Hello, Detroit--By Sammy Davis Jr.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ford Auditorium and Black history

An open letter to Detroit

By Paul Lee

The following is excerpted from a proposal submitted to Detroit City Council member Jo Ann Watson and president Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr., on Sept. 12, 2008.

I learned from Mayor Kilpatrick’s resignation speech last week that the Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium is scheduled to be demolished next month.

I was deeply grieved to hear this because, as you know, Ford Auditorium has played an important role in the history of Detroit. However, few Detroiters, and particularly our youth, are aware that it also played a special role in the history of African Americans.

A few examples among many follow:

Black History @ Ford Auditorium

1) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed 2,500 persons on “the new Negro of the South” as a guest speaker at the Delta Sigma Theta sorority’s annual national convention on Dec. 28, 1956.

This was exactly one week after the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the legal victory of the historic bus boycott at Montgomery, AL, led by Dr. King, which catapulted him to international fame.

2) Malcolm X addressed the First Annual Dignity Projection and Scholarship Awards ceremony at Ford Auditorium on Feb. 14, 1965, sponsored by the Afro-American Broadcasting and Recording Co., which was founded and headed by our dearly departed mentor, attorney and later Rev. Milton R. Henry.

Early that morning, Malcolm X’s home at Queens, NY, was firebombed by Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI), an attack that just missed incinerating Malcolm X, his wife and their six young daughters, including a six-month-old baby.

Nevertheless, Malcolm X decided to fulfill his commitment to his dear friend and traveled to Detroit. Unbeknownst to Malcolm X and Henry, the FBI was so concerned about this program appealing to African Americans that it initiated a “counterintelligence” (COINTEL) action to discourage the ceremony’s sponsors, which included the Hudson’s department store and the Chrysler and Ford motor companies, from supporting it.

The bureau’s efforts might have been partly responsible for the low turnout that evening, which Malcolm X commented on in his historic “Last Message” to Detroit, which Henry later released as a popular long-playing record.

A week later, Malcolm X was assassinated at Washington Heights, NY, by a NOI “special squad” from Newark, NJ.

3) The Citywide Citizens Action Committee (CCAC), a militant coalition of local black organizations that was formed in the wake of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, hosted “African-Soul ‘68” at Ford Auditorium on Dec. 10, 1967.

The chairman of CCAC was Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, then known as the Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., the founder and pastor of Central United Church of Christ, soon to be renamed Shrine of the Black Madonna #1.

The program was organized by bookstore owner, griot and mwalimu Ed Vaughn, who advertised it as “A Mammoth Variety Show to Launch the Black Cultural Revolution.”

It featured many local artists, including the Jazz Nationalists with Michael Abbott; the Concept East Theatre, which included actors David Rambeau and James E. Wheeler, the nation’s leading authority on blacks in film, television and theatre; Motown saxophonist Thomas (Beans) Bowles; popular poet “Slick” Campbell (later Abdul Jalil); and the Central Church choir.

(Indeed, it was Vaughn, a member of Central Church and the chairman of its Black Heritage committee, who conceived of arranged for the painting of the 18-foot mural of a Black Madonna and child by Glanton Dowdell, which still graces the church’s chancel.)

“The Culture of Black people predates that of any other people,” Vaughn wrote in the handsome printed program. “Needless to say, our History and our Culture have been stolen from us, but we are regaining them. We must now increase this momentum with revolutionary Zest and Zeal.”

Sadly, black people in this city, like black people thruout the nation, seem to have little regard for our history.

This is graphically demonstrated in Detroit by the number of historic structures, including businesses, churches, auditoriums, theatres, etc., which are razed every week — with no regard to the possibility of memorializing the great and tragic story of black people in Detroit or they might be used to teach our youth about this — their — precious heritage.

I suppose that it’s too late to do anything about Ford Auditorium, but I would be privileged if you could arrange for me to address the Detroit City Council to speak about its history in reference to our people, using it as a “teachable moment” that might save other properties in future.

If granted this opportunity, I would also like to highlight some interesting connexions re Malcolm X’s appearance, such as the following:

1) Malcolm X was picked up at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport by Milton and Richard B. Henry. Three years later, as Abiodun Gaidi and Imari Obadele, the brothers co-founded the Republic of New Africa (later Afrika, RNA).

2) Backstage in the green room with Malcolm X was Jaramogi Abebe.

3) Two carloads of NOI members drove down from Chicago to assassinate Malcolm X at Ford Auditorium. After the program’s organizer’s alerted the police to this threat, they asked the NOI members to sit in the balcony, where they could be monitored. When Malcolm X failed to appear on time (he was sleeping backstage after a doctor administered a sedative), the Muslims left.

4) The physician who gave Malcolm X a sedative was Dr. E. Warren Evans, the father of Wayne County Sheriff Warren C. Evans. Dr. Evans was a brother-in-law of Jaramogi Abebe, married to the latter’s sister Gladys.

5) Dr. Evans was advised as to the appropriate sedative and dosage by Dr. Louis J. Cleage, one of Jarmaogi Abebe’s brothers, who did so by phone from Idlewild, MI.

6) After Malcolm X’s talk, he was greeted by Mother Rosa Parks — their first and last meeting. I have her account of this, in which she states that she agreed with his position on self-defense.

7) Among those who reportedly volunteered to protect Malcolm X was General Baker, Jr., a member of UHURU, the radical Wayne State student group; the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), headed by Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford); and the Fox and Wolf Hunt Club.

The latter group took its name from a metaphor used by Malcolm X in his famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech delivered at King Solomon Baptist church on 14th Street on April 12, 1964. This speech was also recorded by Milton Henry and released as a LP.

Paul Lee is the director of Best Efforts, Inc. (BEI), a professional research and consulting service that specializes in the recovery, preservation and promotion of global black history and culture. He could be contacted at .

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Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) By Marvin Gaye

Dah, dah, dah, dah
dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin', This ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no

Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die

Oh, make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah

Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
I can't pay my taxes

Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands

Crime is increasingTrigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God knows where we're heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don't understand

Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah

Mother, motherEverybody thinks we're wrong
Who are they to judge us
Simply cause we wear our hair long

Detroit's Downtown

Don't Look Back Detroit, Keep on Pushing

Detroit as the Temptations hae said, we have to keep on pushing and not look back. We have to leave all our troubles behind us and look forward to a brighter future for not only the citizens of Detroit but the city of Detroit. We have to keep on walking Detroit and keep on pushing forward as we leave our past behind. Stall Tall Detroit and look for a future of Greatness as we as Detroiters strive and survive together.