Discovering Unexpected Newspapers at the Reuther Library

As part of my NextGen program participation, I was asked to help the Reuther Library create some teaching materials that would help students engage with primary sources. Being a PhD Student at Wayne’s History Department, I took on the task with enthusiasm. What I found ended up being far more significant for the field of labor history than I anticipated. While searching through sources on American radicals in Detroit, I came across Sunday editions of the Communist Party, USA newspaper The Daily Worker mixed in with the listed dailies. Investigating further, the Reuther already had a collection for the Sunday edition, titled The Worker, held in an entirely different part of the library. I set out to understand more.

After tracking down the Worker collection, it quickly became clear what the problem was. Mixed up with a series of UAW pamphlets of the same name, the Reuther had stocked away an edition of a rare Michigan Edition Daily Worker newspaper. The issue was from January, 1949, not long before the Foley Square trial of Communist Party leaders was set to begin and usher in a wave of Smith Act anticommunism. After calling friends in New York, Los Angeles, and Communist Party associates in Detroit, I came to realize these were perhaps the only available copies of the newspaper.

Michigan has always been a hub of radical labor activity, and the activism of the Communist Party is no exception. The Communist Party of Michigan both helped build the United Auto Workers in the city, pressed for unemployment relief for the city’s masses. Michigan was the focus of the Michigan Six trial, where the leaders of Michigan’s Communist Party would face judgement for their political associations. The Reuther Library has extensive coverage of the Michigan Six trial, from over five different collections. This new discovery puts the Reuther at the center of examining anticommunist repression in the State of Michigan for future scholarship from the perspective of the local communists.

Contributed by Josh Morris, NextGen Humanities Intern at the Reuther Library, 2018.