Ethnic Issues a the Modern City

The years during World War Two were difficult for the United States. The War's end, however, saw a national Baby Boom, an improved standard of living, and the G.I Bill brought new and seasoned students back to the educational front. Ann Arbor stood to grow from this explosion of population and educational resources, as one can see in the following accounts.

Sadly, World War II ignited anti-German sentiment, much like the first World War. Different, however, was the intensity of the situation; as the Holocaust took lives and tortured others, fears surrounded communities with large German populations. In Ann Arbor, many prominent figures, such as Bill Metzger, were accused of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments and un-American sympathies for Germany (Marwil, p. 126.)

Ann Arbor's post-WWII atmosphere appears to be representative of American city life in general, and the religious happenings reflect the nation's state of social, economic and moral repair. Some returning servicemen found solace in the religious institutions; Sabbath-day routines and a congregation of fellow believers were reminiscent of peace time and their own childhood days. (Marty, p. 403). And many others, people of various backgrounds who still reeled from the world's tumultuous events, sought a secular humanism in political, social and spiritual movements that appealed to those who looked for a reason to believe in - and contribute to - humanity once again. This trend is a continuation of morality's move from the religious circles to the public-at-large (Kalte).

Jonathan Marwil notes the attitude of some returning servicemen and women who sought a return to the routine of Sabbath and Sunday schools. This was in accord with the American postwar feeling: to return to peacetime conventions. Living among a community of fellow believers was a means of grounding the veterans: some wished to reclaim their identity, while others discovered that the moral teachings of religious institutions were a benefit to their Baby Boom families. Indeed, it appears that - despite wartime horrors - some people returned to the religious sector to inspire a sense of stability and faith within their lives.

Memorial Day 1945 was a celebration of honor, a day of remembrance and national pride (Marwil, p.131.) Uniting the community just as the first World War's end had done, Ann Arborites joined together to celebrate things American: religious freedom and equality, democracy and justice for all... although contested, these ideas have obviously empowered altruistic Americans and Ann Arborites alike.

The situation for African-Americans in post-WWII Ann Arbor was slightly improved due to a new surplus of skilled jobs, but they still faced discrimination in schools and various local establishments. Although scholars acknowledge the University's presence as a helpful force in the fight for equality, it would still be some time before Black Americans gained full human rights... even in Ann Arbor's "ideal" community. The Civil Rights movement of the sixties had its roots in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, and in the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., still continues in communities today. The University of Michigan proudly encourages the Dream every year in February, when Black History month brings speakers such as Coretta Scott King to the campus and the community.

Many communities of religion and ethnicity found roots through the University. Evidence of this trend is exemplified by the strong Jewish student population. The University of Michigan's Hillel, in its current location on Hill Street, was built in 1988 with the help of sponsor Mandell L. Berman and other contributors. Many college campuses have Hillel organizations, which provide Jewish student with a place of worship, instruction, social activism and awareness. The center provides on-campus religious services (Sabbath and holy day) for students from orthodox, conservative and reform traditions.


Chabad House is Ann Arbor's resource for Jewish students and families who practice Judaism in the Lubavitcher tradition. Chabad members are very visible on campus, whether they are celebrating in a Sukkot booth on the diag or distributing Passover information to students in the campus' "fishbowl" area.

Eastern spirituality hit the United States in the sixties and seventies, as many Americans eschewed the old Western teachings after the Vietnam War and searched for peace through meditation and yoga. These traditions - such as Hinduism, the Baha'i faith, and Jainism - also arrived with new immigrant populations from India, South and Southeast Asia and surrounding areas. A story heard on U of M's campus recalls how today's Black Elk Co-op house was once the Muktananda Asram. The asram, a place devoted to Eastern meditation, learning and peaceful religious ritual took its name from the great Swami Muktananda, who visited the campus and stayed in that very building (Kalte.)

The Buddhist tradition, it might be said, is a tradition that comes to Ann Arbor by way of academia and practitioners. Buddhism welcomes new adherents, who stand to join many students, faculty and staff who currently practice their beloved tradition as they contribute to the University. Jewel Heart Buddhist Center is one of the places where practicing Buddhists may go for a retreat, as well as those seeking a new practice for their lives.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students, and their counterparts in the Ann Arbor area, are an example of a new tradition of people who have fought to maintain their identity while becoming an accepted community within the larger city. Like immigrant and racial minority groups in the past, those people with so-called "alternative" sexual orientations have found a place and a platform being part of Ann Arbor and the University. In fact, the religious sector has reached out to this community, as Agenda Magazine's back pages list Churches, Buddhist Temples, Reform Synagogues and various spiritual groups who welcome LGBT individuals (October issue, pp. 5-6. See also Between the Lines Oct, 30-Nov. 12, 1997.)

In closing, people representing the many ethnic, racial and religious groups, it can be noted, are here because of the University of Michigan and its opportunities. Although committed to diversity in spirit, many people feel that there are still places where certain people groups are underrepresented. Countless communities of people have already made Ann Arbor their home - Russian, Persian, Buddhist, Latino/a, Native American and many other communities of nationality and faith are being joined by new traditions every year. In spite of the tensions that may arise, and the difficult issues of "categorization" when it comes to declaring one's identity, there is still that sense of Ann Arbor as being an unsurpassed city for religious, racial and ethnic culture to flourish and for a person's identity to be celebrated.

[ Return to Tour ]