All posts by Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

About Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

The Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs was established as the Labor History Archives at Wayne State University in 1960, with the goal of collecting and preserving original source materials relating to the development of the American labor movement. In 1975, the Walter P. Reuther Library was constructed with funds given to Wayne State University by the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, and through a supplementary grant from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. A later gift from the UAW funded the construction of the library's Leonard Woodcock Wing, completed in 1991. The Reuther Library is the largest labor archives in North America and is home to the collections of numerous unions and labor-related organizations. Its collection strengths extend to the political and community life of urban and metropolitan Detroit, the civil rights movement in Michigan and nationally, and women's struggles in the workplace. The Reuther Library is also the home of the Wayne State University Archives, established by the Board of Governors in 1958 in recognition of the importance and permanent value of the University's official files, records, and documents.

The Long Deep Grudge: How the Haymarket “Riot” of 1886 Evolved into a Bitter Battle Between the Farm Equipment Workers Union and International Harvester in the Mid-Twentieth Century



Labor historian Dr. Toni Gilpin explores how the McCormick family’s greed and union-busting in the late 19th century set the stage for a bitter battle between the International Harvester corporation and the radical Farm Equipment Workers union in the 1930s and 1940s. Although the union was absorbed by the United Auto Workers in 1955, Gilpin describes how the militancy bred into generations of International Harvester workers influenced UAW tactics into the 1970s.

Dr. Gilpin’s book, The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland, received a Taft Labor History Award honorable mention award in 2020.

Related Collections:
UAW archival collections

Related Resources:
Gilpin, T. (2020). The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland. Haymarket Books.

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Toni Gilpin
Music: Bart Bealmear


The Detroit Interracial Committee and Racial Pragmatism, 1944-1950



Sean Henry discusses the Detroit Interracial Committee’s (IRC) pragmatic attempt to ease racial tensions in the city following the 1943 Detroit riots. Assuming that it could not completely eliminate racial antagonism, the IRC instead used its Community Barometer initiative and the Detroit Public Schools program for intercultural education to identify and manage systemic racial inequities in the city. Henry recently received an MA in History from the University of Chicago and is a college transition advisor in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. His article on the Detroit Interracial Committee was named the 2019 Graduate Student Essay Prize Winner in the Spring 2020 issue of the Michigan Historical Review.

Related Collections:
Detroit Commission on Community Relations (DCCR) / Human Rights Department Records

Related Resources:
Henry, S. (2020). 2019 Graduate Student Essay Prize Winner: Racial Pragmatism and the Conditions of Racial Contact: The Detroit Interracial Committee, Public Schools, and Measuring Racial Tension, 1944-1950. Michigan Historical Review, 46(1), 69-105.

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Sean Henry
Music: Bart Bealmear


SEIU: A Successful Union in an Era of Labor Decline



Dr. Timothy Minchin explores how the SEIU nearly doubled its membership from 1980-1995, during a time of significantly declining numbers in most other American labor unions. Through an exploration of SEIU’s membership drives at nursing homes, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and its long-running Justice for Janitors campaign, Minchin credits the union’s growth to a combination of organizing, affiliation with independent unions, legislative advances for public employee unions, and the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the growing service sector. Dr. Minchin is a Professor of History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

Related Collections:
SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records
SEIU Publications
SEIU Organizing Department Records

Related Resources:
Timothy Minchin – “A successful union in an era of decline: interrogating the growth of the Service Employees International Union, 1980-1995,” Labor History

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewers: Dan Golodner, Sarah Lebovitz
Interviewee: Timothy J. Minchin
Music: Bart Bealmear


Henry Ford marches with Oscar Marx through the streets of downtown Detroit during the draft parade, circa 1914

When It Happened Here: Michigan and the Transnational Development of American Fascism, 1920-1945



Salaina Catalano Crumb explains how American fascism developed and thrived in Michigan from the 1920s through the 1940s due to the influence of right-wing individuals and organizations swayed by the politics of Nazi Germany, including industrialist Henry Ford, anti-communist clergy members Father Coughlin and Reverend Gerald L.K. Smith, militant secret societies like the Black Legion, and immigrant veterans’ and fascist groups including the German American Bund. Crumb received dual MA/MSc degrees in International & World History at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, and works in the automotive field.

Related Collections:
Peter H. Amann Papers
Father Charles Coughlin FBI Files
Samuel Kellman Papers
Social Justice (Father Coughlin’s anti-communist publication)
Maurice Sugar Papers

Related Resources:
Salaina Catalano – “When It Happened Here: Michigan and the Transnational Development of American Fascism, 1920-1945,” Michigan Historical Review

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewee: Salaina Catalano Crumb
Music: Bart Bealmear


Portrait of Cesar Chavez taken at his 8th grade graduation, 1942. This was his final year of formal schooling before he went to work in the fields full time.

Reading the Room: How César Chávez’s Early Life Prepared Him to Lead



Dr. Clay Walker explains how César Chávez’s lifeworld discourse – the language, culture, and experiences that shaped who he was and how he encountered and navigated the world – uniquely prepared him to lead the United Farm Workers and effectively communicate his message to a diverse audience. Dr. Walker is a senior lecturer in English and literacy studies at Wayne State University.

Related Collections:
UFW Office of the President: Cesar Chavez Records
Sydney D. Smith Papers

Related Resources:
Clay Walker – “Lifeworld Discourse, Translingualism, and Agency in a Discourse Genealogy of César Chávez’s Literacies”

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Clay Walker
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace


Mechanical Engineer To Booth Babe and Back Again: The Tragicomic Career of Wayne State Engineering Alum Lucille Pieti



Society of Women Engineers archivist Troy Eller English shares the tragicomic story of Lucille Pieti, 1950 mechanical engineering alum and Miss Wayne University. Sidelined in technical writing despite her degree and experience, Pieti found her career veering farther and farther away from engineering in the mid-1950s as her bosses at Chrysler capitalized on her beauty rather than her brains. Molded into a spokeswoman at auto shows and in Hollywood, and giving specs on the Dodge La Femme’s pink umbrella instead of its engine block, Pieti reclaimed her engineering identity by leaving Chrysler, and the country, in 1955.

Related Collections:
Society of Women Engineers Records
Society of Women Engineers Detroit Section Records
Society of Women Engineers Publications
The Wayne Engineer / The Buzz Saw
Wayne State University Collegian Newspapers

Related Resources:
Collections Spotlight: “Out of the House: Detroit Women’s Organizations in the 20th Century”
Amy Sue Bix – Girls Coming to Tech!: A History of American Engineering Education for Women
Edward A. Malone – “Chrysler’s ‘Most Beautiful Engineer’: Lucille J. Pieti in the Pillory of Fame”
Margaret W. Rossiter – Women scientists in America

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace


Michigan Black History Bibliography Sample Card

(Re)Introducing the Michigan Black History Bibliography



Reuther Library field archivist Dr. Louis Jones and former archives students and staff members Mattie Dugan and Allie Penn discuss the Reuther’s Michigan Black History Bibliography (MBHB) and the multi-year, student-led project to digitize a decades-old index card file. Meticulously compiled by Reuther librarian Roberta McBride in the 1970s, the MBHB cataloged well-known and obscure articles, theses, and other bibliographic sources about African American history in Michigan, including slavery in Detroit in the 1700s, Underground Railroad activity in the 1800s, the racism and discrimination Blacks faced in the 1900s, and African American community-building efforts throughout. Jones discusses the history and importance of the MBHB card file, while Dugan and Penn describe the efforts of the Wayne State University chapter of the Society of American Archivists to digitize the resource, with financial assistance of a Carnegie-Whitney Grant from the American Library Association.

Related Resources:
Michigan Black History Bibliography
Michigan Black History Bibliography Now Available Online

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewees: Louis Jones, Mattie Dugan, Alexandrea Penn
Sound: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace


This Union Cause: The Queer History of the United Automobile Workers



Wayne State history PhD candidate James McQuaid discusses his research on the gradual cognizance and acceptance of queer autoworkers in the twentieth century, leading toward the UAW’s rapid embrace of LGBTQ-friendly policies and initiatives in the 1990s. He shares compelling stories of several queer auto workers, including: Billie Hill discovering a lesbian enclave in a Highland Park plant in the 1940s; Gary Kapanowski winning a 1973 union election despite being aggressively outed by a rival the day before; Joni Christian, a transgender woman whose union leadership at the GM Lordstown saved her job after returning to work following sexual reassignment surgery in the 1970s; and Ron Woods and Martha Grevatt, who in speaking out about the harassment they faced successfully led the UAW and Chrysler to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. McQuaid received the 2020 Wayne State History Department’s Joe L. Norris Endowed Award for his essay, “The First Ladies of Labor: How Women Challenged Restrictive Gender Conventions and Established Lesbian Identities on the UAW Shop Floor During World War II.” His dissertation is tentatively titled “This Union Cause: The Queer History of the United Automobile Workers.”

Related Resources:
The Kapanowski Challenge: How Rank and File UAW Members Rallied Around Gay Activists to Fight Runaway Shops in 1972 Detroit

Related Collections:
Ed Liska Papers
Olga Madar Papers
UAW Region 1B Records

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: James McQuaid
Sound: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace


Race and Rebellion: Reexamining the Unlearned Lessons of the Kerner Report a Half Century Later



Reuther Library outreach archivist Meghan Courtney discusses the conclusions of the 1968 Kerner Commission report in the context of today’s protests over race relations and police brutality. Following infamous rebellions in Detroit and Newark in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, chaired by Illinois governor Otto Kerner, to identify the root causes of urban racial unrest and prevent further violence in American cities. In its final report, the Commission placed the ultimate blame for so-called riots on lack of educational and economic opportunity for African Americans, ingrained institutional and societal racism, and militarized police forces, among other reasons. President Johnson and other leaders largely failed to adopt the recommendations suggested by the Kerner Commission to reduce racial tension by creating more equitable opportunities for African Americans in employment, education, welfare, and suitable housing. Courtney explains how she uses the Kerner Commission report to help students better understand the root causes of Detroit’s 1967 uprising and why that unrest continues today.

Related Resources:
50 Years Later: the Kerner Commission and the Poor People’s Campaign
Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission Report)

Related Collections:
Jerome Cavanagh Papers
Norman McRae Papers
New Detroit, Inc. Records
Detroit Commission on Community Relations (DCCR) / Human Rights Department Records

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Meghan Courtney
Sound: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace


Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work: Black-Owned Businesses and the Housewives League of Detroit



Allie Penn explains how her work on a grant-funded digitization project introduced her to the Housewives League of Detroit and led to a digital humanities project mapping Detroit Black-owned businesses from the 1930s through 1950s. Espousing the informal motto, “Don’t buy where you can’t work,” the Housewives League of Detroit was founded in 1930 by Fannie Peck to unite and empower Black housewives in the city while also strengthening the economic base of the Black community. An offshoot of her work on the Housewives League of Detroit collection, Penn has been mapping 1930s through 1950s Black-owned businesses, as advertised in Voice of Negro Business, a newspaper produced by the Housewives League of Detroit and the Booker T. Washington Trade Association, the Housewives League’s male counterpart founded by Peck’s husband, Rev. William Peck.

Penn is a Wayne State History PhD candidate, archivist, and a former Reuther Library staff member. The Housewives League of Detroit Records are located in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. They were digitized as part of a collaborative LSTA grant from the Library of Michigan to digitize and make available records documenting underrepresented populations. Partners on the grant also included the Arab American National Museum, which digitized the oral history project, “Arab Americans and the Automobile: Voices from the Factory,” and the Walter P. Reuther Library, which digitized the LGBT Detroit Records. These and other collections can be accessed online on the Michigan Memories portal: www.michmemories.org

Related Resources:
Michigan Memories
Detroit Black-Owned Businesses StoryMap

Related Collections:
Civil Rights Congress of Michigan Records
NAACP Detroit Branch Records

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Allie Penn
Sound: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace