Recent additions: Black perspectives at the Reuther Library

(28672) Mayor Young, Downtown Detroit, Skyline, 1991

Detroit’s Black citizens have faced a long, complicated history of struggle and perseverance. While the voices of Black individuals are generally underrepresented in archives, Reuther Library has a number of collections that help document this history in varied formats and perspectives, and we've added more in recent years. Here are descriptions of just a few of these notable collections:

Black Workers in the Labor Movement Oral Histories - Oral history interviews conducted by NAACP Labor Director Herbert Hill regarding the experiences of Detroit Black men and women on their labor movement experiences between 1910 and 1970. Some topics of note discussed include the 1943 and 1967 civil unrests, UAW internal conflict on racial issues, and racial and gender discrimination.

Elvin Davenport Papers – The first African American judge elected to the Recorder’s Court for the City of Detroit in 1957. Previous to this appointment, Davenport worked with civil rights cases, including serving as counsel to the NAACP for the Sojourner Truth Housing Project riot in 1942. This collection documents Davenport’s work as a lawyer and judge in the City of Detroit.

Thousands of citizens and delegates from community organizations attend a mass meeting in Cadillac Square in support of housing for African American war workers at the Sojourner Truth Housing Project.

Detroit WestSiders Oral Histories – Interviews of Detroit West Side residents conducted in 2005 gathering stories about community life, local business, significant events, and neighborhood history during the period 1920-1950.

Mike Hamlin and Joann Castle Papers – Hamlin was active in political groups, a founding member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and Inner City Voice (Black radical newspaper) organizer, and founder of Motor City Labor League (MCLL). Castle was an active member of the MCLL. This collection includes the records of Hamlin and Castle’s involvement in MCLL, the controversy over the Archdiocese Opportunity Program to aid impoverished individuals in Detroit, and the Hourglass group support for self-determination of Black individuals in the later 1960s.

Kellogg African American Health Care Project Oral Histories – Oral histories gathered by the University of Michigan’s Historical Center for the Health Sciences seeking to record first-hand accounts about the mid-20th century health care experiences of Black individuals in the Detroit area. Interviews were conducted with patients, doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators.

Robert Millender – Attorney, political strategist, and campaign manager who worked to grow the political power of Black citizens in Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s. Millender served as campaign manager for Congressman John Conyers, Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin, Detroit City Council Members Robert Tindal and Erma Henderson, and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Millender also became involved in many political and activist groups and Detroit community organizations like Caucus of Black Democrats, Greater Detroit Fair Housing, Inc., and Move Detroit Forward Committee.

Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes Oral Histories – Initiated by the Detroit Urban League to document Detroit’s Black communities as their voices are underrepresented in the telling of Detroit history, these oral histories focus on the period 1918-1967. This collection consists of 83 oral history interviews on the topics of family life, community life, neighborhoods, religion, education, and work.

Coleman Young Papers – The first Black mayor of Detroit, Young served as mayor for 20 years from 1974-1994. During his tenure Young worked to integrate the Detroit Police, quintupled the number of Black officers serving in the Detroit Police Department, and ended the STRESS police unit. He also worked to re-envision the Detroit riverfront and downtown spaces and build business relationships to counterbalance the growing economic strain in Detroit. A Coleman Young collection also exists at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Of course, the Reuther contains many other collections documenting Black experiences. If you are looking for other information or additional collections on Black history in Detroit or organized labor, contact our archivists at, search our collections (including digitized photographs) at Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections, or read our past blog posts!