. . . That Built Motown and the Underground Railroad
My wife, Ruthie, and I recently travelled to the city of Detroit for the celebration of the life of our former pastor’s wife, Sister Jackie Cushman. While paying our respects to the memory of a very special lady and Pastor Tyrone Cushman, we visited a few historical sites, during our visit. Although we have travelled to over twenty of the United States, three African countries, Paris, France, Manchester, and London, England, and a few Caribbean countries, this was our first trip to Detroit. We also visited Canada, which was just across the river from our hotel.
Journal publishers, Joe and Ruthie
Motown, called, Hitsville, which most of us know was originally started by Berry Gordy. Here’s what we didn’t know and which should serve as a lesson for families. Berry Gordy’s father had a construction business and his mother was in insurance. The family also owned a grocery store. The family, essentially, had a family pool from which the Gordy children could borrow money to fulfill their dreams.
Young Berry’s dream was to start a recording company. He had worked at the Ford factory like so many young Blacks from Detroit. He hated the work and talked to his childhood friend, Smoky Robinson, who advised him to go for it. He borrowed $800 from the family, complete with a contract as to how it was to be paid back. From his neighborhood, he recruited others like Diana Ross and he set out and built what became Motown. The popular picture of the building with the well-known HITSVILLE sign was just one of the buildings that Gordy and Motown started in. In fact, the small company bought every house on the block on one side of the street and the opposite side of the street. The Gordy family lived in the famous Hitsville house where recordings were also made.
In those other houses Gordy ran a company, using the model he had learned at FORD Motors. From raw materials (talent) Motown groomed and taught the talented group of singers and their Jazz band, known as the Funk Brothers the Motown way of singing, with its well-known echo chamber sound and famous dance steps for each of the various groups (The Supremes, Four Tops, Spinners, Temptations, etc.).
Today, the small miracle house is called the MOTOWN MUSEUM and located on Berry Gordy Boulevard. Currently Motown is white-owned and its sound is created in Hollywood, California. I admit to being a bit sad that it is no longer a Black-owned company, especially given the legacy of Berry’s family of entrepreneurs and the fact that Berry did not pass that legacy down by turning the business over to his children.
We also toured two stops on the Underground Railroad that took so-called slaves from bondage to freedom. We visited was the First Congregational Church of Detroit founded in 1844. This church gives tours, complete with a replica of the Door of No Return from Goree Island in Senegal, North Africa, where one of many so-called Slave Castle is located where Africans were held while awaiting shipment to various points of the world, including America. Their presentation also portrays stops along the Underground Railroad. All of this is done in the basement of the massive church which once served as one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad, before freedom into to Canada.
Entice Beauty Salon operators
We think of the Underground Railroad being a uniquely American system but, in fact, it also involved Canada. We also think that once the slaves reached Canada they were truly free. However, though the slaves reached Canada they were still sought out by bounty hunters from the United States, under the Fugitive Slave Laws.
Our little adventure took us to a black-owned and operated beauty shop across the Detroit River to Windsor, Canada. The beauty shop operators, Carmen, Rose and Angelina told us that racial discrimination is a way of life in Canada, similar to America and seemingly all over the world.
On the day we were there, we learned that the ladies were from Rwanda, Nigeria, and Haiti. The stylists there told us about a little church in Canada called the Sandwich First Baptist Church.
Sandwich First Baptist Church.
Area underneath Sandwich First Baptist
Trap door inside the Sandwich First
Once there, we met Ms. Lana Talbot and learned about the slaves who escaped America’s slave system to Canada in the 1800’s. My wife and I were shown the tiny trap door in a floor board right inside the church and the little crawl space under the church where slaves would make one final escape. Ms. Talbot at the church told us of her pride in merica’s President Barack Obama. She called him her President, as well, and said that she proudly attended his inauguration.
Then there was the book on Detroit that I bought which tells about how the white settlers from France and England went from visitors (immigrants), to selfish owners of Detroit. I learned from the book about the Native Americans who were entrepreneurs. They didn’t wait for charity from the white visitors, they traded with them. The Indians trapped animal pelts and sold them to the highest bidder, playing the British against the French. They even sold scalps they had “liberated” from their war victims which the buyers used as wigs.
As I think about it, when I was in Africa I saw the same type of entrepreneurship. If you had a product, you could sell it on the streets, in the shops, from the side of the road, in front of the hotels, or anywhere. In Africa, the Africans sold whatever they had in order to take care of their families and their tribe. Today, we seem to have forgotten this lesson in some circles.
In a recent issue of The Journal, my granddaughter, Ife, wrote about her summer trip to Cuba. She, too, learned from the Cuban’s that if you have a skill, you can make a bit more money than someone else. I believe that a seed of entrepreneurship has been planted in her, like in her father and my other two sons, who hopefully, will pass on to my other grandchildren, because at the end of the day, education, entrepreneurship and owning a bit of an income producing asset are the basis for freedom and independence. They don’t necessarily have to follow in that order.
My experience is similar to Berry Gordy who acquired money that opened doors for young Berry. My first business was a shoe shine stand, at age 14. My second business was a barber shop, at age twenty. Today, many years later, at seventy two, I’m still an entrepreneur trying to help my family with the lessons of Entrepreneurship, Education and Independence (EEI). Lessons taught to me by my parents and by my history of being a Black man in America.
You, too can pass it on. The first lesson in those important three words (EEI) is to acquire “it”, as in something to pass on. That includes good sense. For example, just like you give money to your church and charity, you should also patronize Black businesses.
If you are interested in learning more about Entrepreneurship you may give me a call to register for a class about Entrepreneurship. Please call me at The Journal Offices at: 626-798-3972.