Archival Document Sets

Teacher Plan

Learning Objectives:


NAACP complaints (20 minutes)

Give a brief reminder that with primary sources, students should treat the document as a piece of evidence. Break the students into groups of 3 or 4 and give them 5-10 minutes to read through the document and interrogate it. Remind students what that means: ask the 5 w’s just like a detective or journalist would. Regroup the students to discuss their findings related to the 5 w’s:

What is this? (A letter)

Who is involved (Identify who wrote the letter and who received the letter as well as people discussed in the letter)

Where? Places discussed as well as where the letter came from. (In this case, it’s about J. L. Hudson’s Department Store, and likely comes from the cosmetics company headquartered on Woodward Ave.)

When? Identify dates on letter

Why? This one is harder and takes a bit of discussion. Can students identify the writer’s motivations? Can they tell the difference between stated motivations and inferred motivations? How might they confirm those inferences?

+Wonder. Since a primary source represents only one perspective, there’s always some information the student won’t have. What happened next? What was the NAACP’s response? Point out that some of this information can be found by seeking out additional primary sources.

Then ask students to connect this complaint to broader issues. What else was happening at the same time as this letter? In this case,we can tell from the place the letter is found: The NAACP Detroit Branch Records, Part 2 Box 31 Folder 19,  titled “Complaints: Miscellaneous, 1965-1967.” Discuss events in Detroit and the broader country (Possibilities: Model Cities starting in 1966, 1967 Detroit Rebellion, Vietnam War [soldiers returning, protests against war in the city and country]). Who took part in these events? What did they want?

Potential assignment: Ask students to imagine that they work at Hudson’s and have received this letter. How do they respond? Why? Do they think their boss or Hudson’s shoppers will approve or disapprove of the decision? Why or why not? Ask students to base their explanations in the evidence provided in the documents. 

Secondary reading links:

Blind Pig interior (15 minutes) 

Using the 5w’s on an image can be a bit different, as some of the information will not be available and some will have to be verified through other sources. Walk students through the 5ws in this case, keeping in mind the image’s origin: Detroit News Photographs, taken August 1, 1967, interior of the Blind Pig.

This exercise is best done together as a class if possible.

Who - Who do you think used this space? How do you know?

What - What do you notice? What’s in the room, and what can you read in the space?

Where - Blind Pig on 12th Street

When - Does the date of the photo matter? Why or why not?

Why - Why do you think this space looks the way it does? Why would a photographer take this picture? Again, these questions may require outside sources to be sure, but brainstorming possibilities is a good exercise to get students thinking where they might seek out additional information.

+Wonder: What’s not included? What’s out of frame? Brainstorm a list of questions you might want to answer to understand more about this place.

Ask students to imagine what this space was used for, focusing on the things they know by looking at the picture. What was it like during the day, and what about at night? Who would be there? What would they be doing? Does the place they imagine through the discussion match their expectations, or not? Why?

DCCR minutes

This item can be used in 3 ways:

Focus on June minutes (20 minutes)

Offer some context. This text comes from the Detroit Commission on Community Relations: Human Rights Department Records description at the Reuther Library, and this item is part of the collection.

“The Commission on Community Relations evolved from the City of Detroit Mayor's Interracial Committee (1943) in 1953 and was renamed in 1974 as the Human Rights Department. All three iterations served a common purpose: to make recommendations to improve governmental services affecting racial relations, and to promote understanding between the races. Minutes, correspondence, and case studies document the Commission's efforts to achieve these goals.”

Note that the Mayor created this Committee in 1943 as a response to the 1943 race riot and in the hope of preventing similar events in the future.

Ask students to read the paragraph discussing the early warning system and ask the 5 ws, +Wonder: Was the system used properly? Did it work as intended? Was it altered after July’s events?

Remember, this is only the perspective of the DCCR, so the class should also ask about other perspectives: Who might have been impacted by this early warning system? How did they respond? How does this relate to other riots/rebellions in cities in the mid to late 1960s (Harlem, Watts, Newark, Chicago), then to recent civil unrest (Ferguson, Baltimore). What else might we want to know?

  • Why would this city agency use such a method?

  • When is this being discussed? Why is the date significant?

  • Where is this system being used? What are the 30 areas and how were they chosen?

  • What is the early warning system?

  • Who is Mr. Marks? (found at the top of the page)

Compare and contrast June minutes v. August minutes, keeping in mind that July 23-30 is when civil unrest took place. (20 minutes)

  • After establishing the basics of the 5ws, (10 minutes in small groups) reconvene as a class to talk about the differences between the June and August minutes. What is the same? What’s different? Why?

Compare 3 sets of minutes with an eye on issues of employment (30 minutes or more)

  1. Quickly establish the 5 ws with the documents as a group

    1. Who is the target audience of the DCCR?

    2. What are minutes? What is the DCCR supposed to do?

    3. Where does it work?

    4. When were these 3 sets of minutes creates?

    5. Why does this group care about the topics reflected in the minutes?

    6. +Wonder what we don’t know

  2. Connect these employment issues to broader themes in the nation. Discuss the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act (War on Poverty) and the creation of the Job Corps.

    1. 1992 article on the log-lasting impact of the Jobs Corps:

    2. Detroit Job Corps website, today:

External reading/viewing:

Video of a panel discussion of Newark June 1967 Uprising from the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Examine the Kerner Commission Report, created by the Johnson administration because of the series of uprisings across the country in the 1966-1968 time period. Note that it is also a primary source. (

Image 353, National Guardsman watches for snipers (15 minutes)

The objective is for students to think about why the National Guard were called in and who they were.  

Ask students to discuss what they know about the Detroit Uprising in July 1967. Allow them to explore the words uprising and riot in this context of history.  They have already started to understand the discrimination with the previous plans, now ask the students what happened in Detroit. 

Have the students study the picture of the National Guardsman.

In a large group discussion, ask the students:

Why were the National Guard sent into Detroit?

Ask the students to describe what they see.  How old do you think the man is, what was he looking for? What context clues can be learned from the man's clothing and the street behind him?

How do you think this man feels about his role in the uprising?  How do you think the black community felt about having the national guard come to the city? How do you know?

Ask students to imagine that this picture was taken in their neighborhood. How would they feel? What would they do? Why?

Employment Statistics (30 minutes)

The objective of this exercise is for the students to understand the concept of employment discrimination.  

Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students each. Explain to the students that they will be looking at various parts of the same document, focusing on employment and gender.

With the help of the document, students will develop a description about inequality in the workforce.  Bring the groups back together to share their answers.

Some questions that might help them thinking:

What was the purpose of putting these numbers together and having this report?

Why do you think more nonwhite women were employed to household workers than white women?

Why would more white women be employed in clerical positions than nonwhite women

Compare the income of college-educated “nonwhite” people and non college-educated whites? What do you notice? What causes the differences?

What information is missing from this study about race and employment in the city? Where might you look for it?

Looking at these documents, how do you think employment has changed in Detroit? What actions can be taken to counter discrimination in employment?


Learning objectives: identify systemic inequality, analyze numerical data for social analysis, compare to other documents, connect to current events


Secondary Reading:

Thomas Sugrue’s “Origins of the Urban Crisis” illustrates many of the factors leading up to 1967, particularly the time period after WWII. Consider assigning Chapter 4 or 5 to provide context for discussion of the NAACP document in this set or the employment statistics. Also consider Chapter 2 of Sugrue for background information on 1940s housing inequality.

Many of the primary sources used in the book are the same ones offered here to students, so looking at the way Sugrue makes connections between archival documents may create an interesting class discussion.