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April 04, 2013 - Image 9

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

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chief murdered


from Pago_0.---- which denied the alleged involvement of one

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his. staff members with a St1S rally in
lint where several leaders cf the Weaher ,
an faction reportedly planned a series of
tionwirle bombings.
Gordin criticized Flint Police Chief James
,herford who told U.S. Attorney General
n N. Mitchell that a CRC investigator was
ibly involved with the Flint meeting.
hortly before leaving his office yesterday,
in told News reporter John Peterson:
ay have more information on the Weath-

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Burton I. Gordin spent his
life fighting for the underpri-
vileged. He died brutally at a
time when he saw faint signs
of hope in the distance and
considerable racial polariza-
tion much closer.
Gordin, 50, the "gut-fight-
ing" executive director of the
Michigan Civil Rights Commis-
sion, died Friday night in a ga-

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Related Story on Page 1


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rage on the
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Y a
A Winn a


in Detit

shabby fringes of


Temple Beth El Funeral
Gordin's funeral filled Temple Beth El. At the request
of the family, Hertz didn't deliver a eulogy. But accord-
ing to information from Temple Beth El's archives,
he shared the following with the several hundred in
"There will be no traditional eulogy for Burton
Gordin because he didn't want one. There will be no
recitation of the shock and grief we have felt, the bio-
graphical facts we have read or the public life we all
knew well.
"Burt Gordin was not very much interested in talk
for its own sake. He was concerned with the realities of
human existence. His work and his life were dedicated
to moving our society beyond words. His energy was
given to the practical business of giving life and sub-
stance to the words 'human dignity:
"Most of us here knew Burt Gordin for only a few
years since he came to this city in 1964. The scope of
the interests and responsibilities of those who are here
today testifies to the impact on our lives of his singular
"He was wise enough to know what had to be done
and strong enough to do it, and gentle enough to
understand every man's weakness. These were the
qualities that earned him respect and admiration
professionally, and the affection that ran deep in his
personal relationships.
"There is no more to be said except that Burt
Gordin's community will miss him sorely, and his
friends will mourn him long after others have taken
up his work as he would want it taken up and pursued
Following the funeral, Gordin's remains were

rizon," he added.. "Though I and researcher. Then, the Phi-
Commission on
see no definite lidiSe as yet."
Gordin was a white man, Human Relations was formed,
born and raised in Philadel- and Gordin joined it.
Gradually, he worked h i s
But he spent his entire adult way from the position of senior
life working for the black man, field representative to deputy
the brown man, the yellow director.
man, the minority man.
In 1963 the Michigan Consti-
One associate described him tutional Convention voted to es-
as "a gut-fighter. He had very tablish the Michigan Civil
strong feelings on what he fig- Rights Commission, the first
ured to be just and what he constitutionality est a b lished
Considered to be appropriate in civil rights agency in the coun-
the way of action, in the way try. Gordin was chosen to head
of fighting.
the agency, officially operating
He had tremendous pres- since A ril 1 1964.

The murder made headlines in Detroit,
Lansing and even in the New York Times.

transported by Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield to
Philadelphia, where he was interred on March 24,
1970, in Roosevelt Memorial Park.
While Gordin took his work very seriously, Miller
remembers his friend as a very nice guy who used
to toss the football with Miller's son, Powell, on their
front lawns. Gordin liked to exercise, especially on
his stationary bicycle. Gordin's son, Eric, was the "big
brother" to Miller's kids.
During this era, Miller's own activism with the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) stimulated the creation of a Detroit
police review board. The police didn't like it, and "it
was scary stuff' Miller said. But Miller said he never
discussed his activities with Gordin "I didn't want to
mix business and friendship:'

Scholarship In His Name

Friends and associates of Gordin returned to Temple
Beth El on March 20, 1972, marking the second anni-
versary of his death with the creation of the Burton I.
Gordin Memorial Scholarship Fund. It was to assist
young Wayne State University students seeking careers
in human relations.
Those on the scholarship fund committee comprised
a who's who of community leaders, including William
Gossett, Avern Cohn, Julian Cook Jr., Douglas Fraser,
Philip Hart, Arthur Johnson, Sander and Carl Levin,
Mel Ravitz, Horace Sheffield, Stanley Winkelman and
state Sen. Coleman Young.
Today, neither Temple Beth El nor Wayne State
University has information about the scholarship fund.

Justice And
For Burton Gordin


orty-three years after the murder of Burton
I. Gordin, founding executive director of
the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, in a
Downtown Detroit parking structure, his case
remains unsolved, questions about the motive and
identity of the killer unanswered and memories of his
service to the state and its residents forgotten.
Gordin arrived from Philadelphia on April 1,1964,
to become the state's top civil rights professional,
exactly one year after Michigan voters ratified a new
constitution that contained the strongest civil rights
language of any state in America. It empowered a
nonpartisan Civil Rights Commission to protect those
rights and investigate allegations of discrimination.
At the time of his death, he was a nationally rec-
ognized civil rights leader, part of the original class
of progressive Jews who partnered with blacks in
the fight for equal rights. He was navigating cross-
currents in the civil rights movement, a potentially
volatile mix of integrationists and black nationalists,
who also were engulfing his own department. Gordin
was an integrationist. His death at age 50, and the
mysterious circumstances surrounding it, made the
front pages of daily newspapers in Detroit and across
the state. The New York Times and other national
media also took notice.
Detroit police concluded that Gordin died from a
botched robbery attempt. Essentially, Gordin was
a random victim in the wrong place, at the wrong
time, with a nervous assailant. Aside from the police,
nobody believed it then. And it appears nobody
believes it now. It was treated as a local crime,
with no evidence or confirmation that the FBI or
Department of Justice may have been involved in the
And, as the case went from hot to cold, from top-
of-mind concern to out-of-sight-out-of-mind disinter-
est, so did memories of Gordin. There is currently
nothing — no plaque, no scholarship fund, no lecture-
ship, not even a framed photograph — that serves as
an enduring reminder to Michigan residents of the
service Gordin provided, perhaps at the cost of his
The circumstances surrounding Gordin's death
must be revisited. There is no better time than now,
as Michigan enters the 50th anniversary year of the
ratification of its constitution and creation of its Civil
Rights Commission. New testimony must be taken.
New theories about his death must be pursued.
Regardless of the outcome, Michigan must ensure
that Burton I. Gordin receives the enduring recogni-
tion he earned for his pioneering civil rights work.

BURTON GORDIN on page 10


April 4 • 2013


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