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April 04, 2013 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-04-04

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10 April 4 • 2013



BURTON GORDIN from page 9

Staffer Suspected

Miller, who said he identified Gordin's
body at the morgue in the aftermath
of the killing, has never accepted the
Detroit Police Department's panicky-
robber finding.
"It was our view, and the family's view,
that he was assassinated:' Miller said
last month. "He was not just murdered;
it was political. He was not robbed; no
money was taken. We not only thought
he was assassinated, but we had picked
out somebody. We think someone on his
staff murdered him. We gave this infor-
mation to the police.'
Miller recalls a particularly painful
moment right after the funeral.
"This guy [the one they suspected of
the murder] came to the shivah house
[house of mourning]; can you imagine
how awkward it was for those of us who
had the information?" Miller asked.
"Nothing in his demeanor was a tipoff.
"There was an ideological dispute with
this person on the staff — there were dif-
ferent currents in the civil rights move-
ment at the time, sharp controversies
about whether you were an integrationist
or a nouveau segregationist:' he added.
This staff person, Miller believes, was
part of the movement away from the
commission's traditional mission and
toward a black nationalist agenda.
Remembering that period is Dr.
Robert Newby, who retired in 2006
after 23 years as a sociology profes-
sor at Central Michigan University in
Mount Pleasant. Prior to that, he taught
at Wayne State for 14 years. From 1966-
1970, Newby worked on the staff of the
civil rights department, a couple of levels
below Gordin on the still-modest organi-
zational chart.
"Everything revolved around deseg-
regation and integration [at the depart-
ment] until 1966-1967:' Newby said
last week. "It was 1966 when Stokely
Carmichael gave the movement a new
slogan: Black Power. The movement had
been toward integration; there was a
turning point in that period.
"Shortly after that, the rebellion in
Detroit took place [July 1967]. In a
sense, the commission was betwixt and
between. The mission was still desegre-
gation of housing and schools, but it also
had to be advocates for young people in
the schools:' he added. "The commission
was attempting to fill both roles; protect-
ing the rights of people for self-determi-
nation and also enforcing integration and
Newby said that Gordin and his dep-
uty, Walter Green, were very committed
to integration and that the mission of the
commission had remained unchanged.
After the 1967 Detroit "rebellion:' he said
that while the commission didn't endorse
"Black Power; it had to accommodate it.
"Those of us who were younger want-
ed the commission to move faster," he

said, and found it to be "tepid" in light of
the explosiveness going on in the world.
Newby was representing the commis-
sion's Department of Civil Rights at an
out-of-town conference when he learned
of Gordin's death. He said that police
thought it was a botched robbery, "but
the suspicion was it was something else
He said he did hear that some depart-
ment staff members had been questioned
heavily by the police. While not wanting
to speculate, he said if Gordin's death was
caused by a staff member, "it would not
have been a civil rights issue:' He recalled
there were some department employees
who were unhappy because they felt they
should have been promoted or weren't
getting the salary they wanted.
"I think the person they were ques-
tioning heavily had filed a few grievances
and had some serious disagreements
about position and pay:' he recalled.
Despite the cross-currents within the
department, Newby said Gordin was well
regarded and respected.
"There were no gripes about his com-
petence and commitment," he said. "The
fact that he was the leader of this very
progressive agency speaks volumes about
his place in history. Those of us who
were younger wanted the commission
to move faster, but he was an excellent

Michigan Chronicle View

The editorial following Gordin's death
in the Detroit-based and black-owned
Michigan Chronicle captured the tur-
bulence of the civil rights movement's
philosophical tug of war and Gordin's
attempts to navigate it:
"Burton I. Gordin, as executive
director of the Michigan Civil Rights
Commission from its inception in 1964,
was both conciliator and contender for
the equal rights of mankind. Angry
militants in the battle for civil rights
progress declared him too conciliatory.
Antagonists in the battle found him too
"That speaks more eloquently than
any rhetoric that comes to mind for his
unswerving determination to conduct
himself with both compassion and digni-
ty in a most sensitive post in these times
of strife, turmoil and terror:'

A Son Remembers

For Eric Gordin, it's about justice for his
father, acknowledgement of his early
involvement in the civil rights movement
and remembrance of his role in shaping
and leading the state's first civil rights
He recalled last month the growing
fear seared into his 11-year-old mind as
he waited for his father to come home
from work as afternoon turned into eve-
"I absolutely felt something was
wrong that he had not come home said

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