Humanities Council grant supports recording of oral histories at Center for the Study of Automotive Heritage

December 11, 2006

DEARBORN / Dec. 11, 2006---The Center for the Study of Automotive Heritage at the University of Michigan-Dearborn has received $15,000 from the Michigan Humanities Council to support the center’s "Motor City Voices" project.

“Recently, calls for the revitalization of cities and regions have embraced the concept of ‘cool cities’ as a way to attract members of the “creative class” to Michigan,” according to economics Prof. Bruce Pietrykowski, director of the Center for the Study of Automotive Heritage. “This process of imagining alternative futures for aging industrial cities and regions recalls a not-too-distant period in the Detroit region’s own history marked by processes of economic restructuring, automation, and ‘de-industrialization.’ ”

The Motor City Voices project will collect four to six video oral histories of key participants in the largely African-American, grassroots labor movement aimed at confronting both technological changes on the shop floor and economic changes affecting neighborhoods throughout Detroit, Pietrykowski said.

The oral histories will become the centerpiece of a museum exhibit depicting the history, ideas and ideals embodied in the labor and community movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

"This oral history project and exhibit will focus on a very contentious period in the history of U.S. race relations--the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Pietrykowski said. “The goal of the project is to shed light on the voices of radical labor and community activists who felt deeply that the existing institutions of capitalist society thwarted, by design, the hopes and aspirations of large segments of the American population.

“This was a period during which the pillars of the great post-war economic expansion--big business and big labor--came under intense scrutiny and criticism from diverse sectors of society, especially students, African-Americans and women in particular,” he said. “By focusing on Detroit organizations' and activists' calls for social and economic revolution during a period of social and economic upheaval we can gain insight, useful strategies and hopefully inspiration in the face of the serious challenges confronting the metro Detroit region and the whole of Michigan in the years to come."

The Motor City Voices exhibit will be shown at UM-Dearborn’s Alfred Berkowitz Gallery, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and at the Henry Ford in Dearborn. The oral histories also will be made available on the Web. An online version of the installation will be linked to the “Race and Labor” sections of UM-Dearborn’s Automobile in American Life and Society Web site at www.autolife.umd.umich.edu, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Michigan Humanities Council is the state’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. UM-Dearborn’s $15,000 grant was awarded as part of the council’s "We Made Michigan ... We the People" program, which recognizes projects that examine events and themes in Michigan/American history and culture that encompass aspects of work and labor issues, according to its Web site.

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