As anyone who has anything to do with me knows, I have become obsessed with the future of Detroit since early October. I think about Detroit all the time. I worry about its future. I reminisce about its past.
I love Detroit.
Shortly after I left the U.S. Department of Labor as a political appointee to President Jimmy Carter, I spent a week in Detroit.
When I write about being a political appointee to the President of the United States, I am being accurate. Nevertheless, my importance in the political food chain was minimal. My title was Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown.
Secretary Brown was the best boss I ever had. Writing speeches for him was a joy. But I was at no point important in the larger scheme of things. The measure of my power: My title earned me the right to replace my government issued sofa, in my palatial office, with a custom made sofa.
I spent days looking at cloth samples asking advice on sofas. That was the extent of my political power.
Nevertheless, as a political appointee, my job required approval by the Senate of the United States. These days when senate confirmation issues are raised, the rancor in politically hostile D.C. had gotten to the point where confirming a speech writer of no special importance could be a problem today. In 1978, the human resources person at the Labor Department had me fill out the necessary paperwork. The following week I read in the Congressional Record my name, amidst a lot of other names, as having been confirmed by the senate. O tempora. O mores.
Details of my Detroit trip must come at another time. I was working for a week in Detroit as a contractor for an educational publisher. I stayed at Henry Ford II’s Renaissance Center, the controversial hotel plus which epitomized white corporate Detroit. These were executives, including African-Americans, who worked in the city and slept in the suburbs.
I spent days at the Downtown Detroit Chrysler automobile assembly plant which has since closed. The experience left me with a love for the Motor City, or Motown which is Detroit’s frequently used nickname. My experience with the African-American community of Detroit, a community that sleeps and votes within the city limits, is a fond memory.
My access to the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) International Headquarters thrilled me. Each visit seemed an act of homage to the great labor leader Walter Reuther whom I greatly admired. Reuther’s power, generated by his ability to turn out the vote, led him to dominate Michigan politics. In the process, Walter Reuther created a university system, characterized by Anne Arbor, the envy of the academic world. Reuther also created a superb vocational training network emanating, as it were, from Detroit’s Wayne State University.
There is far too much to say here about the problems of today’s Detroit and the promise of tomorrow’s.
During this ongoing Detroit obsession which began in October and has not stopped, I have been listening to the music of the Supremes.
The Supremes remind me of the glory days of Detroit. May those days return even at only a fraction of the joy Detroit felt when it had an automobile industry. When I think about Detroit, the first thing that comes to mind is the Supremes singing their 1966 hit song: I hear a symphony.
“With 12#1 pop singles, numerous sold out concerts and regular television appearances, the Supremes were not only the most commercially successful female group of the Sixties but among the top five top/rock/soul acts of that decade. Diana Ross, Mary Williams, and Florence Ballard composed Motown’s flagship group. Barry Gordy Jr.’s black pop music crossover dream come true that paved the way from rock radio hits and packaged bus tours to Los Vegas showrooms and Royal Command Performances. At the height of the civil rights movement, they were also embraced by the world as symbols of black achievement. Fronted by Diana Ross during their peak years, they epitomized Holland-Dozier-Holland’s classic Motown sound and the label’s sophisticated style. Unlike other girl groups, the Supremes had a mature, glamorous demeanor that appealed equally to teens and adults. Versatile, and unique, the original Supremes were America sweet-hearts setting standards and records that no one has yet equaled.”
–from The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, published by Fireside Press, 1995. This is a superb book which will bring joy to anyone who purchases it.
“Part of Detroit’s problem is we put too much emphasis on manufacturing and plant-type jobs. We did not spend enough time thinking about how we might reinvent ourselves in terms of what is going to happen in the future. Our greatest resource is our people and what we produce. People are going to find out, ‘Oh, the resource is me.’
“‘I’m the resource that’s going to change the world.’ It’s coming from the people and that’s what’s going to become the city of our renewal.
“Detroit is going to become the city of entrepreneurs because we can’t do anything but reinvent it. Detroit has gone from MoTown [Motor Town, the city’s now obsolete nickname] to GrowTown.
“We have more than 70,000 vacant lots. And a lot of people are rediscovering the earth. Around these gardens and around these urban farms are all these people who are coming together in community. It cultivates the soul….”
http://www.explore.org – Welcome to 21st century Detroit. The once-thriving automobile industry has taken a major blow, poverty is rampant, and major swaths of the city are deserted. But will grassroots art and culture lead Detroit’s renaissance? Join host Charles Annenberg Weingarten for a street-level look at Detroit’s rebirth.
“My second Detroit column will provide evidence for hope. It also expresses concern for the African-American community’s future. I was especially moved by Rev. Barry Randolph’s eloquence as your video showed the glorious but sadly decaying architecture of the great Albert Kahn. I do not have a budget to reimburse you, but will provide whatever caption you decide appropriate.
“Global architects need the inspiration your video provides. Meanwhile, in the spirit of YouTube sharing, I will embed the video on my personal website www.joelsolkoff.com
“I will accompany the posting with this email acknowledging your copyright ownership and my request for its use. If you find it necessary to replace the embedded version with a simple link to You Tube please let me know. Appreciatively, Joel Solkoff.”
Yes, it would be helpful to know why I am forever celebrating Thanksgiving. Don't you think?
When I was born Harry Truman was President of the United States. Here is President Truman’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation for 1947 [official proclamation number 2756.]
President Harry S Truman‘s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation when I was less than two months old
By the President of the United States of America A Proclamation
Older than our nation itself is the hallowed custom of resting from our labors for one day at harvest time and of dedicating that day to expressions of gratitude to Almighty God for the many blessings which He has heaped upon us. Now, as the cycle of the year nears completion, it is fitting that we should lift up our hearts again in special prayers.
Controversies over the issuance of President Proclamations and indeed over the celebration of Thanksgiving itself are not unusual. Wikipedia has a lengthy section where Native American groups and historians criticize Thanksgiving as a mythological Massachusetts celebration of harmony between Native Americans and European settlers. The celebrations were then followed by the genocide of Native Americans.
[5. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was criticized for proclaiming Thanksgiving so late in the month of November of 1933. The Depression was at its worst and he was trying to stimulate Christmas shopping. In 2013, President Obama was criticized for not mentioning God in his Thanksgiving proclamation. In 2014, he was criticized for only mentioning God once. Other presidents have been criticized by atheist groups for mentioning God at all.
[6. For me, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It has always meant for me criticism of the killing of Native Americans and concern for the poor and hungry who have not had the opportunity to enjoy our country’s abundance. I was raised by a single mother who was raised by a single mother. For my mother Miriam, who adored President Franklin Roosevelt, Thanksgiving meant the president’s effort to use the holiday to integrate immigrant groups into our country’s social fabric. For me it represents an understanding that on this special day regardless of our personal, political, and social views, the United States is one country under God committed to a concept of government best summed up by the late Governor of New York Alfred Smith who said, “The only cure for the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.” This year I read the Bill of Rights in celebration of Thanksgiving.
[7. Yes, I do plan to publish at least one more presidential proclamation, the one issued in November 1960 by President Dwight David Eisenhower shortly after President John Kennedy was elected president. My mother, for whom saving money was not easy, flew up that year from Florida to Brooklyn, New York to celebrate with my grandmother Celia Schneider who lived in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. After the meal, we turned on the television (for my generation a new medium) and watched the Edward R. Murrow broadcast Harvest of Shame.
“These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed.
“We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials.
“We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth.”
[9 Watching the Morrow “Harvest of Shame” broadcast from my grandmother’s Brooklyn piano bench marked one of the most influential events of my life. In the 1970s, when I was in my 20s, I worked on a newsletter in Washington D.C. on the problems of migrant agricultural workers–workers described in the Morrow broadcast focusing on Belle Glade, Florida, but also visiting the home base and migrant streams and farm-worker bases in the West, the Midwest, and South.
[10. In no small part, the misery Morrow broadcast has converted from rural to urban misery. In 1960, when Edward R. Murrow was broadcasting to an affluent nation , farm workers themselves were in the midst of massive migrations out of rural areas and to large cities such as Detroit. One black tenant farmer in Arkansas told me the migration hit so quickly chickens were left unfed so eager were tenant farmers for the chance at prosperity in Detroit. My friend Phillip Moery, whose family owns a rice farm in Wynne, Arkansas told me of talk in the 1950s and 60s at the family dinner table as rural workers disappeared in mass to Detroit.
11. One reason for the migration was the rapidly developing mechanization of farming, including pesticides and genetically engineered food products replacing the need for labor. (In Belle Glade, Florida, for example, I saw a radish harvester with 16 arms scoop up, bag, and seal bags of radishes once picked by hand.) A second reason for the migration was the need for assembly line workers in cities such as Detroit who received good pay and benefits for work that did not require substantial education.
12)The decline of the Detroit automobile industry, its refusal to innovate during times of massive prosperity was followed by massive unemployment, petroleum price increases, and Japanese and German competition. Detroit is emerging from the largest bankruptcy in the history of U.S. which at one point threatened to sell off the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Art (including a Van Gough self-portrait)
Photo provided courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
and a combination of massive infusions of funds and savvy concerned citizens will result in a new smaller less powerful city whose future will not be linked to the automobile industry. As a columnist for e-architect, I have been worrying about how to tell the story of Detroit, the most significant U.S. story for architects and builders in the world. My first column on Detroit was entitled, Is Detroit Dying? My current conclusion is there will be a prosperous section of Detroit, a city which has gone from a population 1.4 million to less than 700,000. Yet Detroit will retain large section of aging urban poor; namely, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the rural poor Edward R. Murrow described in 1960. This demographic, many of whom are aging without adequate social services, experienced an all too brief period of prosperity. They live trapped in an African-American downtown ghetto with no place to go. The local public schools are among the worst in the nation. The ability of the young to obtain job skills is questionable at best even, as I expect, Detroit’s economy will improve. The decline of Detroit, as with the decline of so many U.S. population centers, is a consequence of the hubris of the generation who parented the Baby Boomers. These veterans believed winning World War II was enough, convinced we ruled the world, and too proud or insouciant to invest in our domestic future . Our future as a country depends on our ability to learn from the mistakes of the past most significantly the sad lack of understanding that without a decent educational system geared to all age groups in our population our ability to solve our country’s problems will fail. I am an optimist, but I also believe in the power of prayer after providing infrastructure and resources to achieve badly needed productivity.
13) My view is for Detroit itself and the other Detroit’s in America every day is Thanksgiving–appreciation for the abundance we still possess, recognition of our dependence of global workers and their innovation (an American tradition) and a renewed understanding of the work required to alleviate suffering. My special pleading is to alleviate the suffering of the aging Baby Boomers like me, caught in an economic bind because we had to support our parents and our children, were unable to reserve money for retirement and are losing our teeth because adequate dental care is not available. My generation, based on money spent, is the best educated in U.S history. We are not the problem. We are the solution.
May our thanksgiving this year be tempered by humility, by sympathy for those who lack abundance, and by compassion for those in want. As we express appreciation in prayer for our munificent gifts, may we remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive; and may we manifest our remembrance of that precept by generously sharing our bounty with needy people of other nations.
Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, invite the attention of all citizens to the joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, which designates the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day; I proclaim Thursday, November 27, 1947, as a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States of every faith to consecrate that day to thoughts of gratitude, acts of devotion, and a firm resolve to assist in the efforts being made by religious groups and other bodies to aid the undernourished, the sick, the aged, and all sufferers in war-devastated lands.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington this 10th day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-second.
USE OF THE PERIOD
AFTER THE “S” IN
HARRY S. TRUMAN’S NAME
“In recent years the question of whether to use a period after the ‘S’ in Harry S. Truman’s name has become a subject of controversy, especially among editors. The evidence provided by Mr. Truman’s own practice argues strongly for the use of the period. While, as many people do, Mr. Truman often ran the letters in his signature together in a single stroke, the archives of the Harry S. Truman Library have numerous examples of the signature written at various times throughout Mr. Truman’s lifetime where his use of a period after the ‘S’ is very obvious.
“Mr. Truman apparently initiated the ‘period’ controversy in 1962 when, perhaps in jest, he told newspapermen that the period should be omitted. In explanation he said that the ‘S’ did not stand for any name but was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. He was later heard to say that the use of the period dated after 1962 as well as before.
“Several widely recognized style manuals provide guidance in favor of using the period. According to The Chicago Manual of Style all initials given with a name should ‘for convenience and consistency’ be followed by a period even if they are not abbreviations of names. The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual states that the period should be used after the ‘S’ in Harry S. Truman’s name.
“Most published works using the name Harry S. Truman employ the period. Authors choosing to omit the period in their texts must still use it when citing the names of organizations that employ the period in their legal titles (e.g. Harry S. Truman Library) thus seeming to contradict themselves. Authoritative publications produced by the Government Printing Office consistently use the period in Mr. Truman’s name, notably the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, the Department of the Army’s United States Army in World War II and two major publications of the Office of the Federal Register, Public Papers of the President – Harry S. Truman and theUnited States Government Organization Manual.
Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, 1941, Marjory Collins, photographer for Farm Security Administration. – Photo by Marjory Collins. Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress}. During the 1930s and 1940s some of the greatest photographs were taken for USDA’s Farm Security Administration.
Below the proclamation is a myth-breaking explanation from President Truman’s official library on the use of the period after President Truman’s middle name. At least one of my readers will take umbrage at the use of the period in the proclamation: library documentation may prove satisfactory. Nevertheless, President Truman has only himself to blame: “Mr. Truman apparently initiated the ‘period’ controversy in 1962 when, perhaps in jest, he told newspaper men that the period should be omitted. In explanation he said that the ‘S’ did not stand for any name but was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers,”]
Relevant material copyrighted by Joel Solkoff, 2014. All rights reserved.
[Note: I have not laughed in a month. Will Cuppy amuses me. Amusement may help unstick me from whatever has caused me to be stuck in the first place. Readers may or may not find additional explanation at the end of this excerpt from Will Cuppy’s 1929 book How to be a Hermit.]
A FEW HINTS ON ETIQUETTE
Etiquette, or dog, in the original Coptic, means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential. The ancient Copts were great sticklers for form, and you see what it got them. It is owing entirely to the Copts, as we know from hieroglyphics deciphered by certain scholars to their own satisfaction, that to-day at our state banquets and in our more exclusive American homes we do not eat pie with a knife.
Whether that is a good or a bad thing it is no part of my present purpose to go into. I’m not looking for trouble. It is not my intention to take sides on the pie question, but merely to clear up a few popular fallacies about minor problems of good form as applied to bachelors, especially if they happen to be book reviewers living on Jones’s Island. I am convinced that grave misunderstandings abound in this branch of learning. So would you be if you got a letter from a fair unknown ending, “P. S.—Do you wear a bib?”
Perhaps the postscript was meant in jest, but it hurt, pointing so heartlessly at what is generally believed to be the bachelor hermit’s weak spot, namely, his table manners. Evidently my correspondent feels that an inhabitant of Jones’s Island would not be likely to grasp the subtle difference between dining and just shoveling in the provisions. Meanwhile I thank her for her recipe for warmed-over beans, her gift of a patent can-opener and her sympathy, and assure her that I do not wear a bib. I have a napkin. She would be surprised though, if she knew how many prominent people do wear bibs.
Moreover, napkin technique in my shack differs only slightly from that in respectable circles ashore. I favor the red bandanna type. It doesn’t show the soup, and it makes a gay spot of color wherever it happens to be left about the house. My napkin has seen its best days, but who hasn’t, for that matter? I’m not one to switch to a blue bandanna just because it is said to be very chic with a deep-dish huckleberry pie. At Jones’s, as elsewhere, the napkin is partly unfolded, if it ever was folded, and laid unostentatiously across the right knee of the overalls. Then let nature take its course.
Being so much alone, though, and with one thing and another, it is an undoubted and more or less deplorable fact that hermits do occasionally let down in their etiquette. This is because hermits, especially those of metaphysical bent, sometimes get to feeling, if only subconsciously, that where there is no eye to see it, there is no etiquette. Supposing, to put it in the classical manner, that a hermit is eating soup at a distance of several miles from the nearest human ear—his own doesn’t count, as he is absorbed in a book; can the sound waves resulting from the operation be said really to exist in the sense that—that—in the sense that—Oh, well, take it or leave it. According to the paradox of Zeno—No, that was about Achilles and the tortoise, and when I first heard that one I said that Achilles would eventually overtake the tortoise, and I still say it. In brief, can social errors be committed where there is no society? Does etiquette itself exist in such a situation? Indeed, hermits often get to wondering whether they themselves exist. They try to reassure themselves by repeating, “I think, therefore I am,” and even then some still, small inward voice is only too likely to whisper, “But do you?”
Where life is lived amid such uncertainties and complications, you can see how etiquette is bound to suffer. Take the book-reviewing hermit who is trying to eat a plate of lettuce salad and read “The Mystery of the Haunted Tooth” at one and the same time without missing a thrill or a mouthful, and perhaps write it up to boot. Sooner or later that hermit is going to cast aside the centuries of etiquette, tell the ancient Copts to forget it and cut up his lettuce with a knife and fork. After all, he figures, the main idea is to convey the nourishment from the plate to the alimentary canal with a minimum of accidents, and a writer is never at his best with the salad trimmings cluttering up his stock in trade, with perhaps a sprig of catnip or smilax worrying one ear and maybe a stray fish thickening the plot of his review.
At first my whole soul revolted at the notion of cutting up my lettuce before dinner merely that I might read, write and eat in comparative peace and content, with a fair degree of synchronization; but I got to thinking. It would be so easy, and who would ever know? And then, one day, I did it! I was without the pale, but nothing happened. In fact, my fortunes took a temporary turn for the better, as I managed to produce from two to five more book reviews per meal, not to speak of the saving in flying parsley, lettuce and sardines. Naturally, I take a vicious delight now in attacking my salad with a butcher knife when I am in a jam with my articles. “Ha! Ha!” I laugh. “One simply doesn’t do it, eh? Well, I do it!”
There is another, a darker side. Having once cut up his lettuce, and all for the sake of worldly success, one cannot escape the inevitable regrets. Blue devils assail one, hissing of what the future may bring forth. Shall I finally take to hacking my pancakes, my ham and eggs, my very clam fritters into small hunks—for a career? Shall I come to blowing in my soup, drinking out of my saucer, spilling crumbs on the floor and stacking my dishes? Shall I, in a word, become an out-and-out Goop?
I suppose the ever present realization of my own fault has made me something of a liberal in the matter of downing the trickier foods. Knowing but too well that I have failed in the ordeal by lettuce, my heart goes out to the millions of my fellow creatures who may be trying at this moment to consume asparagus, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon and squab in the manner prescribed by those tiresome Copts. Some of our best brains have literally worn themselves out inventing ways to eat green corn so that horrified observers will speak to them afterwards, and nothing much has come of it but blasted hopes and souls forsworn and ruined bridge-work. One keen thinker suggests having the others present blindfold themselves in the belief that it’s all a game, and then fall to. My own system is to yell “Fire! Murder!” at the psychological moment and have a gorgeous time with the corn under cover of the excitement.
As for asparagus, the Copts themselves were rather vague, but it should be evident to all that there is small æsthetic value in the widespread sword swallowing or trained seal method. Any one who has seen Mr. Ringling’s sea elephant having a snack will probably agree that everything humanly possible—particularly fish—should be treated as a fork food. Experience, however, has convinced me that to inhale a squab or other small bird in a way at once sufficient unto the censors and the basal metabolism is quite impossible. Wait until you’re among friends. Many such tactical problems arise in the eternal battle between the instinct of self-preservation and the urge to beauty. And since we have been countless ages learning to eat a lamb chop without getting more than half of it into our system, it would be kind of a shame to lose the art, wouldn’t it?
I fear that hermits, when out in company, are likely to eat too fast and too much, to grab the largest piece of chicken, spill the water right off the bat, play tunes on the glassware and dispose of grape-seeds in a manner of which the less said the better. But I think the Copts go too far in expecting the guest to take the piece of chicken nearest him when it is passed. Such a rule may impress the besotted, taboo-ridden social climber, but it will never frighten the able-bodied hermit who possesses any sense of fair play. Some hostesses are fully capable of fixing the platter so that they will get all the white meat. I think, therefore, that a little picking and choosing is allowable, and if anybody objects, tell him that you’re looking for the smallest piece.
I have gradually cured Rattlesnake Ned, the hermit of Crow’s Island, of all his worst gaucheries except using his pocket comb between courses, throwing butts into the finger bowl and leaving his spoon in his cup. When these things occur at luxurious functions a mere whisper, “Ship your oar, Ned!” or “Do you want to get us thrown out?” quickly mends matters for the time being. It is true that he recently assaulted and severely bit a wax pear that had been presented to our hostess’s grandmother by one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, but I had to laugh at that myself. I prefer not to tell what Ned did the time he got the mouthful of hot escalloped corn—probably the hottest thing on earth excepting hot escalloped tomatoes. At least, they might have let me explain.
I should never have set up as an authority on etiquette but for the fact that I’ve read it and Ned hasn’t; it’s in the back of my cook book, complete from ordinary neighbors on through ministers plenipotentiary and papal nuncios up to kings, queens and magazine editors. If I sometimes err when it comes to a showdown, I really know better. I have the book. I find, however, that hasty perusal of the full directions just before going to a dinner party has a tendency to confuse the hermit so that he’s certain to do something awful. My advice is to watch the hostess, but even then the hermit’s furtive glancing about, shifting of food from the wrong to the right plate, juggling with forks and generally spasmodic behavior gets him practically nowhere. Finally, when the attention of the whole bejeweled throng has concentrated itself upon the poor goof and his strange antics, the only thing left to do is to cut his own throat. Personally, I try to hold fast to the thought that the fork is never used for the thinner soups and that the drinking glass should never be raised to the perpendicular and rested upon the nose in the effort to drain the last drop unless the host or hostess has specially asked you to do a trick.
Remember, fellow hermits, clam diggers and oyster tenders, that the way you eat shows how you were raised, and that is a thing to be avoided at any cost. The main idea is to give the impression that food means less than nothing to you, that you’d as soon go hungry as not, and at the same time keep rolling it in. While I by no means advocate anarchy at the table, I cannot agree with my cook book that daintiness is the sum and substance of refined eating. Dainty is as dainty does. But let’s resolve, one and all, to become a little less uncouth during the coming year. I’m going to try, if I have to feed myself a bean at a time.
3. My rationale for mentioning Cuppy at all is part of a yet unplublished motto on December 2014 in which I have been attempting to describe my life, legacies, the importance of Thanksgiving (this year’s splendid fest now nearing old-hat status), the relevance of previous Thanksgivings to my life and daily work–spiritual (and, as the prayer books put it not to my liking) “profane, the importance of building cities and communities, and the sad reality of Detroit (for which I have written thousands of words, not getting it quite right for Joel’s Column for e-architect) still mourning the reality that Detroit is returning from the dead (no effective garlic at hand) with the ghost of Robert McNamara (who helped destroy the Ford Motor Company before JFK and LBJ chose him to lose the War in Vietnam as Secretary of Defense) [see David Halberbstam]. Understanding the limitations of Detroit’s and America’s recovery from hubrus, an unwillingness to invest in innovation and infrastructure.