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A look back at the Harlem Rens: “They’re Renaissance, Too”

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Gregory Lucas-Myers is a 2010 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor graduate, posse
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on Thursday, 10 May 2012
in Today in Black History

Museum intern Gregory-Lucas-Myers takes a look at the legacy of the historic New York Rens basketball team, who will be honored at the 2012 Ford Freedom Awards gala on May 17, 2012.

A collage of Rens photographs and promotional material. Credit: BlackFives.com

 

     The Harlem Renaissance is well-known as a period of African-American intellectual and cultural growth, centered in its namesake Manhattan neighborhood, during the 1920’s and 30’s. During this time, writers, musicians, artists, and leaders such as Zora Neale Hurston, Palmer Hayden, Dizzy Gillespie, and W.E.B. Du Bois came to popular prominence among the black urban populations growing in the country. One aspect of the Harlem Renaissance that is often overlooked, however, is another type of Renaissance, one that made its home in the hustle and bustle of a Harlem ballroom. Or rather, literally, it was made into a “ball” room.

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Friday Photo History: Judge Damon J. Keith & The Boys of Summer

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on Friday, 29 April 2011
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To honor this year's Ford Freedom Award Scholar, the Honorable Judge Damon J. Keith, as well as salute spring and the national pastime of baseball, here are two photographs that accomplish both.  Our first photo features Jackie Robinson and Judge Damon Keith, and is from the years 1960 - 1965.  The second photo features, from left to right, Willie Horton, Ernie Harwell, Judge Damon Keith, and Mike Ilitch, and is from the years 2000 - 2005.


Photographs courtesy of Judge Damon Keith and the Collections and Exhibitions department of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (http://chwmuseum.org). Research and scanning by Derek Thomas Sojda.  For more information please contact the Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center at (313) 494-5840 or via email at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  For this and other informative posts, please visit http://chwmuseum.org/explore/blog.

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Friday Photo History: The Mighty Joe Louis

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Collection: Moses Joseph Collection
Year(s): 1930-1940

No exhibit of Detroit's athletic history could go very long without this man being mentioned. Joe Louis was one of the greatest boxers of all time, a great champion and a great citizen of Detroit. This photo is from the Moses Joseph Collection in the museum archives. This is only one of many Joe Louis photos taken by Mr. Joseph. There is no firm date on the photo but it is believed that it was between the years of 1930 and 1940. There is also no indication as to where the photos were taken. The best guess is that they were taken at one of the many gyms or athletic clubs that were within the city limits at the time. The integrated crowd shows how whites and blacks could unite over the power of sport. The photo shows Joe Louis warming up or practicing and the crowd that has gathered around to watch the great boxer put all his strength and power on display. My favorite part of this photo is the two young boys in the lower right who are simply in awe of the great athlete.  The Charles H. Wright Museum recently organized and hosted an exhibition chronicling his life and history entitled Joe Louis: Hometown Hero, which ran from 8/6/2009 - 9/15/2010.

 

Photograph courtesy of the Collections and Exhibitions department of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (http://chwmuseum.org).  Research, caption and scanning by Derek Thomas Sojda.  For more information, please contact the Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center at (313) 494-5840 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  For this and other informative posts, please visit http://chwmuseum.org/explore/blog.html.

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Friday Photo History: Eddie Tolan's 1926 Cass Tech Track Team

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on Friday, 22 October 2010
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Title: Eddie Tolan's 1926 Cass Tech Track Team
Year: 1926
Collection: Eddie Tolan Collection

This may just appear to be a photo of the 1926 Cass Tech Track Team, but it is actually much more than that. This is a photo from the Eddie Tolan Collection. Eddie 'The Midnight Express' Tolan is a member of the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame who was inducted in 1982. In the photo he is in the first row, second from the left. Eddie moved to Detroit when he was fifteen years old. His track and field triumphs at Cass Tech would take him to the University of Michigan, where he earned a scholarship and his undergraduate degree. From 1929-1932 Tolan held the world record in the 100-yard dash. He went on to win the 1931 national collegiate 220-yard title as well as four National AAU sprint titles. At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, Tolan won gold medals in the 100 and 200-yard dashes. Over his sprinting career Tolan would win 300 races and only lose 7. In 1956, Tolan became a teacher in physical and health education at Irving Elementary School on Detroit's west side. Eddie Tolan passed away in 1967 of kidney failure.  Several of his items were donated to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, including medals and a pair of his track shoes, which are on display in the Black Bottom barbershop portion of the And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture exhibit.

Information from the USA Track and Field HOF and Jet Magazine.  Photograph courtesy of the Collections and Exhibitions department of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (http://chwmuseum.org).  Research, caption and scanning by Derek Thomas Sojda.  For more information, please contact the Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center at (313) 494-5840 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  For this and other informative posts, please visit http://chwmuseum.org/explore/blog.html.

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Friday Photo History: "The Diver" by Clarence Gatliff

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Title: The Diver
Collection: Clarence Gatliff Collection

This photo is from the Clarence Gatliff Collection.  Clarence Gatliff was the director of the city of Detroit's parks and recreation department throughout the 1960s.  Clarence in his early years had been an avid swimmer and athlete.  As an adult he devoted most of his time to the city's youth by way of swim teams, swim meets, youth organizations, and involvement in the many city pools.  He was a coach and a mentor to many of Detroit's young people.  Mr. Gatliff's photos are from his personal collection.  They span from his birth to his retirement party.  Many of his photos are of the children, teenagers, and young adults that he so dearly cared about (he never had children of his own).  This is a photo that was most likely taken at either the Brewster or Peck Pools.  The diver in the photograph is identified as Clinton Searcy.  Not only does this photo illustrate the passion that Mr. Gatliff had for his athletes and swimming, but it shows that he was also an excellent photographer.

Photograph courtesy of the Collections and Exhibitions department of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (http://chwmuseum.org).  Research, caption and scanning by Derek Thomas Sojda.  For more information, please contact the Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center at (313) 494-5840 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Friday Photo History: American Bowling Congress Champions from Clarence Williams

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Collection: Clarence Williams
Year: 1971

October is one of the few months of the year that every sport is in full swing. The NFL is taking over our Sundays, the baseball playoffs are beginning after a long summer, the NBA gets back to work at the end of the month, and the NHL is finishing up training camp and gearing up for games. But what about other sports? What about the forgotten sporting events and athletes all throughout our communities?

This is a photo from the Clarence Williams collection. Clarence Williams was a lifelong Detroiter and when he passed his personal photo collection was gifted to the museum archives. Amongst Clarence's family photos were plenty showing Clarence's time spent as an incredibly active bowler. This is a photo of Clarence's bowling team at the 1971 American Bowling Congress Championships. Clarence is the on the far left. The four other men are named Lavert, Bobby, Chuck, and John. Note the picture of Detroit's skyline pre-Renaissance Center.

Photograph courtesy of the Collections and Exhibitions department of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (http://chwmuseum.org).  Research, caption and scanning by Derek Thomas Sojda.  For more information, please contact the Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center at (313) 494-5840 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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