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Legendary journalist Herb Boyd to chronicle Detroit’s Black history

Herb presents Maya Angelou with a copy of his biography of James Baldwin at the Schomburg Center in Harlem in 2012. COURTESY PHOTO

Herb presents Maya Angelou with a copy of his biography of James Baldwin at the Schomburg Center in Harlem in 2012. COURTESY PHOTO

By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen

Though a New York resident since 1985, Native Detroiter Herb Boyd is one of the city’s pre-eminent men of letters. The Wayne State University graduate (and former professor) has published 23 books — among them a biography of James Baldwin, Malcolm X’s diary and numerous works of Black history. Boyd helped to establish the first Black studies classes at WSU, and co-founded The Metro Times.

A jazz lover and life-long journalist, Boyd helped the late Yusef Lateef with his autobiography and occasionally contributes pieces on jazz and Black culture to the Michigan Citizen.

Now Boyd will have an opportunity to bring the fruits of his professional life and his personal history into one basket. Amistad Publishing has contacted him to write a history of the African American experience in Detroit, tentatively titled “Black Detroit: A People’s History.”

The book will attempt to cover a broad swath of Detroit’s Black socio-historical experience beginning in 1701. For Boyd, the timing for such a project couldn’t be better.

“I live in New York City and I read all the dailies there, particularly the New York Times, and not a day has gone by in the last couple of years that there has not been a story about Detroit, mostly about the bankruptcy and less so about anything else in the city,” Boyd told the Michigan Citizen. “If race is mentioned, it’s of secondary concern.  Only occasionally is there an article of depth that dwells into the history of the current economic crisis — no surprises there.  When it does touch on the majority Black population, you can bet it will be cast in a negative light.”

Boyd, whose personal philosophical worldview leans towards Pan-Africanist, Black Nationalist Marxism, says his focus will be the Black working class — “their trials and tribulations will be the governing narrative.” In addition to traditional research from printed and digital materials, Boyd has been and will continue to conduct interviews with men and women, professors and autoworkers, colleagues and family members across the city, infusing the larger cultural narrative with anecdotes and humbler histories.

In America, white and Black histories are indivisible. Thus, the story of Black Detroit has national implications, Boyd says. “If (the readers) learn half the things I have begun to uncover, they will not only be enlightened by the past, but get a better understanding of the current crisis.”

“(This book) will be an opportunity for Detroiters to get a feel for the overall historical developments, in which Blacks are often footnoted, deleted or cast in a negative light or as victims,” Boyd says. “Readers need to know about the people who helped to build this community, who provided the creativity and ingenuity that sustained it through periods of turmoil and distress.”

“Black Detroit…” is scheduled for publication by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins.

 

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