesting event in Ann Arbor:

How loud is your voice?

Can you make a difference?

Has anything changed in the past 30 years?

Come learn about how three periods of social activism changed the University
of Michigan forever.

The Untouchable Brothers of Lambda Theta Phi present:


In the past 35 years student activism has shaped University policies, come
learn how students in the past set the foundations for our future. Hear
first hand accounts from people who were there in the struggle for equality
at the University of Michigan.

Monday February 7



The Men in Brown and White

Comments (0) • Posted to University of MichiganPoliticsHistory by Rob at 1:07 pm

Tuesday, December 21st, 2004

On Technology and Plagerism

When I tell my father I regularly post writing about my ideas and research (even my honors thesis) directly to the web, he gets concerned. How will I know someone won’t steal it?

I can’t blame him. After all, in an offline world it’s all too easy to steal someone’s idea, particularly if they’re simply a recent college graduate of little stature. However, it hasn’t happened to me yet. In fact, the only result I have seen has been remarkably positive. After posting my thesis online (PDF), I’ve been contacted by a former journalist who I cited in my honors thesis now in her 80s living in Sweden and the planner for the City of Detroit called to ask me if he could use my thesis in that city’s effort to build a park to commemorate a community I wrote about. When I put the syllabus to my course on political activism online, I was contacted by someone who had designed a similar course who sent me some feedback and his syllabus.

Although I don’t have that many ideas or writing worth stealing, I have written some things which have garnered modest online audiences. In those examples, everyone who commented on my idea (that I know of) clearly attributed their source. In fact, in the culture of the web attribution is extremely important. This is due partly because links make it easy (no need to bother with writing out the source author, title, date - just pop in a link) but also because cheating is easy to discover: a quick Google search can easily uncover whether the same words or phrases appears anywhere else on the web, and tools like Technorati can even see who is linking to your webpage.

This is why I think the cultures developing in intellectual communities on the web - which value attribution, transparency, free discussion, and the centrality of ideas and content, not social status – will be good for university communities. In fact, the web can help make universities more relevant and connected to the world. University of Tennessee’s Glenn Reynolds, University of Michigan’s Juan Cole, Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig, and many other professors already write popular blogs about their area of expertise. As Universities open more of their resources to larger audiences, the quality of scholarship can only improve.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has been running an excellent series on academic plagiarism, which got me thinking about the topic to begin with. While doing an otherwise admirable job, the reporters don’t think much about how plagiarism is found out. Although some of the cases they describe were found through happenstance, at least one was discovered when an undergraduate entered some words from an article into an academic computer database.

I was very excited to hear recently that Google plans on ndexing all of the books in the University of Michigan and Stanford University libraries (to be completed well before 2010, with other libraries on the way). In addition to opening this information to the online world, this news will also profoundly impact plagiarism. Once the work is complete, if plagiarists lift even a sentence from any the millions of books which will be digitized, anyone will be able to discover them through a simple Google search.

In a Shakespeare class I took in high school, we were given the assignment to read and summarize one of the Bard’s history plays. I spent hours dutifully trudging through “Henry the V", and presented my summary to the class. However, one of my classmates’ summaries sounded suspicious: he couldn’t even pronounce some of the words he had allegedly written. A quick web search revealed he had simply copied a summary off of the web. I printed off the website, stapled it to his handout, and put it in our teacher’s mailbox.

The web can also help prevent plagiarism, not just catch it. Although professional organizations seemed hesitant to make claims of plagiarism public, it’s only a matter of time before one of the victims decides to make their allegations and evidence public on the web. (For all I know, this might have already happened) If the allegation is true it could help catch and even prevent the practice in the first place. I have long said that when I become a teacher if I catch a student blatantly plagiarizing, I’ll put his or her full name on the web with a short explanation of the incident with the evidence. I’ll call it my “plagiarism hall of shame.” I would hope any student (or professor) who knows they risk public, lifelong embarrassment would think twice about cheating.

Comments (0) • Posted to BooksPoliticsHistoryBlogosphereTechnology by Rob at 6:51 pm

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

Google to Digitize the University of Michigan Library

Google has announced today a program to digitize the libraries of four major research universities: Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and Oxford in England. Only Standford and Michigan have thus far agreed to have their entire collections scanned - for Michigan, that means over 7.4 million volumes. Google expects to finish scanning the Michigan collection in 6 years. Books whose copyrights have expired will be completely available online for free through Google’s search engine, and works under copyright will still be searchable, although only small excerpts will be available.

The University of Michigan has further revealed: “Google began discussing this project with the University of Michigan Library in 2002. U-M served as the premiere testing site for Google’s non-destructive scanning technology. The digitization workflow was also first implemented at the University of Michigan.”

Google founder Larry Page is a Michigan graduate.

I wonder, if Google plans to scan 1 million books per year at their peak at the University, where in Ann Arbor do they plan to set up shop?

> UM PR: “Google/U-M project opens the way to universal access to information”
> AP: “Google to Scan Books From Big Libraries”
> W. Post: “Google to Digitize Some Library Collections”
> Michigan Daily: “Google to digitize ‘U’ libraries”

Comments (1) • Posted to University of MichiganBooksHistoryTechnology by Rob at 1:03 pm

Thursday, December 9th, 2004

Paradise Valley Park Project

I was recently contacted by the City Planner for the City of Detroit. He had found my thesis online, titled “Urban Renewal in Postwar Detroit: The Gratiot Area Redevelopment Project.”

He told me the City of Detroit will be contributing $400,000 and the Detroit Lions contributing $100,000 and plot of land to build a park to commemorate the Paradise Valley community. Tentatively titled the “Paradise Valley Commemorative Park Project,” they held a public hearing tonight at the Charles A. Wright Museum to solicit feedback about the project from Detroiters, and they have issued a request for proposals for preliminary design for the park. They intend to suggest my thesis to architectural firms who would like to submit designs for the park, and use it for their planning. Missed the meeting but want to give them your $.02? You can download and print this questionnaire (.PDF).

Paradise Valley was the name for a strip of mostly black-owned businesses which existed from the 1920s until the late 1940s in Detroit along or near Hastings Street in the heart of an area known as Black Bottom. As Detroit’s African American population burgeoned during the great migration, this part of the city developed a vibrant social and economic life, and was renowned for a black-owned luxury hotel, and a vibrant nightlife scene. Most of the community was bulldozed in a series of urban renewal projects which routed a freeway through the neighborhood and razed over one hundred acres of “slums” to eventually construct luxury apartments at public expense (Lafayette Towers). In my thesis I describe how the massive “urban renewal” projects, combined with larger economic and demographic shifts in the city meant the destruction of the cohesion of the community, and I argue city policy worsened Detroit’s housing shortage and worked to undermine economic vitality in the black community. The urban renewal schemes played out as a major issue in the 1949 mayoral election which pitted former city treasurer Albert Cobo against UAW leader George Edwards. The Cobo, darling of Detroit’s white business community, divided union and white voters by pledging to support racist white homeowners associations and “clear” poor neighborhoods which he viewed as “slums.” He defeated Edwards, and his administration put the city’s urban “renewal” schemes in overdrive, throwing thousands of mostly poor and black Detroiters out of their homes in the period of a few years.

Those interested in this part of Detroit’s history should check out Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis, which is well written and chock-full of great information. Those interested in Detroit city planning, especially after 1960, should see June Manning Thomas’ Redevelopment And Race, and for an excellent descriptions of Paradise Valley see Sunnie Wilson’s autobiography Toast of the Town or the book Before Motown.

>> See Photos of the Lafayette Park Housing Project

These two images are taken from my thesis. The online version does not include images.

This map shows the area of the Gratiot Area Redevelopment Project, a large urban “renewal” project which razed over 100 acres of dense residential and commercial neighborhoods in Detroit in the early 1950s.

These images are taken from City of Detroit Planning Department reports from the 1950s. They are a before and after shot of one part of the Gratiot project, showing the “slums” that were razed by the city.

Comments (3) • Posted to HistoryUrban Development by Rob at 10:40 pm

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

President Bush and the Supreme Court

Washington Times columnist and prolific legal writer Bruce Fein wrote an op-ed published yesterday titled “Public Confidence Supreme” where he argue that “President Bush received a mandate on Nov. 2 to appoint Supreme Court Justices in the image of Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas comparable to the 1936 mandate received by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to fill Supreme Court vacancies with justices committed to sustaining the New Deal.”

While that might make for good political propaganda, it’s terrible history. As I point out in a letter to the W. Times today, Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936 was a broad-based victory, however Bush’s narrow margin of victory in November gave him no more mandate than he won in 2000. Here’s my letter:

In his column “Public confidence supreme” (Commentary, Tuesday), Bruce Fein argues that President Bush received a mandate comparable to the 1936 mandate of Franklin D. Roosevelt to “appoint Supreme Court Justices in the image of Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas,” the two justices Mr. Bush has said he admires most.

As a matter of history, I must disagree. In 1936, President Roosevelt received 98.5 percent of votes in the Electoral College and more than 60 percent of the popular vote. By carrying every state except Maine and Vermont, the broad-based election of Mr. Roosevelt certainly gave him a mandate to pursue his policies.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, won re-election in 2004 by the slimmest of margins — about 53 percent of the Electoral College and a mere 51 percent of the popular vote. A resounding victory for Mr. Bush might have been a mandate to implement his agenda of callous conservatism. However, his narrow victory is a mandate for moderate appointments.

Mr. Fein bemoans Mr. Roosevelt’s justices, whom he argues “sounded the death knell for freedom of contract.” Perhaps he forgets that along with that unfortunate event came the Wagner Act and other critical legislation that helped protect workers from being exploited, overworked or beaten up by company goons for simple organizing.

Although Mr. Fein and others may desire a return to the corporate excesses of the 1920s, I find it hard to believe (or find any evidence) that most Americans desire such a world.


Comments (1) • Posted to PoliticsHistory by Rob at 3:03 pm

Thursday, October 21st, 2004

Planada Apartment Building Comments

Planada Building, 1920-2003
Photo taken summer 2002. The University of Michigan purchased and demolished this historic structure located on their Medical Campus in Fall of 2003. I argued it was part of a University-sponsored destruction of the medical campus where the fabric of Ann Arbor is being replaced with massive parking structures, generating a city unfriendly to pedestrians and visitors. Ironically, the University of Michigan College of Urban Planning is home to some of the nation’s foremost experts in urban design and New Urbanism. My friend Mike suggested at the time University administrators at least save the facade and use it in a new dorm or new buildings, which was not done.

Since the comments on this blog hosted by BackBlog will expire sometime next spring, I’m saving some of the more important ones for the historical record as a part of the main blog. These are from my Planada Building page:

Comments (0) • Posted to Ann ArborHistoryUrban Development by Rob at 12:19 am

Tuesday, October 12th, 2004

FBI Spied on 1960’s Student Activist

Mario SavioThe Associated Press recently reported that federal records reveal the Federal Bureau of Investigation secretly tailed University of California - Berkeley activist Mario Savio for over a decade, violating federal laws and his constitutional rights.

After examining thousands of pages of previously secret Agency documents, the San Francisco Chronicle concluded the FBI:

– Collected, without court order, personal information about Savio from schools, telephone companies, utility firms and banks and compiled information about his marriage and divorce.

– Monitored his day-to-day activities by using informants planted in political groups, covertly contacting his neighbors, landlords and employers, and having agents pose as professors, journalists and activists to interview him and his wife.

– Obtained his tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service in violation of federal rules, mischaracterized him as a threat to the president and arranged for the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies to investigate him when he and his family traveled in Europe.

– Put him on an unauthorized list of people to be detained without judicial warrant in event of a national emergency, and designated him as a “Key Activist” whose political activities should be “disrupted” and “neutralized” under the bureau’s extralegal counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO.

In a lengthy description of what they term “Mario Savio’s FBI Odyssey” the San Francisco Chronicle details how the Federal Bureau of Investigation illegally tracked Savio and interfered with his personal life for years after his time at Berkeley. The article concludes:

That day, Congress proposed that the Church Committee investigate FBI abuses of power. The committee revealed large-scale and illegal FBI activities – such as leaking tapes about Martin Luther King Jr.’s sex life to the media – and in 1976 called for a law limiting the FBI’s powers. Congress backed down when President Ford’s administration adopted guidelines for FBI activities and agreed changes would be subject to congressional review. In 2002, Ashcroft became the first attorney general to loosen the guidelines without consulting Congress, expanding bureau secrecy and power to gather information about lawful personal and political activities.

See this website on the USA PATRIOT Act.

Comments (0) • Posted to PoliticsHistory by Rob at 10:51 pm

Wednesday, October 6th, 2004

First Americans Day is Coming Up!

A soberly written petition on that I recently discovered demands the government re-name Columbus Day “First Americans Day.” The petition politely points out that Columbus did not “discover” America except in the eyes of some Europeans, and points out that much information about his behavior towards his crew and Native Americans that has come to light would “seriously tarnish his image, to say the least.” Although I think rape, murder, theft and ultimately genocide goes a bit further than a simple “tarnish,” the petition writer insists the petition “is not meant to be an attack on Christopher Columbus, but rather an appeal for a holiday that is not insulting to any American.” Here’s the idea:

American national holidays should be days that bring a sense pride and togetherness for ALL Americans, and stem from an “American perspective.” “Columbus Day” fails that test on all counts. “First Americans Day” would be a holiday that would be meaningful to each and every American. It would be a holiday that would be from an “American perspective” rather from an “Euro-centric” one. And, finally it would be a holiday that would instill pride in us as a collective group of people, while still recognizing and honoring our differences. The concept is one that is a “win-win” for all Americans regardless of their heritage.

Colonial MurderLogically, the petition concludes that “primary honor and recognition from this holiday would go to American Indians, who deserve a national holiday in their honor and don’t have one” and it would allow people of all cultures and backgrounds to celebrate “their own ‘First Americans.’”

Where did the idea come from? It’s hard to tell. Activists and historians, including many Native Americans, have long pointed out the horrible crimes committed by Columbus against the people he encountered, as many are meticulously documented in his own diary. (The American Indian movement refers to Columbus as a “colonial pirate.") However, the alternate name for the day bearing his name seems to have a much shorter history: the exact phrase “First Americans Day” only appears a scant 224 times in Google’s massive index.

What few mentions there are make for interesting reading. A law introduced in the Iowa legislature last summer proposed the new name. It also appeared in the project of four high school students from “Mr. Anderson’s AP Language and Composition class” at Bellingham High School in Bellingham, Washington who don’t think Columbus Day should be a national holiday “for many reasons.” (They’re also the source of the graphic) Only time will tell whether the name will gain widespread use and acceptance.

In related reading, the Open Directory project even has a short directory of “opposing views” under the broader Columbus Day heading.

Comments (0) • Posted to PoliticsHistory by Rob at 10:09 pm

Sunday, October 3rd, 2004

Investigating Arlington’s Freedman’s Village

Freedman's Village, Arlington VA

Between 1863 and 1900, up to 1,100 freed slaves and descendents of freed slaves lived in a community in Arlington established by the U.S. federal government at the close of the U.S. Civil War. The community existed on land now occupied by Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the Navy Annex building, and was recently profiled by local newspaper The Connection.

When the village was razed, many residents moved onto land provided by sympathetic local famers forming the origins of some Arlington neighborhoods, including Halls Hills and Nauck. Here’s some more history, from the Connection article:

Other notable residents of the village include Jesse Pollard, the first black judge in Arlington’s history. Sojourner Truth, who worked to smuggle slaves out of the south on the Underground Railroad, also lived in the village for one year in 1864, serving as a teacher and helping to find jobs for villagers. According to Talmadge Williams, president of Arlington’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), many laborers in Freedman’s Village worked on the construction of the capitol building. In 1866, the Army recruited the 107th regiment of U.S. Color Troops from the village. No one has ever undertaken an organized excavation of the Freedman’s Village site but Williams said that when construction crews were laying a foundation for the nearby Sheraton Hotel, part of the village cemetery was uncovered.

Researching the village is one of the projects of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, Virginia.

Comments (0) • Posted to Washington D.C.HistoryUrban Development by Rob at 10:00 pm

Friday, October 1st, 2004

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park
Waiting for the Presidential debate to begin in a Washington D.C. bar tonight, I found myself discussing Acadia National Park, located in my home state of Maine. Acadia is the only National Park in New England, and the second most visited park in the system behind Yellowstone. It encompasses a pristine coastal area on Mount Desert Island including Cadillac Mountain, a coastal mountain which some say is the first part of the United States to see the sunrise each morning.

I had believed the park’s name came from the Greek region Arcadia - mythologized by Virgil as an idyllic natural environment - however according to this website the history isn’t so clear:

The Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazano may not have set foot on Pemetic during his 1524 voyage along the North American coast, but it is he who is credited with christening the area that is now Maine and the Canadian Maritimes with the name L’Acadie or Acadia. Some historians believe it to be an Abnaki word; others say it is a corruption of Arcadia, an equally scenic and inspiring region of Ancient Greece.
As an aside, Maine today contains several small Native American reservations. (See a map of reservations: 1, 2 )

In the late 19th century the area around Bar Harbor, the site of the future park, became popular as a retreat for the wealthy, including the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Astors, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers. Much of their property was donated to the government and would form the basis for the future National Park. John D. Rockefeller constructed 17 stone bridges on elegant carriage roads on his property, over 10,000 acres of which he donated to the government.

Traveling there? On a clear day Cadillac Mountain has an unbeatable view, and the short hike up a small mountain called “the beehive” is fun - the path up its stone face includes many metal bars to assist in the steep ascent. The park has one aptly named “Sand Beach,” where you can take an uncomfortably cool dip after your hike - the water temperature rarely rises above the low 60s, even in summer.

Bridge, Acadia National Park
(Photos are from this site and the webpage of this Bar Harbor company)

Comments (0) • Posted to GeneralHistoryMaine by Rob at 12:51 am

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

Supreme Court to Review Eminent Domain

Lafayette Tower, Detroit

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced they’ll be hearing a case which could clarify the practice of eminent domain - where the government confiscates private property using “just compensation” in order to pursue a “public good.” In the U.S. in the 1930s and 40s the use of eminent domain by the government to build public works, roads, and conduct urban renewal projects increased dramatically. (The building shown was built on land “cleared” through eminent domain - see after the jump for more)

Over time the definition of “public good” has been expanded significantly - first to include making way for highways and other infrastructure, then to allow for the construction of public housing, and now for economic development. In the case the Court has decided to hear, where a municipality sought to use eminent domain to bulldoze a working-class neighborhood in New London Connecticut to “clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.” The neighborhood “included Victorian-era houses and small businesses that in some instances had been owned by several generations of families.” More from the story:

Comments (0) • Posted to HistoryUrban Development by Rob at 12:22 am

Saturday, September 25th, 2004

Croton Aqueduct on 119th St.

Croton Aquaduct GatehouseThe Croton Aqueduct was a municipal water system in New York City which operated from 1842 until 1890. The system brought drinking water from Croton River in northern Westchester County to Manhattan. The system included a variety of structures which still exist today.

The remnants include this gatehouse, located at the corner of Amsterdam and West 119th St. in Manhattan near Columbia University. The building was constructed in 1894-95 and was recently designated a historic landmark by the city of New York. The structure remained in operation as a part of the public water system until 1990.

Gatehouse Rear

Comments (0) • Posted to HistoryNew York City by Rob at 5:02 pm

Friday, September 24th, 2004

American History Documents Online

Image from
The National Archives, in cooperation with a number of other partners, has launched a website with high resolution copies of 100 milestone documents in American history called

Shown is an official program for the 1963 March on Washington. Other documents include the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956), the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), as well as oldies-but-goodies like the Gettysburg Address (1863), the Bill of Rights (1791), and the Declaration of Independence (1776). (Via CoolGov)

Comments (1) • Posted to History by Rob at 1:44 pm