On Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan and Rochelle Riley, the city’s director of Arts, Culture & Entrepreneurship, announced that Jamon Jordan is now the city’s first official historian. Jordan said he was “surprised and shocked” to learn about the appointment.
The honorary position is both “ceremonial and educational,” and was given to Jordan for having demonstrated his knowledge of Detroit’s cultural history, according to a City press release. It is a paid position with no term limit.
“This city has so much important history to the region, state and country, but also world history,” said Jordan. This is “a position that I believe all cities should have, particularly a city like Detroit.”
Jordan has been serving residents and visitors for decades in his role as a public intellectual who founded Black Scroll Network in 2013. Jordan’s tours helped longtime residents, visitors and newcomers alike to understand the history of the city and the role Black and Indigenous people played in its development.
Before he was the City’s official historian, Jordan taught history at the Nsoroma Institute in Detroit for 12 years, one of the city’s now-closed African-centered schools. African-centered schools, or Afrocentric schools, teach every subject from the perspective of African descendants, rather than the Western-way that most U.S. schools do. According to Malik Yakini, former principal of the Nsoroma Institute, Detroit had the most African-centered schools of any city in the country until 1999, when state emergency managers took control of the district.
Jordan said he still believes in African-centered learning.
Jordan can now be found teaching at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts’ Semester in Detroit program. Jordan’s course, “From the Underground to Motown: A Course on Detroit’s History,” focuses on the city’s cultural transformation during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jordan would like to bring awareness to Detroit’s Underground Railroad monument on the riverfront, the Motown Museum expansion project and exhibits at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Jordan said he plans to collaborate with other historians and help elevate historical organizations and institutions. He also serves on Michigan’s Freedom Trail Commission, which preserves the state’s antislavery history.
Jordan said there are 5 facts — in no particular order — people should know about Detroit:
Detroit is the gateway to freedom
As a northern city that borders Canada, Jordan said he wishes Detroiters more fully understood that Detroit was sometimes the last stop on the Underground Railroad for those who escaped slavery.
“When we tell the Underground Railroad story in most places, we talk primarily about the east coast of the Underground Railroad. So, we talked about Harriet Tubman, we talked about William Lloyd Garrison and Gary Smith,” he said. “We talked very little about George De Baptist and William Lambert and Second Baptist Church, and few are aware of the fact that Frederick Douglass and John Brown met here in the city of Detroit, for the first time.”
Detroit’s role in baseball history
Detroit had one of the founding teams of the Negro Baseball League, the Detroit Stars. Jordan said Detroit sports fans should share the story of Black players and owners’ contributions when the sport was segregated.
Founded in 1919 by Rube Foster, the Detroit Stars played on the city’s east side in Mack Park. The Stars played until the 1960s, when the Negro League ended.
Jazz and blues were just as important as Motown
Detroit’s contributions to 20th century jazz and blues are underplayed because of Motown’s popularity, according to Jordan. Detroit was one of the major cities for jazz music during the “big band swing” era of the 1920s, ’30s and early ’40s, and in the modern bebop jazz era of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
“When we talk about the history of jazz, we talk about New Orleans, we talk about Chicago, we talk about New York, but we ought to also be talking about Detroit and Paradise Valley, the Black entertainment and business district,” he said.
The battle for Civil Rights was fought here, too
The fight for Civil Rights happened in Detroit as well as Southern states like Alabama and Georgia. Detroiters also fought segregated schools and unjust housing restrictions.
“One of those early fights happened at the home of Dr. Ossian Sweet, who defended his home from angry whites who didn’t believe he should have the right to live in an all-white neighborhood,” he said. “But even before that, Fannie Richards was a leader of a lawsuit to overturn segregation in Detroit public schools in 1869, decades before Brown v. Board of Education.”
Detroit is the cradle of Black nationalist thought and activism
Jordan said more people ought to know about Detroit’s role in the development of Black nationalism. For example, few people know that The Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit in 1930.
“Eljah Muhammad lived right here in Detroit, and eventually, Malcolm X would go on to be an assistant minister at Temple Number One, right here in Detroit,” Jordan said.