The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Ann Arbor history it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A2: Local History Tue, 29 Jul 2014 04:02:01 +0000 Chronicle Staff A post in the Local in Ann Arbor blog reflects on the importance of historic buildings in creating a city’s sense of place. It includes a review of “Historic Ann Arbor,” a new book by local authors Susan Wineberg and Patrick McCauley: ”This book should be on the bookshelf of everyone who lives in Ann Arbor and values any sense of our history and architectural diversity. As Grace Shackman says in her introduction to the book, ‘Susan and Patrick’s love of Ann Arbor shines through every page.’” [Source]

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In the Archives: “Freedmen’s Progress” Wed, 27 Jun 2012 23:58:01 +0000 Laura Bien Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month or sometimes towards the beginning.

A recent Ward 1 Ann Arbor city council candidate forum included some discussion of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County, to be located on Pontiac Trail. In this month’s column, Bien takes a look at one piece of African American history with an Ann Arbor connection – the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The interior of Henry Wade Robbins' Ann Arbor barber shop at 117 Ann St.

The interior of Henry Wade Robbins' Ann Arbor barber shop at 117 Ann St.

Ann Arbor barber Henry Wade Robbins is one of many Washtenaw County residents singled out for commendation in a largely forgotten but historically invaluable book assembled in just three months in 1915. “Mr. Robbins has completely negated the popular fallacy that in order to be successful in the barber business the boss was required to draw the color line in his patronage,” says the work’s biographical entry for Robbins.

“This Mr. Robbins has never done. He treated all gentlemen alike and catered to high-class trade, both white and colored, and he has numbered and still numbers among his patrons many of the best-known white people in Michigan …” Robbins owned his own shop and its upstairs apartments at 117 Ann St. where he, his wife Martha, and their son and daughter lived.

The book’s data on employment, home ownership, and achievements by black Michiganders was collected and compiled by a panel of Michigan African Americans selected by Michigan governor Woodbridge Ferris. Their work was compiled into the “Michigan Manual of Freedman’s Progress” (MMFP), which offers a cross-section of successful black Michiganders in the early 20th century. 

The impetus for creating the MMFP came from Gov. Ferris. The “National Half-Century Anniversary of Negro Freedom and the Lincoln Jubilee” was scheduled to take place in Chicago in the summer of 1915, celebrating 50 years of freedom for black Americans following the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Congress passed the amendment on January 31, 1865. Lincoln’s home state of Illinois became the first state to ratify it on February 1, followed by Rhode Island and Michigan on February 2, 1865. Five decades later, the Lincoln Jubilee commemorated the amendment’s passage.

Michigan was represented in Chicago at the Jubilee. Some months before that event, Gov. Ferris asked black staff assistant Charles A. Warren to contact 57 black leaders from around the state and request their aid in organizing a Michigan exhibit for the Jubilee. The group met with Ferris to discuss logistics and legislative support. Public Act 47, approved in mid-April of 1915, guaranteed $5,000 for the project [about $110,000 in today’s dollars] and stipulated that the people of the state of Michigan would “provide for the preparation, transportation, and care of a Michigan exhibit at the [Lincoln Jubilee].” A Freedmen’s Progress Committee was appointed to govern the work.

An advertisement for the Lincoln Jubilee in a spring 1915 issue of The Mediator magazine.

An advertisement for the Lincoln Jubilee in a spring 1915 issue of The Mediator magazine.

The act also said that the exhibit would include “a manual showing the professional, political, religious, and educational achievements of [black] citizens of this state …”

Though there were only a few months in which to gather information, the eventual manual included meticulously tabulated lists of the over 1,200 black Michiganders who were homeowners and the more than 1,600 black Michigan soldiers who had volunteered to fight in the Civil War. The MMFP acknowledged that given its time constraints, the actual numbers could be higher.

The work also provided biographical sketches of successful black Michiganders. In addition to Henry Wade Robbins, other Ann Arborites include surgeon Simeon Carson, postal carrier Robert Carson, Reverend W. B. Pearson, and physician Catherine Crawford. The work omits William Blackburn, then one of only 10 black policemen in the state.

The 43 black Ann Arbor homeowners listed include porter Levi Bates at 808 4th Avenue. The widow Frances Bubbs worked as a cook for Phi Delta Theta fraternity and owned a home at 1009 Ann St. Teamster William Grayer and his family lived at 1131 Traver. William Henderson, a chef at Kappa Sigma fraternity, resided with his wife Amelia at 701 4th Avenue. Janitor Edward Lewis and his wife Magnolia lived at 1009 Catherine.

Ypsilanti professionals cited in the MMFP include professor Louis Slater Bowles, Reverend I. F. Williams, physician John H. Dickerson, lawyer John H. Fox, and stenographer Carrie Hayes. Among the 68 Ypsilanti homeowners are foreman Abraham Woods at 320 Harriet, house mover Solomom Bow at 420 Washington, Reverend James Derrick at 531 Jefferson Ave., and George Richerson, the “wealthiest farmer in Ypsi,” according to the MMFP.

The home of Ypsilanti farmer George Richerson.

The home of Ypsilanti farmer George Richerson.

In 1915, Washtenaw County held the distinction of having Michigan’s second-highest per capita rate of black home ownership relative to total county population, exceeded only by Cass County. One factor in both counties’ significant number of black residents was the historical presence of Quaker residents, many of whom actively participated in the Underground Railroad.

The MMFP also catalogued the 196 exhibits from around the state displayed at the Jubilee. These included such handwork as fine lace, embroidery, quilts, clothing, and painted china. Artwork included a variety of paintings, photographs, and examples of printing and bookbinding. Inventions, blueprints, and patent documents were also on display, as well as a variety of agricultural products. Photographs highlighted homes and businesses built and owned by black Michiganders.

Washtenaw County boasted nine contributors to the exhibition, most of whom were from Ypsilanti. Ypsi confectioner Frank Smith sent a variety of candies. Carrie Hayes and Elizabeth Mofford offered their handmade slippers. Anna Clark and William Henry James loaned their “fancy work.” Fred Warren contributed a handmade cane, and Mrs. Wealthy Sherman a handmade rug. The remaining two contributors came from Whittaker, a hamlet just south of Ypsi: Emanual Carter with poultry and a Mrs. Clark with artworks.

A view of the part of the main exhibition hall at the Lincoln Jubilee.

A view of the part of the main exhibition hall at the Lincoln Jubilee.

The items went on display at the Jubilee, which also featured speeches, musical performances that included a mammoth choir of hundreds of singers, and other states’ exhibits of black Americans’ inventions, artworks, and achievements in business, manufacturing, and agriculture. The Jubilee was held from August 22 to September 16. Over 10,000 people attended the its opening ceremonies and an estimated 100,000 persons had visited by the time it closed. Though the Jubilee was open to all, one visitor estimated the ratio of white attendees at only five percent.

One chapter of the MMFP illustrates the sociocultural context for the achievements documented in the book. The book’s preface offers an analysis of the portrayal of black Michiganders in the media. Written by Freedman’s Progress Commission secretary Francis Warren, the essay attributes a perceived early-1900s rise in hostility towards black residents to a skewed representation in newspapers.

In a great majority of instances when the term ‘Negro’ is used in news matter, it refers to the criminal Negro and not to that vast bulk of black people who are making good and pursuing the even tenure of their way. Ordinarily, on the other hand, when many of the newspapers mention anything commendable about a black man, his racial character is not mentioned … the press emphasizes the racial character of black criminals and suppresses the racial character of black persons performing good deeds …

Warren cited several examples culled from Michigan papers. He then presented a table summarizing an analysis of the use of the word ‘Negro’ in six months’ worth of articles collected from Detroit papers.

Of 232 articles, “nearly 200 of them referred to the Negro in a manner that was not commendable.” Only 36 of the articles were “commendatory of Negroes.”

“This constant bombardment of the moral character of black people has produced an apparent growth of hostility to the Freedman in recent years,” Warren wrote.

Against such a backdrop, the achievements listed in MMFP shine all the brighter. The Michigan Manual for Freedmen’s Progress preserves a record of ambition, perseverance, talent, and success, and ensures that the artists, inventors, businesspeople, physicians, lawyers, teachers are remembered – as well as one Ann Arbor barber who parlayed a seemingly humble skill into wealth and comfort.

Mystery Artifact

Only one person guessed the identity of last column’s baffling Mystery Artifact. It was a stumper, to be sure! This artifact was brought into the Archives by a visitor (and used as a Mystery Artifact here with his permission) and neither I nor anyone else there at the time could guess what it was.

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

When the owner found out, by consulting with the owner of Ypsi’s Automotive Museum, he called the Archives and we were fascinated to find out that this is one side wheel from an old push mower.

Chronicle reader Russ Miller guessed that this object was “a wheel from reel type push mower – with perhaps a gear cast into a drum on the back side. Seems like an awfully skinny thing to push across a lawn but there might have been a hard rubber tire cast on the rim.
” Great guess, Russ! And there is indeed a gear case into the body of the object on its nether side.

This time we have one of those artifacts that will be easy for some folks and completely unfamiliar to others. Take your best guess and good luck!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden History of Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Look for her article on Coldwater School, a short version of which first appeared here, in the July/August issue of Michigan History Magazine.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our columnists like Laura Bien and other contributors. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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The Day a Beatle Came to Town Sun, 27 Dec 2009 14:56:55 +0000 Alan Glenn John Lennon

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, playing at the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena. (Photo courtesy Leni Sinclair.)

The passage of nearly four decades can dim even the keenest of memories. But to Hiawatha Bailey, the events of that winter afternoon in 1971 are as clear as if they had happened yesterday. Bailey was 23 and working at the communal headquarters of the Rainbow People’s Party in the ramshackle old mansion at 1520 Hill Street in Ann Arbor.

“I was doing office duty,” he recalls, “which entailed sitting at the front desk and answering the phone. Some friends were there, and we were sitting around, tripping on acid, probably, and the phone rings. I pick it up and I hear this voice, ‘Hello, this is Yoko Ono.’”

Bailey, of course, didn’t believe it for a second. “I said something like, ‘Yeah, this is Timothy Leary,’ and hung up. We all got a good laugh out of it.” A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time the voice on the other end said, “Hello, can I speak to David Sinclair, Chief of Staff of the Rainbow People’s Party. This is John Lennon of the Beatles.”

“I wasn’t even that familiar with the Beatles then,” says Bailey, now lead singer for the Cult Heroes, an Ann Arbor-based punk rock band. “I was more into the Stooges and the MC5, more radical rock ’n’ roll. But I knew right away that it really was John Lennon.” He put the call through.

“Dave and John talked for quite some time,” Bailey recalls. “Lennon said, ‘I heard about the benefit that you blokes are putting on, and I wrote a little ditty about John Sinclair and his plight. I’d like to come there and perform it.’”

They Gave Him Ten for Two

John Sinclair – poet, pothead, cultural revolutionary, and Chairman of the Rainbow People’s Party of Ann Arbor, Michigan – was at that time confined to the state prison in Jackson. More than two years earlier he had received a nine-and-a-half to ten-year sentence for the possession of 11.50 grains of marijuana – two joints’ worth – following a trial marked by numerous irregularities.

“The powers-that-be in Michigan had it in for me,” says Sinclair, who now lives in Amsterdam. “They didn’t like what we were doing, establishing an alternative community, defying their authority, smoking grass. First in Detroit, then in Ann Arbor. They fixed on me because I was the most outspoken, and also because somehow I was successful in bringing young people around to my way of thinking.”

Even those who weren’t quite as certain of Sinclair’s blamelessness agreed that ten years in prison for possession of two joints was an unusually severe sentence, and probably politically motivated.

John Sinclair, circa 1969. (Photo courtesy of Leni Sinclair.)

John Sinclair, circa 1969. (Photo courtesy of Leni Sinclair.)

“They wanted to put me away,” Sinclair says, “and so they did.” Following the sentencing, a request for an appeal bond was denied, and the 27-year-old cultural activist went directly to a maximum-security prison.

Sinclair’s sudden departure sent the collective into a state of shock. But his wife Leni and brother David quickly assumed leadership roles and began to direct the effort to free their party’s leader.

In the coming months they worked tirelessly, organizing benefit concerts, demonstrations, and rallies. Wherever possible they enlisted the aid of sympathetic movement celebrities – Allen Ginsberg, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman (whose misguided attempt to win support for Sinclair at Woodstock during the Who’s set earned him a bump on the head, courtesy Pete Townshend’s guitar), Tom Hayden, and others. But after two years of diligent effort they seemed no closer to getting John out of jail.

At some point in the summer of 1971, Sinclair – who was still helping to lead the party from behind bars – decided that what they needed to do was organize one huge benefit rally for the end of the year. With the help of sympathetic student organizations they were able to secure the use of the University of Michigan’s recently constructed Crisler Arena for Dec. 10. (That’s also international Human Rights Day – although no one seemed to realize it at the time.)

A Total Bomb

Utilizing the contacts that they had built up over the years, Leni, David, and the others assembled a list of about a dozen radical speakers and musical performers who agreed to appear at the rally. Then they approached Peter Andrews, an experienced area music promoter who was working as events director at the university. Andrews was a friend of John Sinclair and had previously organized a few small benefit concerts on his behalf. But he wasn’t interested in producing this show.

“I just looked at it and said, ‘This is a total bomb you have on your hands. You’ll get three thousand people tops, and in the fifteen-thousand-capacity Crisler, it’ll only show how little people care about John Sinclair.’”

Andrews, now semi-retired and living in Ypsilanti Township, recalls that the Sinclairs weren’t willing to take no for an answer. “I went to Toronto with my girlfriend just to get away from them for a few days. When I got back, Leni came to see me and she said, ‘John Lennon and Yoko Ono want to play at the rally!’”

Andrews was skeptical, thinking that this might simply be a ploy to get him involved. “I said, ‘Oh, really. And who’s the headliner, Jesus Christ?’”

Leni Sinclair insisted that it was real, however, and explained that Jerry Rubin had talked the Lennons into doing it. Andrews was still doubtful but agreed to fly to New York and meet with John and Yoko. Even today he still marvels at the surreality of that trip to New York with Leni in December of 1971.

Some Time in New York City

“Nobody met us or anything,” he says. “The only thing we had was a telephone number to call. I remember putting a dime in the phone, and dialing the number. John Lennon answered. He said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been waiting for ya, come on over, here’s where we’re at, great!’ I hung up the phone and looked at Leni, and I said, ‘We’re hot, we are happening.’”

Sinclair and Andrews took a cab from Grand Central Station to the Lennons’ two-room apartment in the West Village. “They greeted us, they were very friendly, very, very nice,” says Andrews. “I had Lennon sign a contract for $500 to appear, and he crossed it out and put, ‘To be donated to the John Sinclair Freedom Fund.’”

The visitors from Michigan spent about an hour talking with their newfound allies. At one point, Lennon asked Andrews to come into the bedroom and listen to a song he had written to perform at the concert. “He wasn’t sure if the song was appropriate, and he wanted my opinion. He sang the song – ‘It ain’t fair, John Sinclair’ – with that steel guitar he had. I assured him it was totally appropriate, and the lyrics were cool. He was very grateful.”

Andrews shakes his head in wonder at the memory. “I thought to myself, ‘John Lennon’s asking my opinion! Man, this is somethin’ else.’”

After leaving the apartment they had gone only about a block before Andrews realized that even with a signed contract as evidence, no one was going to believe that John Lennon would be at the show. “So we went back, and I asked John if he had a cassette recorder. I wrote a little script out, and he and Yoko read it into the recorder. Now I knew we had it.”

The Magic of John and Yoko

On Wednesday, Dec. 8, two days before the concert, the Committee to Free John Sinclair held a press conference in Ann Arbor. The tape that Peter Andrews had made was played for representatives of the local and national media.

“Hello, this is John with Yoko here,” began the recorded message. “I just want to say we’re coming along to the John Sinclair bust fund rally to say hello. I won’t be bringing a band or nothing like that because I’m only here as a tourist, but I’ll probably fetch me guitar, and I know we have a song that we wrote for John [Sinclair]. So that’s that.”

Tickets went on sale that same day at $3 each. “It sold out in such short amount of time – two or three hours, statewide – that we actually had guards, uniformed guards, to protect the people that got tickets from the ones that didn’t,” says Peter Andrews. “We distributed tickets statewide so that people would have an opportunity – not a big opportunity, but you had a chance if you ran down there and got in line.”

Andrews recalls that they didn’t spend a penny on advertising. It was enough to simply make the announcement of John and Yoko’s participation and let the media take it from there.

From Mop Top to Working-Class Hero

After the breakup of the Beatles, and before his untimely death by an assassin’s bullet in 1980, John Lennon performed in public on only a handful of occasions. In retrospect it may seem odd that one of these was a benefit for a jailed longhair in the cultural backwater of Michigan. But at the time it made perfect sense.

Ann Arbor was in the forefront of the radical movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. That same period found the famously outspoken Beatle becoming deeply involved in political activism – denouncing war and injustice, attending demonstrations, concocting peace-themed “happenings” with Yoko, encouraging his fans to “Imagine no possessions,” advising them that “A working-class hero is something to be.”

In the summer of ’71 John and Yoko moved to New York on a more-or-less permanent basis and quickly became close with Yippie activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Rubin was committed to speaking at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in December, and encouraged John and Yoko to appear, as well.

It wasn’t difficult to get Lennon interested. He’d been toying with the idea of doing a series of all-star concerts combining rock music with radical rhetoric. After long discussions with Rubin, this morphed into an “anti-Nixon tour” that would travel across the U.S. during the summer of ’72 and wind up in San Diego at the Republican National Convention in August.

The rally in Ann Arbor would serve as a trial run.

Not in Kansas Anymore

John and Yoko arrived with little fanfare in Detroit on Friday, Dec. 10, the day of the concert. Peter Andrews picked them up at the airport in a borrowed limousine and drove them to the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor, where a number of the evening’s musical acts were staying. Andrews had booked the Lennons into the presidential suite.

Crowd at concert in Crisler Arena (Photo courtesy of David Fenton.)

The crowd at the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Crisler Arena. (Photo courtesy of David Fenton.)

“I thought it was funny to put them up in the presidential suite,” he says, “because this was basically all anti-Nixon. I remember stopping over there to make sure everything was cool. I couldn’t stay, but boy, I wish could have. They were all jamming up in Lennon’s suite. I thought, ‘Damn, this is too much.’”

The event had grown so big so fast that to many of those involved it felt like a waking dream. “It was madness, all of these people, all the music and the politics,” says Hiawatha Bailey. While working backstage at the rally he felt a sudden need for a few minutes away, and walked over to the nearby football stadium.

“I’m sitting there, in this huge, empty stadium,” Bailey recalls. “All of a sudden this whirling dervish picks up a pile of trash, goes around the stadium, and drops it right next to me.” He smiles and shakes his head. “I’m thinking that I’d better get out of there, before Dorothy and Toto show up!”

But for Bailey the unreality wasn’t quite over. “I go back to the arena, and up comes this limo, and John Lennon, Yoko Ono, David Peel and the Lower East Side and all those scalawags that he hung out with, all start piling out. John says to me, ‘You look like someone I can trust, mate, come with me.’”

Bailey became an impromptu bodyguard, helping to hold back the fans as the Lennons and their entourage entered the arena. “These people were ready to rip me apart to get to John Lennon,” he says. “They had their albums they wanted signed, and they were very vehement about it.”

After escorting the company to their dressing room, Bailey recalls, “John turns to me and says, ‘Watch the door.’ Then he hands me a bag of coke, and says to enjoy myself. So I’m leaning up against the door, holding a bag of John Lennon’s blow, and behind me he’s teaching David Peel and those guys the chords to ‘John Sinclair.’ And I’m just like, ‘Man, this is far out.’”

A Long Day’s Night

Peel would have plenty of time to learn the song – John and Yoko didn’t end up taking the stage until around three in the morning, more than two hours behind schedule. They were preceded by nearly eight hours of speakers and musical performers that included Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, Bob Seger, Phil Ochs, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, poet Ed Sanders, Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale, Chicago Seven defendant Rennie Davis, radical priest Father James Groppi, and jazz legend Archie Shepp.

The dramatic high point of the evening was a surprise telephone call from the imprisoned John Sinclair that was broadcast live over the arena’s loudspeakers. Voice choking with emotion, Sinclair spoke to his wife and daughter, conveying his belief that they would soon be reunited. “You could almost see the tears flowing down the aisles,” remembers Peter Andrews.

According to many reports, the other non-musical portions of the program did not appear to have a great impact on the audience. The singers, however, seemed to go over somewhat better. According to the Michigan Daily, Bob Seger was “dynamite,” Commander Cody “kept the audience pretty satisfied,” and Phil Ochs was “good and clever.”

But the big musical hit of the evening – possibly even bigger than the Lennons – was a performer that most people didn’t even know would be there.

A few days before the concert, Peter Andrews was working in his office when the phone rang. It was Stevie Wonder.

After his meeting in New York with John and Yoko, Andrews thought nothing could faze him. But now here he was listening to the wunderkind of soul tell him that, even though he wasn’t in favor of marijuana, he was dismayed by what had happened to John Sinclair, and wanted to be part of the show.

“I’m going, ‘Holy shit.’ I didn’t need a draw, so I decided that Stevie Wonder would be a surprise act. I told him over the phone that I didn’t want anybody knowing about this, and not to make any announcements or anything. There were only about three people other than me that even knew about it until he showed up with his equipment.”

(Photo courtesty of Stanley Livingston.)

Stevie Wonder performing at the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally. (Photo courtesty of Stanley Livingston.)

The Wonder of Stevie

Twenty-two-year-old Jane Hassinger was elated when she learned that Stevie Wonder would be appearing that night. As a member of Drug Help, a local grassroots counseling service for youth with drug and alcohol issues, she was working in one of the arena’s two “drug tents” when Wonder took the stage. “I’d been on the job almost the whole time and didn’t really have an opportunity to watch the show,” she recalls.

“But I said to my co-workers, ‘I’m leaving for Stevie Wonder.’ I went up close to the stage. And he was extraordinary. It was as magical as anything I can think of. There was a roar when he came on.”

“We’d all grown up on Motown,” explains Peter Andrews. “When Stevie came out the crowd went bananas. I just loved it, as the promoter of the show. I still almost tear up when I think of the emotion people had.”

It wasn’t just the crowd that went bananas, either. “When Stevie was about to go on, I thought I should tell the Lennons,” says Andrews. “Well, John just flipped. He goes, ‘Stevie Wonder! I gotta see him!’”

Andrews didn’t think that was a good idea, as the ex-Beatle was certain to be mobbed. But Lennon was insistent. “He said, ‘Peter, don’t you understand? Stevie Wonder is my Beatles!’ He’d never seen Stevie perform. So I agreed. We got like ten security guys, and John Lennon and myself were in the middle of the circle, and we went to the back of the stage to watch.”

(Photo courtesy of David Fenton.)

Yoko Ono and John Lennon performing at the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena. (Photo courtesy of David Fenton.)

Gimme Some Truth

Stevie Wonder wasn’t there simply to dazzle the audience with his music, however. Like all the performers he was also there to make a political statement.

“Before coming here today,” he said at one point, “I had a lot of things on my mind, a lot of things that you don’t have to see to understand. We are in a very troublesome time today in the world. A time in which a man can get 12 years in prison for possession of marijuana, and another who can kill four students at Kent State and come out free.”

“What kind of shit is that?” he asked the crowd, which responded with a roar.

The audience had also cheered earlier in the evening when Phil Ochs delivered the refrain of his song about the White House’s resident paranoiac:

Here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of

Richard Nixon, find yourself another country to be part of

But of all the performances that night, it was that of the star attractions which was the most overtly political.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono took the stage at around three in the morning. Backed by an improvised band that included David Peel and Jerry Rubin, they sang about the Attica uprising, about the conflict in Northern Ireland, about women’s liberation, and, finally, about the man of the hour, without whom none of it would have been possible:

It ain’t fair, John Sinclair

In the stir for breathing air

Won’t you care for John Sinclair?

In the stir for breathing air

They gave him ten for two

What else can Judge Colombo do?

Gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta set him free

Then abruptly the Lennons were gone, and the show was over.

Don’t Let Us Down

Monday’s edition of the Detroit News contained a review of the rally that ran under the headline, “Lennon Let His Followers Down.”

Of course, not everyone in the audience was disappointed with Lennon’s performance. But it’s easy to see how many would have been somewhat less than impressed. The ex-Beatle’s set was entirely acoustic, long before going “unplugged” became fashionable. He played only four songs, none of which were familiar to the audience. And he left the stage after about 15 minutes.

“Yeah, I was disappointed by John and Yoko’s ‘street art’ performance,” says Jeff Alder, then an eighteen-year-old aspiring musician. “I mean, the great Beatle jamming with Jerry Rubin playing bongos or congas or something he had no idea how to play, along with David Peel and the freakin’ lousy Lower East Side. But I was still impressed that John came to support our guy.”

Alder, who today works as a studio technician at the University of Michigan, remembers being much more affected by Stevie Wonder’s performance. “Like John L., it was real impressive that he even came to play. Only Stevie actually came to play!”

But Alder admits that these are minor points. The bigger goal was to show support for John Sinclair. “The coolest thing of all was that it worked,” he says. “Regardless of any critiques of the performances and all the yapping, it worked.”

“We got John out!”

Bring Him to His Wife and Kids

Seventy-two hours after the commencement of the rally, John Sinclair was free.

For a brief moment the state penitentiary in Jackson became the backdrop for a scene out of some sort of freaky countercultural version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As flashbulbs popped and movie cameras rolled, the burly, long-haired revolutionary enjoyed a tearful reunion with his tiny wife Leni and their young daughter Sunny after almost two-and-a-half years apart.

This was no miracle, however. Rather, it was the result of years of concerted effort on the part of hundreds of people, not just to free John Sinclair but also to reform what many felt were the state’s draconian drug laws.

The day before the rally, the Michigan State Senate passed a bill that drastically reduced penalties for marijuana possession. Three days after the rally, the Michigan Supreme Court granted Sinclair bail pending appeal, after having denied six previous such requests.

The question remains about how much of an effect the event itself had on winning Sinclair’s freedom. The timing is, of course, very suggestive. The justices, however, maintained that their decision was made solely in light of the passage of the new drug bill.

Peter Andrews thinks that even without the spectacle of the rally, Sinclair would have eventually been released. “What it did,” he suggests, “was say, ‘How about right now!’”

However it happened, John Sinclair was out, and all who had struggled so long rejoiced. But the denouement wasn’t wholly Capra-esque. Peter Andrews believes that he lost his job as a result of the rally, which was simply too extreme for university administrators.

Disaster also struck John Lennon, who subsequently found himself under intensive FBI surveillance and threat of deportation. The anti-Nixon tour was canceled, and the former Beatle shied away from political activism for the rest of his life.

But Leni Sinclair, for one, remains grateful for John and Yoko’s efforts on behalf of her ex-husband, and is still tickled to have been mentioned in one of Lennon’s songs.

“Just knowing that we’re part of history is a good feeling,” she says.

John Lennon Sat Here

Walking the peaceful, tree-lined streets of Ann Arbor today, one sees little that evokes the time when John Lennon and Yoko Ono came to town to sing for the freedom of John Sinclair. It is difficult to conjure up the passionate, volatile milieu of that bygone era – the demonstrations, the sit-ins, the marchers with their protest signs, the smell of tear gas in the air.

There are a few reminders of the city’s radical past still to be found here and there: Ozone House, the People’s Food Cooperative, the Ecology Center, the Ann Arbor Film Festival – and the Herb David Guitar Studio on the corner of Liberty and Fourth. There the connection to Lennon’s visit is particularly strong – in the back amid rows of guitars sits a chair that Liverpool’s favorite son once occupied nearly 40 years ago.

“He just roamed into the shop that day,” remembers Herb David. “Nobody knew who he was. He was this little red-headed guy who didn’t look like anything you thought John Lennon looked like.”

Chair that John Lennon sat it (Photo by the author.)

A chair that John Lennon sat in 38 years ago, at Herb David Guitar Studio in Ann Arbor. (Photo by the author.)

David recognized him, however. “I said, ‘Hi, John.’ He said, ‘I’m not John.’ So I asked who he was. He said, ‘I’m his cousin.’ I said, ‘OK – hello, cousin.’ Then I let him go, and he just roamed around and we talked.” At some point during his visit Lennon felt like taking a load off, and ended up creating an instant curio for David’s shop.

“It’s fun to have,” he says. “It has a mystique. People get excited about sitting down in the chair. I say, ‘Sit in that chair, you’ll feel different.’”

When asked if he really believes that, David grins mischievously.

“You never know,” he says.

Could it be possible? Could the chair somehow be imbued with the spirit of the John Lennon who came to Ann Arbor 38 years ago?

The John Lennon who asked only that we “Give peace a chance,” and who every holiday season wishes all a “Happy Xmas” and assures us that “War is over, if you want it?”

The John Lennon who stood on the stage in Crisler Arena and said to the assembled thousands, “We came here not only to help John [Sinclair] and to spotlight what’s going on, but also to show and to say to all of you that apathy isn’t it, and that we can do something. OK, so flower power didn’t work. So what? We start again.”

Could the spirit of that John Lennon somehow inhabit the chair?

If so, maybe we all should take a minute to sit in it.

Alan Glenn is working on a documentary film about Ann Arbor in the ’60s. Visit the film’s website for more information.

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Column: Remembering the Del Rio Bar Tue, 10 Nov 2009 15:31:17 +0000 Alan Glenn This snapshot of Del Rio's staff was taken in the early '70s. Ernie Harburg is in the back row, far right, wearing glasses: Ernie Harburg. Back row, middle, in red shirt: Torry Harburg.  Front row, far right: Sara Moulton. Just behind Sara, with moustache and glasses, is Rick Burgess.

This snapshot of Del Rio's staff was taken in the early '70s. Co-owner Ernie Harburg is in the back row, far right, wearing glasses. His wife, Torry Harburg, is in the middle of the back row, wearing a red shirt. In the front row, far right, is chef Sara Moulton. Just behind her, with a moustache and glasses, is co-owner Rick Burgess. (Photo courtesy of Larry Behnke.)

Some time in the mid-1970s, waiter Larry Behnke pinned a large sheet of paper to the bulletin board that hung in the kitchen of the Del Rio Bar. Behnke, also an artist, had written at the top in bold, psychedelic lettering: “What the Del Rio Means to Me.”

After a few days the sheet was filled with responses, ranging from the thoughtful to the droll to the pitiable – with some that were just plain wacky.

“A nice corner bar that suffers from delusions of grandeur.”

“A place where you get paid to have fun, where you can be crazy without being committed, and where customers and employees are more important than money.”

“It’s my substitute home where people are nice to me.”

“The Del Rio means a million things to me, which I refuse to limit to the narrowness of words and the confines of space.”

“The Del Rio is benevolent despotism.”

Probably a majority of Ann Arborites never walked through the door of the funky old saloon that used to sit at the northeast corner of Ashley and Washington. But for plenty of those who did, the Del Rio was more than just a bar. It was a state of mind, a way of life, a second home – a tiny world unto itself.

Born of the idealistic spirit of the late 1960s, the Del Rio was a combination bohemian sanctuary and bold socioeconomic experiment that somehow survived racketeers, recessions, and Reaganism to become a three-decade-plus Ann Arbor tradition whose passing in 2004 is still mourned by many.

Here now to help assuage those feelings of loss is “Liberty, Equality, Consensus and All That Jazz at the Del Rio Bar,” a history of the idiosyncratic watering hole published this month by Huron River Press. The book is a dream-come-true for all those longing to return to their favorite old hippie hangout – if only for a time, and only in their minds. But even those who never set foot inside the Del Rio will find it an absorbing read.

The book’s primary author is Ernie Harburg, one of three partners who founded the Del Rio nearly 40 years ago. But as Harburg freely acknowledges, he had “a little help from his friends” – especially Larry Behnke, an authentic Ann Arbor hippie who worked at the Del from 1972 to 1983, and for six years lived in a 1969 Chevy Step-Van that was often parked by the back door of the bar.

During his stint at the Del Rio, Behnke kept a regular journal. “After work I would usually write a page about the night’s events,” he says. “I felt like the historian of the place.” Later he turned his voluminous journal entries into an anecdotal chronicle of the bar. The resulting manuscript was never published, but Ernie Harburg has included a healthy crop of excerpts in “Consensus.” Behnke’s appealing and often amusing yarns add an extra dimension to Harburg’s more journalistic approach, making the book something of an artful mélange – much like its colorful subject.

Mirroring Ann Arbor

The story of the Del Rio is in many ways the story of the transformation of Ann Arbor from the heterogeneous, real-world community of yesteryear to the gentrified yuppie playground of today. In the late ’60s, the small business district west of Main Street was a rough-and-tumble working-class neighborhood where violence and vice were part of the everyday routine. Ernie Harburg remembers that, in the first year or so that he was operating the Del, he could read a book by the flashing lights of police cars.

But the arrival of three classy new bars – Mr. Flood’s Party, the Del Rio, and the Blind Pig – in the early ’70s would begin to change all that. Mr. Flood’s was opened in the summer of 1969 by youth-savvy entrepreneurs Ned Duke and Robert “Buddy” Jack, and the arty décor and live jazz, country, and blues music soon attracted a different sort of crowd – younger, hipper – and wealthier.

A year later came the Del Rio. Ernie Harburg, his wife Victoria (“Torry”), and friend Rick Burgess bought an existing blue-collar bar of the same name and proceeded with an extreme makeover. Out was the Naugahyde and Formica; in were antique wooden tables and chairs and the original brick walls. Out was the yellowed drop-panel ceiling; in was the elegant hundred-year-old pressed-tin ceiling that had lain hidden underneath. Out was the ’50s-era jukebox; in was a state-of-the-art sound system and an eclectic collection of hundreds and hundreds of homemade eight-track tapes, from Charlie Parker to the Beatles to Bach. And every Sunday night, Rick Burgess and others would play live jazz – at no charge.

Despite the mighty effort, however, success would not come overnight to the new and improved Del Rio. It would take time before the crew cuts made way for the longhairs. Plus, there were all the usual difficulties involved in starting up a new business venture. Such as the disastrous choice the partners made for the bar’s first manager, who had previously managed Mr. Flood’s. He was there for only a short time during the first year, and was hired because neither Burgess nor Harburg knew management, recalls Larry Behnke. But he didn’t bother to pay taxes or keep accurate books, Behnke says, and almost killed the new bar.

A New Way of Managing

Ironically, however, it was this debacle that paved the way for what was perhaps the Del Rio’s most distinguishing feature: management by consensus. When that first manager was let go, managerial duties were assumed by the rank-and-file workers, who eventually came to the conclusion that there didn’t need to be a manager. The owners agreed, and turned the day-to-day running of the bar over to the employees. Eventually this would evolve into management by consensus, with owners and employees having equal say.

It was not an arrangement that the Harburgs and Burgess entered into lightly. The Del Rio was like a family; and they vowed to abide by the family’s decisions, even if it didn’t always go their way.

Luckily – and perhaps a little surprisingly – the system turned out to work exceedingly well. The mostly young, nonconformist workers created the sort of environment they felt most comfortable in, which also happened to be a powerful attraction for the younger, hipper crowd that was starting to frequent the Main Street area.

Take as an example the relaxed attitude toward drug use during the Del Rio’s early years. This was a consequence of the time (the swinging ’70s) and the place (back then Ann Arbor was known to some as “the drug capital of the Midwest”) as well as the managerial power wielded by the staff. And it wasn’t only the customers who were high – often it was the employees, too.

“If our evening shift began at 7 p.m.,” recalls former waiter Larry Behnke, “we would all gather at the wait station and do a shot of tequila together at 9 p.m. By 10 or later we would gather at the pizza oven exhaust vent to share a joint.”

“I can remember only a couple of times when someone came to work tripping on acid,” he adds, “but we discouraged that because the customer would get poor or no service. We could give great, happy service when we were buzzed on pot or beer, since our customers were similarly altered. It was like we were all partying together.”

At one point Behnke worked with an editor from New York on his Del Rio manuscript. “She didn’t believe we functioned as well as we did, considering all the weed and booze and acid we consumed.”

Although in general the owners shared the workers’ lack of concern with regard to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, and even LSD – as long as it didn’t get out of hand – they took a “hard line on hard drugs” (as a notice posted in the bar was titled). Anyone involved with hard drugs like cocaine or heroin on the premises would be banned from the Del Rio. In this the employee-managers were in (mostly) complete agreement with the owners.

But consensus didn’t always work perfectly. It was very difficult to fire anyone, because the employees were reluctant to take such drastic steps against one of their own, even when someone was caught outright with a hand in the cookie jar. Ernie Harburg also remembers one instance in particular where he feels that collective governance worked against the common good.

“I was deeply frustrated that we were unable to reach consensus about forbidding smoking in the bar,” he says, “because half of the staff smoked.” This included Harburg’s wife Torry. After much debate the group did agree to get rid of the cigarette machine and establish a small non-smoking section. But on the whole Harburg still feels that the battle over smoking represents a failure of the consensual decision-making process. That failure must have been all the more painful when Torry passed away in 1981 from lung cancer.

There were also other problems with the Del Rio’s lack of management. While it contributed greatly to the laid-back atmosphere that many Ann Arborites loved, it could also make the bar seem cliquish to infrequent patrons, and would sometimes turn workers and customers into adversaries. For instance, bartenders had absolute control over the music, both in what was played and how loud. No one – not even the owners – could force them to change either.

But in most respects the Del Rio’s system of collective management was quite successful. Compare, for instance, the traditional way that bars have dealt with troublemakers to the method employed at the Del. Instead of a bouncer instigating a confrontation that could lead to violence, the communally-minded staff (occasionally joined by a few customers) would all gather round the miscreants and quietly order them to go. Not even the toughest muscle-bound, bar-hopping badass could bear the disapproving stares of so many people for long. The rowdies would soon leave, almost always peacefully.

Changing Times

As the years passed and the countercultural scene faded away, the Del Rio kept as close to its hippie roots as was possible during the Reagan-led return to conservatism and materialism that epitomized the ’80s and ’90s. Ann Arbor was changing – whether for the better is open to debate – and the Del resisted as best it could. As Harburg explains in his book: “The local downtown restaurant and bar scene grew, with most of the newcomers part of a national chain. But the Del – defiantly true to its unconventional underpinnings – stayed open, holding a sort of monopoly on the glory days.”

Over the decades the Del Rio had acquired a loyal group of followers – “an irreverent, bohemian mix of artists, poets, musicians and working folk,” wrote Laura McReynolds in a 1994 Ann Arbor News article, “who don’t simply frequent the place, they help define it” – and became something of a local institution. Those who weren’t so into the free-spirited atmosphere would go for the fresh, cheap, and flavorful food. One of the Del’s offerings even earned a measure of national recognition. The Washington Post once rated the Detburger – named after its inventor, Bob Detwiler, who worked at the bar in the early ’70s – as one of the 20 best burgers in the nation.

The Detburger was really just a well-made cheeseburger covered with pizza toppings, but with one all-important difference: the patty was steamed in beer. Celebrity chef Sara Moulton has demonstrated the preparation of a slightly-enhanced Detburger on television, and included the recipe in her book “Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals.” Moulton’s passion for the Detburger comes as no surprise to those who know that she worked at the Del in the early to mid-’70s when she was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

Despite the popularity of its unique fare, however, the Del Rio would ultimately succumb to the pressure to be profitable. Ironically, it seems as though it was management by consensus that was the major contributor to the bar’s downfall. By the turn of the twenty-first-century, competition had become so fierce that the owners felt a major change was in order – including a switch to a more traditional management system.

“The bar’s operation as a collective no longer seemed feasible,” writes Harburg in “Consensus.” “In years past, a few dedicated employees had always emerged as informal leaders. But over the past decade, this had happened less and less frequently. Most of the employees of the ’90s lacked the idealism of earlier workers and weren’t committed to a collective.”

When the switch finally came, however, the owners discovered that the current crop of employees were in fact very committed to the concept of communal governance. Not only did several veteran workers quickly resign, many of those who left (or were fired) formed into picket lines that marched the sidewalk in front of the bar. The owners, all well into their 70s, decided that they simply didn’t have the time or energy to cope with this latest crisis. When no buyers could be found, the Del Rio closed its doors for good, following a gala last-night celebration that went on into the wee hours of January 1, 2004.

But the legacy of the Del stretches on, in the lives of the people that worked and played there. “It helped me to follow my dreams,” says Larry Behnke, who today lives out the ultimate hippie fantasy – a geodesic dome home powered entirely by solar electricity – on 20 wooded acres in northern Florida, which he purchased with money saved while working at the Del Rio. “It gave credence to our being happily unconventional.”

Editor’s note: Ernie Harburg will be in town to sign copies of his new book on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Book Festival. The event will be held at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive.

About the writer: Alan Glenn is currently at work on a documentary film about Ann Arbor in the ’60s. Visit the film’s website for more information.

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Mayor Walker: “Print it in the NEWSPAPER!” Tue, 03 Mar 2009 13:14:38 +0000 Dave Askins (Ann Arbor City Council March 2, 1896) Council’s meeting over a century ago apparently began with a departure from the usual form to which The Chronicle has become accustomed over the last few months. The mayor of  Ann Arbor began with an address, of which we publish here the first two paragraphs. 

The resolution passed by your honorable body at your last session ordering the printing of the report of the Board of Public Works in pamphlet form and placing the distribution of the same in the hands of said board I hereby disapprove of, for the following reasons:

Such publication is not warranted by the city charter, which on page 75, section 41, prescribes the manner in which such reports shall be published, namely, in the official newspaper of the city [emphasis added].


Andrew MacLaren demonstrated the online interface and search features of the online archive of Ann Arbor City Council minutes from 1891-1930. In the background: Ward 4's council contingent Margie Teall and Marcia Higgins.

[Editor's note: While The Ann Arbor Chronicle is not "the official newspaper of the city," it's worth pointing out that it is also not a mere pamphlet.]

What is the occasion of this history lesson?  At the most recent Ann Arbor city council meeting of March 2, 2009, the minutes of that meeting exactly 113 years ago to the day – which included Mayor W.E. Walker’s preference for the newspaper over pamphlets – were presented to council in an online format by the Ann Arbor District Library.

They were part of a collaboration between the city of Ann Arbor and the AADL  to put 40 years worth of council minutes online. The  1891-1930 Ann Arbor city council minutes are now available on the Ann Arbor District Library’s website.

Production librarians Amy Cantú and Andrew MacLaren were on hand to introduce the project to council members. Cantú noted that the project was the second such city-library collaboration – the first being the documentation of the history of the Ann Arbor Police Department. She noted that it was a cooperative endeaver, with city clerk Jackie Beaudry working on the project from the city’s side.

MacLaren illustrated for councilmembers the search tools for the project with the example “parking.” He unearthed the first mention of parking in Ann Arbor city council minutes – a May 4, 1925 request to prohibit parking on the north side of Ann Street between Main and Fifth during market hours.

Jackie Beaudry, city clerk, is at every Ann Arbor City Council meeting. To her right is

Jackie Beaudry, city clerk, works every Ann Arbor City Council meeting.

MacLaren then searched on “automobiles” and found an Oct. 6, 1902 mention of the institution of a speed limit: 7 mph. The demo earned chuckles from councilmembers, but MacLaren pointed out that the archive could be used for “less goofy things.” He showed councilmembers how the minutes included documentation of contracts and compensation for services, which could be of historical interest.

Josie Parker, director of the AADL, and associate director for IT and production Eli Neiburger were also on hand for Monday evening’s presentation of the online archive.

We invite Chronicle readers to rummage through the city council minutes archive and let us know if you find something interesting.

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Column: Change, You Can’t Bank On It Fri, 02 Jan 2009 16:14:39 +0000 Dan Madaj TCF Bank on the northwest corner of South University and Church in Ann Arbor.

TCF Bank on the northwest corner of South University and Church in Ann Arbor.

On Tuesday (Dec. 30, 2008) I noticed work on the front of TCF Bank on South University Avenue: some panels, at least, are being replaced with glass windows. [Editor's note: Cf. comments below.]

This completes a circuit back to fall 1969, when during an anti-war protest, bricks or other objects were thrown through the big glass panes of this bank building, then Ann Arbor Bank.

I left the march at that point, failing to see the connection. Shortly after, Ann Arbor Bank replaced most of the panes with paneling.

Amid all the brick work on another old bank building at the corner of North University and Thayer, soon to be a Panera’s, I was surprised that the three-letter word along the top of the building was not “fixed.”

Brick mason humor

Built-in brick mason humor at the northwest corner of Thayer and North University.

Selma Sussman, wife of Rackham Dean Al Sussman [1974 to 1985], first brought it to my attention when the bank building was being constructed. (We worked together at UM Social Work.)

I recall her saying that she heard the word was a “tribute” by the bricklayers to UM co-ed walkers-by, and that some of the bricklayers lost their jobs as a consequence.

[Editor's note: It isn't clear what the impact of the city's new graffiti ordinance is on this word, now set in stone, nor whether it poses a challenge as the city contemplates adding design guidelines to its zoning code, nor whether this location could serve as the anchor for the new adult entertainment district that has received some limited discussion locally.]

The National City Bank at the corner of East University and South University.

The National City Bank at the corner of East University and South University. Photo added in light of comments below.

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