Stories indexed with the term ‘local history’

Preserving Market Memories

Oral history table at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Jonathan Goetz, a market vendor, shares some stories with volunteers Joan Kauffman and Stephanie Kadel Taras at the oral history table at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market earlier this month. (Photo by Mary Morgan)

When Ralph Snow of Snow’s Sugarbush, a long-time vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, died last year, his passing was a loss of both the individual and of the memories he carried.

“His death reminded us of the impermanence of the market,” says Molly Notarianni, market manager.

So she decided to look for a way to preserve the market’s history, which would otherwise be lost. As she worked with a volunteer who specialized in oral history, the idea of a regular oral history booth emerged, a way to let vendors and shoppers share stories of their relationships and memories in the market.

Launched this summer in conjunction with the market’s 90th anniversary, the project aims to give people a chance to feel engaged in documenting the history of the market and of the entire agricultural region. Volunteers staff a table every other Wednesday at the market from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. They’ll be at the market today. [Full Story]

Column: Singin’ the Ann Arbor Blues

he crowd at Fuller Flatlands, courtesy Bob Frank

The crowd at Fuller Flatlands, site of the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival 40 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Bob Frank,

Forty years ago this month, a great crowd of young people converged on a small, unsuspecting middle-American town for an incredible three-day celebration of peace and music. They sat on the cool grass of an open field, grooved to the tunes of a dizzying array of legendary performers, smoked pot, drank wine, and generally had a blast. It was a landmark event that is still spoken of in hushed tones of awe and reverence among music historians.

No, it wasn’t Woodstock. It was something similar, yet very different, something smaller yet in some ways bigger.

It was something called the Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

In early August 1969, two weeks before the mammoth fete in Bethel, N.Y., approximately 20,000 eager spectators came to the Fuller Flatlands on the banks of the lazy Huron River to hear an absolutely astounding lineup of living legends of the blues – B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Big Mama Thornton, Son House, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and on and on – at the first major blues festival in the United States.

Although the Ann Arbor event has been almost completely overshadowed by its big brother in New York, to many serious music fans – especially blues enthusiasts – it is by far the more important of the two. Writing in the October 1969 issue of Downbeat, critic Dan Morgenstern made his preference plain, dismissing Woodstock in favor of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which he declared was “without doubt the festival of the year, if not the decade.” [Full Story]

The Battle of Ann Arbor: June 16-20, 1969

June 17, 1969: Officers confer as the crowd swarms on to South University. (Photo courtesy of Jay Cassidy.)

June 17, 1969: Officers confer as the crowd swarms on to South University. (Photo courtesy of Jay Cassidy.)

Ann Arbor, like many college towns, is usually a quiet place during the summer months. Most of the students are away on break, the university goes into hibernation, and a calm descends upon the city as residents sit back to enjoy a few months of peace and quiet.

During the turbulent 1960s the summer break was even more eagerly anticipated, offering as it did a brief respite from the regular succession of student-led sit-ins, protests, demonstrations, and strikes that occupied the fall and winter months. But the influx of large numbers of non-student “street people” (i.e., hippie youths) in the closing years of the decade made those last few summers of the ’60s decidedly less peaceful.

Forty years ago this week, the normally sleepy summertime streets of Ann Arbor were violently awoken by a series of violent and occasionally bloody clashes between police and a motley crowd of hippies, radicals, teenagers, university students, and town rowdies. Ostensibly at issue was the creation of a pedestrian mall, or “people’s park,” on South University Avenue – a four-block shopping district adjacent to the University of Michigan campus that caters primarily to a student clientele.

Even in those “interesting” times, the violence in Ann Arbor attracted national attention – including that of J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. After the fighting was over, the national press lost interest and moved on to other, juicier topics. But on the local scene the repercussions of that summer would reverberate for years after.

The Detroit Free Press would refer to the four nights of conflict as “The Battle of Ann Arbor.” [Full Story]

Turbulent Origins of Ann Arbor’s First Earth Day

The sixties are known for being one of most turbulent decades in American history. Ironically, however, perhaps the most turbulent year of the sixties was actually the first year of the seventies. Before it was even half over, the Weathermen had blown up a townhouse in Greenwich Village, killing three of their own number (including former Ann Arborite Diana Oughton), the unlucky Apollo 13 moon shot had ended in failure, Nixon had invaded Cambodia, four students had been killed at Kent State while protesting the invasion, and a week later, two more students had been killed at Jackson State in Mississippi. Even the Beatles broke up that fateful spring.

Photo courtesy of

A popular button made by U-M student activists to promote their March 1970 teach-in and its tie-in to Earth Day. (Courtesy of John Russell)

The sudden swelling of tension and conflict seen across the nation in early 1970 was also occurring in Ann Arbor. In February, the University of Michigan chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized a series of spirited protests against campus recruiters representing corporations such as General Electric that were supplying material for the war in Vietnam. At one of these “recruiter actions,” thirteen protesters were arrested following a street battle with police.

At the same time, a coalition of African-American student groups calling itself the Black Action Movement (BAM) were demanding that the university take immediate steps to increase black enrollment, and threatening a campus-wide strike if their demands were not met. (Eventually, BAM would call the strike, shut down the university for ten days, and win accession to all their demands.) On top of this were almost daily smaller protests and demonstrations on the war, women’s lib, gay rights, tenant’s rights, and nearly all the other sociopolitical issues of the day.

It was into this maelstrom that a group of U-M natural science students dove when they decided to set about organizing a teach-in on the environment, the latest movement to emerge in a nation awash in movements. The students initially desired to keep the teach-in apolitical, sober, and focused on science. In the highly charged atmosphere of the time, such a goal would prove impossible. Ironically, though, the eventual politicization of the teach-in would prove to be a significant factor in making it the watershed event it would ultimately become. [Full Story]