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February 21, 2016

The ivory tower: power, privilege and the iron-gate that surrounds knowledge

February 21, 2016 | By | No Comments

Big, ambitious projects require energy and huge sets of data that isn’t easily accessible. No surprise there! But, why? Why is archival research a maddening, mind-numbing, stress-inducing and life-reducing process? At the crux of this heated debate are signed over oral histories and other vital materials, donated or part of projects that are now at universities or repositories affiliated with the American Folklife Center under the Library of Congress that are needed to complete the website This is my story: Detroit 1967. Unsurprisingly, the result of these benign tasks are a few gray hairs huddled at or near the temples because of frustrations with accessibility and limitations with knowledge yielding teeth-grinding attempts to work with public university(ies) and/or the Library of Congress and their third party affiliations. Hindering my workflow and efficiency are issues of public versus private, which are now the center of discussion for this post. Why is so-called public information privatized? Why is knowledge hoarded? Why is knowledge owned?

Problems of accessibility aren’t new in the academy, you are preaching to the choir. One of the hopes with digital innovation among other things was to digitize files and to circumvent the librarian or the archivist that stood in the way of the researcher. It happened, yes, but not in the droves that one would hope for. Please understand, quite a bit is digitized just not what I needed for my research—cue the stress-inducing and life-reducing negotiation process to get the information in its various mediums.

Photo “Current Archive” by Flickr user carmichaellibrary.  Used under Attribution 2.0 Generic

Photo “Current Archive” by Flickr user carmichaellibrary. Used under Attribution 2.0 Generic

The irony of knowledge accessibility within the university, a public institution has proven to be a major problem with This is my story: Detroit 1967. Universities pride themselves as being bastions of knowledge. Knowledge that comes with a price tag that isn’t exactly monetary, per se, but relentless borderline nuisance, pest-like behavior for what should be a relatively simple task. You make a call or send an email, give the librarian the necessary information and voila you have what you need. From my experience it isn’t that straightforward. I’ve had to supply everything shy of my master plan to take over the world. Yes, I’m being facetious, but it is the truth. I’m annoyed, highly, but not deterred to make this project come to fruition. Here’s the problem, I need oral histories that are public, at least, some of them are, but some are protected by legal release. The legal release is a document that protects the interviewee and itemizes what and how the oral history is to be used and what for. Now, some legal releases and their terms are lenient, others are stern and have detailed restrictions. Hence, my feverish need to work with these entities to get these rich stories.

This may seem very foolish of me as I’ve done archival research in the past, but I’m going to put this out there to challenge the robust conversations on private versus public. If information is public its public. PERIOD. DOT. END OF STORY. There shouldn’t be any gray area or limitations. If there are conditions than it shouldn’t be public. That was easy! Conversely, private has its varying levels hence its complexities, but don’t allow its intricacies thwart your research or research mission.

This may across as a gripe and less of an overall assessment as to what’s wrong with the academy, as it pertains to information in their possession, but more so the lack of distinction between public and private, and their streamlining of this data. Lastly, once given access to the requested material it shouldn’t feel like walking into Fort Knox is any easier or seeking trade secrets from the CEO of Apple or Google is as effortless as ordering Sunday brunch than getting data from an institution or archive. Information from public universities should not require a vile of O positive blood, with a guide to ensure that you are where you are suppose to be with key card/key lock entry. I’m just saying! A massive change is needed and soon.




February 5, 2016

This is my story: The beginning of reclaiming the past to look to the future

February 5, 2016 | By | No Comments

This is my story: Detroit 1967 is in the infancy of development. So, what is it again? It is a multimedia archive and repository that serves to catalog and historicize this canonical and significant time in the 20th century with oral histories from eyewitnesses and participants of the rebellion. This endeavor is a continuation of a project of promise and curiosity that started in summer 2009 when interning at the ABC affiliate in Detroit WXYZ ABC 7. Much of what has been written and indexed into the historical report is ahistorical, asociocultural and asocioeconomic and missing the qualitative and critical ethnographic approach.


Image “July, 1967 — Investigation Team checks conditions at Washtenaw County Jail, in cell filled with detainees from the Detroit riots” by Flickr user Wystan used under CC BY 2.0

As a media professional and oral historian, I’ve arranged a couple of interviews and reached out to a few universities libraries (University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Wayne State University) for research assistance, as they have materials that would support my research and educational target of free and accessible information. Also, I’m reading several texts on urban rebellion, Detroit and racial segregation to compliment all of the newspapers stories I’ve read in The Michigan Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. 

Forging the technical aspects of this project, to build the website, I’m using Omeka, it is a content management system developed by George Mason University for the humanities. I’ve used it in my master’s program, so I’m quite familiar with the program and its setup. Without being excessively techie, to make the material available, the oral history metadata synchronizer is a plug-in that will make my video and transcripts a great body of scholarship working as one.

The research will transform the digital space with phenomenal stories from willing interviewees and from there begin to change the narrative of the four days of chaos, the city and nearly fifty years to follow to one of unrelenting perseverance. Following the uprising Detroit became an urban scientific experiment being poked, prodded, exploited and devastated. In Fall 2009, Time ran a special report announcing their year-long assignment focused on Detroit, examining what went wrong with the motor city. Their report would confirm my scientific experiment theory but expose other massive infrastructure issues that to some extent seemed orchestrated e.g. deindustrialization of the city, massive white and Black flight and job outsourcing.

This is my story: Detroit 1967 will get people to speak their truth of events in time for the 50th anniversary and add to what happened to this once thriving mecca.

If you would like to contribute to this project or know someone who would be of great value, please send me an email at



December 18, 2015

This is my story: Detroit 1967

December 18, 2015 | By | No Comments

They [the media] just referred to it as a riot. Down on the ground it looked like a rebellion. But the media and the power structure had a lot of things wrong,” said Ed Vaughn, activist and businessman in Detroit.[1]

This is my story: Detroit 1967 is an oral history based multimedia project, which looks to residents and eyewitnesses to tell their stories of surviving the most devastating riots the city has ever seen. It allows residents to correct the highly media reliant narrative of what occurred without accounting for the systemic and institutional injustices Blacks say were the bedrock for the rebellion.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer!”

The narrative of the Detroit uprising, also known as, the “Great Rebellion,” mostly told orally includes largely truth and ends with urban legends e.g. agent provocateurs. In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, outnumbered and unprepared officers arrived at a Blind Pig on 12th Street and Clairmont Avenue in the Virginia Park neighborhood prepared to shutdown a bar operating illegally with its liquor license. Patrons of the bar were celebrating the return of two Vietnam soldiers. The details following the raid inside the club and what occurred outside is obscure.

Frustrated residents terrorized, harassed and brutalized by officers known as the “Big Four” fought back, thus the rebellion was born. The “Big Four” were a group of four officers known around the neighborhood to make life unbearable for Blacks. Residents vandalized businesses, looted and/or set them ablaze.

“One thing the riots were not. They were not a massive Negro uprising against white people. There was little hatred in the Sunday outbreak. There were Negro and white looters and snipers fought by Negro and white policemen and soldiers. It wasn’t basically race against race. This needs to be emphasized because some terms used to describe what happened—Negro riots, ghetto uprising, negro rebellion—don’t really describe what occurred in Detroit.”[2]

The four-day rebellion was by far the most devastating on record of the 20th century until the L.A. riots of 1992 following the Rodney King verdict. As expected, there’s conflicting information as to the loss and damages. Forty-three people died—at least that was what was reported. More than 2,000 people were injured; over 7,000 people filled the jails in the city and the overflow on Belle Isle; city firefighters either put out, watched or ignored the calls for roughly 2,000 building fires and millions were reported in damages.

The paradox of this leaderless uprising it drastically shifted the demographics, economics and politics of the city, reinforcing white flight to the suburbs, black flight to other urban centers and ironically black resistance to stay put and rebuild. “Let white America know that the name of the game is tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. Motown. If you don’t come around, we are going to burn it down!”[3] said H. Rap Brown, political activist, former chairman of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and Minister of Justice for the Black Panther Party (BPP). Unlike most American cities, the rebellion tore Detroit apart and led to the slow and painful decades long demise and deterioration for the country to see, a city lost to the false promises of rebirth, growth, urban renewal and globalization.

During the long, hot summer of 1967 more than 100 cities went up in flames. The following year, roughly the same cities would once again erupt in violence as an emotional response to the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In no way is this project attempting to pathologize Detroit as the mecca of urban uprising madness; I’m simply giving those who’ve needed to speak their truth on the subject a platform to do so and a means to correct it all. Essentially, This is my story: Detroit 1967 is adding to and correcting the historical record as to what really happened July 23, 1967 and the days to follow, as well as, its cause.

Image " Detroit, MI" by Flickr user JasonParis used under CC BY 2.0

Image ” Detroit, MI” by Flickr user JasonParis used under CC BY 2.0

[1] Kim Hunter “1967: Detroiters Remember” Against The Current, September 1997,

[2] “As We See It: Sift Ashes for Reasons Behind Ghetto Outbreak” The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), July 27, 1967.

[3] Kate Stacy “July 1967: Rebellion” Solidarity—Against the Current, July 2007,



October 21, 2015

Building a new relationship: Cultural Heritage Informatics and Black English

October 21, 2015 | By | One Comment

This post is dedicated to the amazing and internationally renowned Dr. Geneva Smitherman–Dr. G. To keep it brief, as she has too many accolades to list, Dr. G is the University Distinguished Professor Emerita in the Department of English and Core Faculty to the African American and African Studies (AAAS) Program at Michigan State University. Most importantly, she is the preeminent scholar in the field of linguistics, specifically, African American Language (AAL), Black English (BE).

Dr. G teaches an online class AAAS 891 focused on African American Language, a class I’m currently enrolled in and enthusiastically support. Believe it or not, African American Language does exist. It is not slang, broken English or some contrived dialect that spawned yesterday. Black English is a legitimate language contrary to popular belief. The history and many books on the subject speak for itself.

Post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the integration of classrooms nationwide, the exposure to the tongue of Black America—Black English—“a style of speaking words with Black flava—with Africanized semantic, grammatical, pronunciation, and rhetorical patterns,” according to Dr. G, came this abrupt awakening no one was expecting. Since that time there has been ongoing onerous debate about the place of AAL in education. Both sides have vehemently argued for and against it. Maybe digital? Why not digital?

The explosion of the digital space has been the truce or the much needed answer. As a digital zealot, Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) could possibly be the solution to this decades old debate. How and why? The infinite lifespan of a project in the digital world coupled with the creativity and customs of CHI may make the perfect focus group to allow for AAL in the classroom beyond social media, blogs and the like. This relationship could influence pedagogy, epistemology and rhetoric. Ideally, this is the beginning of something revolutionary in education, Black America, CHI and the digital communities.






September 25, 2015

CHI Introduction Fellow: Joyce-Zoe Farley

September 25, 2015 | By | No Comments

Joyce FarleyMy name is Joyce-Zoe Farley; I’m a second-year doctoral student in African American and African Studies (AAAS) with a graduate certification in Advance Journalism. My research focuses on riots, rebellions, civil disturbances and uprisings of the 20th century with the catalyst of the research being Detroit 1967. I will be the first non-traditional dissertation in AAAS producing a documentary film instead of the conventional book. I’m unlike most emerging Black Studies scholars, as oppose to having a background in history, I have a Bachelors in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Business Management from Hampton University in Hampton, VA. Hampton University is a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) with a rich history of advancing the lives of Black people through education. Additionally, I completed a Masters in Oral History with a concentration in African American studies from Columbia University in New York City. Scholar-entrepreneur-innovator is a title that I enthusiastically embrace and will more than likely be the trajectory of my career once I’ve attained my doctorate here at Michigan State. This path has necessitated a unique set of skills—coding, programming, project development and etc. all found in the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship. I’m thrilled to be a 2015-2106 CHI Fellow and explore the digital world.

Check out my latest film from my study abroad this summer at the University of Leiden in Leiden, Netherlands. It is a cross-cultural analysis of two continents through the eyes of an emerging scholar, journalist, independent critical ethnographer and thinker.