If you’ve ventured downtown or anywhere else around the state, you’ve likely seen one of those dark green signs with gold lettering. These markers, used to commemorate Michigan’s historical landmarks from the Motown Museum to Tiger Stadium, have added another famed location to the collection of over 1,800.
The Plaindealer newspaper was founded in 1883 by brothers Benjamin and Robert Pelham Jr., Walter H. Stowers and W.H. Anderson with a mission to promote civil rights and provide coverage of local and national events. Detroit’s first “Afro-American” newspaper, as the founders called it, rejected the term “negro.” It also was one of the first papers of its kind in the country. The Plaindealer ceased publication in 1894 due to lack of funding, but its legacy will now remain downtown, mounted at the corner of the Westin Book Cadillac at Shelby and State – its former office.
The Plaindealer initially received its marker approval in 1977, but it wasn’t erected until this year.
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When Karen Hudson-Samuels, chair of the Black Historic Sites Committee, an affinity group of the Detroit Historical Society, learned about the marker, she began making calls around the city, seeking a letter of support from the Michigan Historical Commission.
Jeremy Dimick, director of Collections at the Detroit Historical Society, received one of those calls. He found the Plaindealer’s marker in early January in the society’s 100,000-square-foot storage facility in southwest Detroit, which houses nearly 250,000 historically significant objects.
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“It looked like it had come right out of the box,” said Dimick. “Even the posts that were supposed to be installed with it were sitting right next to it, just waiting on its day to be installed, seen and read by everyone; and I guess, today is that day.”
The unveiling took place Thursday at Capitol Park, a location Hudson-Samuels said she saw as fitting for the occasion.
“If you look around Capitol Park, this is a district that preserves some of the most important history of Detroiters,” she said during the ceremony. Hudson-Samuels gave a brief history of Capitol Park being home to Michigan’s first capital, the Finney Barn historical site and the Albert Kahn building.
“Journalism is the first draft of history, and we’re making history here today.”
Other members of the Black Historic Sites Committee chimed in about the importance of the event, as well. Malika Pryor, senior director of education and programs for the Detroit Historical Society and staff liaison for the committee, noted the society’s mission to tell Detroit’s stories and why they matter, referring to Detroit as a city of the world.
“There are so many stories, virtually infinite narratives that have purpose and power that we have the opportunity to tell,” Pryor said, adding that because The Plaindealer began telling those stories and others, is why this event was so monumental.
With the marker being in District 6, Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-Lopez said she attended the ceremony to show her support not only for the marker, but for Black and brown people in journalism.
“To have these journalists honored, and this newspaper honored, is key and important, more [now] than ever in today’s times where we face divisive rhetoric and a lack of representation of Black and brown voices in the media field,” she said.
Castañeda-Lopez went on to acknowledge the need for the Plaindealer then, and the precedence its founders have set for journalism among underrepresented communities now, especially in Detroit.
“[We] don’t have enough journalists of colors covering stories. It’s really important that we are telling the stories of these communities,” Castañeda-Lopez said. “[We] should have people that are from [underrepresented] communities who understand the challenges, and history to elevate [their voices], because without that, we really aren’t complete.”
Kyla L. Wright is a Detroit native who covers the city’s neighborhoods and the various people, places and things that give Detroit its unique character. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @kylawrightmedia.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit’s first Black newspaper receives overdue historical marker