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Hopeful at the Detroit Historical Museum

- Hye Sung

Last week, after a delicious brunch at the Woodbridge Pub and running some errands, I found myself in downtown Detroit with time on my hands before I had to get back to work. I didn’t feel like spending more money nor did I just want to sit around. I desperately texted a local friend begging for help, “What is there to do FOR FREE?!” Almost immediately, she simply responded, “Try the Detroit Historical Museum.” I looked it up, found out I was three or so blocks away, and made my way down there.

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I am not super into museums unless they are free, to be honest, and even that does not mean I will necessarily be interested. Detroit, though, is fascinating. The history of this city is a lot of things. It prospered because of the city’s ability to dream, much fostered by the presence of automobile industry, but was torn down time after time by racism and corrupt politics. This city was built on innovation and prosperity, but tragedy has made its way into this city even more often with poverty and oppression.
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And yet people still have hope. People still believe that Detroit will make a comeback. It is in the air. People are excited. Something big is going to happen to Detroit. Something good. And all these years this city has endured rotting away, with thousands of homes and buildings abandoned, will not be without redemption.
Though much of America has forgotten Detroit’s history, Detroit hasn’t. And they will not. It is what drives them forward to believe that Detroit has hope and will come back to life.
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This is why I enjoyed this museum.It is a simple building with two floors open to the public, but packed with a story. This museum does not simply exist as a memorial, but something to drive society forward. In preserving the memories of the past, people can believe that something beautiful can come out of nothing. In fact, the city’s motto was declared in the early 1800s after most of the settlement was destroyed by a fire: “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus”, or “We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes”.
At the Detroit Historical Museum, you will find out the history of the automobile industry in Detroit, which once fueled this city. You will learn about the underground railroad that made its way through Detroit, with slaves crossing Lake St. Claire for freedom in Canada. You will go through an exhibit that tells the story of how this land, once deemed uninhabitable, became America’s ‘Motor City’. The stories of many of Detroit’s historical neighborhoods are revealed, with accounts of individual businesses founded by excited and hard-working immigrants, and how some are still going strong after 70-90 years despite what has become of Detroit. The Prohibition, the Depression, the World Wars, the race riots, and the collapse of the motor industry have uniquely affected and molded this city, and this museum clearly reveals much of this.
And somehow, you walk out of the museum with hope. It brings you into the heart and mind of many Detroiters. You know how Detroit has had both extreme ups and extreme downs, and you can’t help but believe that from such a low, things can only get better. And maybe even great.
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