August 31, 2017

As part of Detroit Mercy's Constitution Day celebration, the University’s Black Abolitionist Archive and Library will host a session titled, “African American Citizenship in the Civil War Era," at noon on Monday, Sept. 18. This event, which takes place in the President’s Dining Room of the Detroit Mercy Student Center, is free and open to the public. 

“African American Citizenship in the Civil War Era” examines the troubling question of African American citizenship during the Civil War era—a defining moment.  As late as 1857, the Supreme Court said blacks could not be American citizens.  But the war changed things.  In 1868, the nation ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which forever acknowledged black citizenship.  Since that time, the trajectory of the fight for civil rights has followed the words and promise of that amendment. This is precisely what Martin Luther King meant when he told America during the March on Washington in 1963 that the marchers had come to collect payment on “a promissory note.”

Dr. Roy E. Finkenbine, professor of history and director of the Black Abolitionist Archive at Detroit Mercy, will discuss how ideas about black citizenship changed during this tumultuous time – and what it means for us today.

This year also marks the 160th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, which defined African Americans as non-citizens.  The Fourteenth Amendment is the corrective to that decision, which is often labeled "the worst Supreme Court decision in American history.

“African American Citizenship in the Civil War Era” is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be available. For more information, please call 313-993-1016 or email