Historical Information on Flint’s Big Brothers Organization
In 2015, Robert Ryder of Reston, Virginia, donated the papers of his late father, Joseph T. Ryder (1906-1979) to our University of Michigan-Flint Genesee Historical Collections Center.
These papers have been processed and are now available for researchers to access on-site.
Who was Joe Ryder? Joe was the person largely responsible for Flint, Michigan having a vibrant and successful Big Brother program.
Ryder came from the Toledo area to Flint in 1944 to direct the Flint Youth Bureau, a new program supported by the C. S. Mott Foundation.
For the next 35 years, he led the organization and its successor, Big Brother of Greater Flint, to provide guidance to underprivileged boys who typically were delinquent or had no father at home.
The collection provides ample documentation on the organization’s history, as well as his involvement in community education seminars held around the U.S., and on the national organization of Big Brothers.
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If you would like to learn more about Mr. Ryder and his association with the beginning of Flint’s Big Brothers organization, please contact our Archivist, Paul Gifford.
Better still, drop in and visit Paul at the Genesee Historical Archives to learn more about Mr. Ryder and other people and events which had an impact on our local, state and national development.
Genesee Historical Archives is located in the Frances Willson Thomopson Libray building, 2nd floor corridor (near the tube to UPAV).
Contact information and hours of operation for the Archive are available on the Thompson Library website at:
That’s correct; he stood right here on the grounds of our campus!
Who was this Alexis person?
Well, he was a globe-trekker — a world explorer, especially into rough country and new civilizations.
He was also a law student. A husband. A civil servant. A judge. An elected member of the legislature. A politician and a patriot. And an author of some importance and world renown.
He was French gentry; a man who’s father was mayor of the town where he was born. He attended the royal college in Metz where he studied rhetoric and philosophy before moving to Paris to study law. After law school, he traveled to Italy with his brother Edouard and visited Rome, Naples and Scicily. He wrote his first book after that trip, “Voyage en Sicile.”
Upon his return to France, Alexis was appointed juge auditeur in Versailles, which later lead to a position as deputy public prosecutor at the court of Versailles.
Alexis was born and raised among the privileged members of the last of the titled (and entitled) nobility of France in the early 1800s.
However, in 1830 during the July Revolution, the last Bourbon King of France (Charles X) is overthrown. The new government is established as a constitutional monarchy, with Louis-Philippe as the new ruler.
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Alexis reluctantly takes the required oath of loyalty to the new government and the new king, and in exchange receives a reduced position as juge suppleant (substitute judge).
By August, he is thinking of getting out of the country for a while.
In October, another Frenchman (Beaumont) wrote a report to the Minister of the Interior on the reform of the penal system in France. In February the following year, Tocqueville and Beaumont were given an 18-month leave to study the penal system in the United States. On April 2, Beaumont and d’Tocqueville together embark for America from Le Havre, France. His life as an explorer in the wilds has begun.
And what, you ask has this got to do with the Thompson Library and the University of Michigan-Flint?
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Among his many stops during his 1800s tour of the United States, Alexis De Tocqueville visited Michigan. In fact, at one point he stood on the banks of the Flint River, pretty much where our campus is currently situated.
Meanwhile, back in July 22 of 1832, Monsieur de Tocqueville arrived in Detroit (which he remarked upon for being very like France on one side of the river, while on the other, savages and naked children were to be found running around).
He stayed with some locals in Pontiac, where he observed a woman “dressed like a lady,” commenting that “Americans and their log house have the air of rich folk who have temporarily gone to spend a season in a hunting lodge.”
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From Pontiac, De Tocqueville traveled with an Indian guide who took them to Flint and Saginaw via the Flint River, documenting everything he saw along the way.
Writing extensively on his travels, he diligently described in his book the area of Flint, the sights he saw and the people he observed during the early 1800s, recording for posterity the life and times of the early settlers in the United States during the early 1800s.
Recording his observations throughout his journey, he interviewed presidents, lawyers, bankers and many settlers along the way. Eventually he assembled his thoughts and ruminations on the formation of the new country and how its people lived into a ground-breaking two volume book entitled, Democracy in America.
The first volume of Democracy in America was published in 1835. The second volume, in 1840.
Not only has this book been quoted or referenced by untold scads of other books and mentioned in many major speeches (including President Clinton’s STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS in ’95, Speaker Gingrich’s Opening Session speech of the 104th Congress in ’95, Ross Perot’s speech on saving Medicare and Medicaid in ’95, US Supreme Court cases any many others), it has also never been out of print from the day it was first published to the present.
Fast forward almost 200 years.
The television network, C-SPAN, celebrates the incredible journey and writings of Alexis de Tocquville with a year-long program, filming a major documentary while driving to the many locations mentioned in de Tocqueville’s writings.
The C-SPAN people worked with schools to assist in teaching the history of de Tocqueville and the young United States, and with local communities to celebrate de Tocquville’s travels throughout the country. As a way of honoring the book and its author, C-SPAN conferred commemorative plaques to memorialize the locations of note from his tour of the country.
As a “location of note” described in great detail in his writings, C-SPAN visited Flint, Michigan and presented us with a plaque noting the event and time period.
And now we arrive at the intertwined history of Monsieur Alexis de Tocqueville, French patriot and author, with the University of Michigan-Flint and the Thompson Library.
In a ceremony sponsored by the UM-F student History Club along with the Department of History and hosted by the Thompson Library, the C-SPAN plaque was officially and formally dedicated on November 20, 2014.
Speakers at the event included Dr. Roy Hanashiro, Chair of the History Department; Prof Thomas Henthorne, History Dept; Robert Houbeck, Director of Thompson Library; and Justin Wetenhall, President of the History Club. (Mr. Wetenhall and Mr. Houbeck kindly shared the text of their speech with us, which appears in full at the bottom of this article.)
Members of the History Club, notably Jeanette Routhier and Shelby Blair, assembled a remarkable display of works by and about Alexis de Tocqueville, some of which are still on display in the Library.
Please see Shelby’s poster on the 3rd floor of Thompson Library near the Reference Desk. On the 2nd display case of the Genesee Archives, Jeanette has created a smaller display highlighting some of the writings of de Tocqueville held in the Archives collection.
These, and many other works by Alexis de Tocqueville can be found in the Thompson Library. We invite you to visit the Library and the Archives to read and view some of these works and films about his works.
They are YOUR history.
The plaque has been officially installed in the memorial garden round near Thompson Library and the Flint River, no doubt close to (if not actually on THE spot) where Monsieur Alexis de Tocqueville — explorer and author of Democracy in America — stood overlooking the Flint River so many years ago.
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Images of French Revolution of 1830 which propelled de Tocqueville to America.
Before I begin, I would like to thank all of you in attendance for supporting this event, as well as the UM-Flint Thompson Library staff in aiding us on this occasion. Dr. Houbeck and Dr. Rubenstein, I personally thank you for taking a part of this dedication.
As some of you may know I am the President of the UM-Flint Historical Society and have had the privilege to be so for the past 2 years. One of the History Club’s missions over this time has been campus and community involvement, not just meeting once a week to talk about history- but to take part in it.
Last year we had the opportunity to tour such Flint landmarks as the Mott Foundation Building and the Capitol Theater. More recently we have been attempting to give back more to the community that has done so much for us.
Recently, in October, we partnered with another student organization, Feminists for Global Equality to host a “Haunted Masquerade Ball,” at the Historic Kearsley Park Pavilion. This event was designed specifically with the intent of inviting the community in providing a positive image for Flint, while embracing the idea that history is an inclusive subject.
So, when club member Jeanette Routhier, who we lovingly refer to as our “Sparkle Princess” told me about an historic plaque that directly ties to Flint history and suggested that we as a student organization oversee its placement, we were only too quick to align ourselves with such a cause. This provided us with an interesting opportunity to take part in what is usually done by administration, mainly having input in the placement of the plaque while learning the general feel of the universities internal structure and how academia works beyond the classroom.
This also gave us a chance to experience extra-curricular research. Just last night and into the wee hours of the morning I sat with our Vice President, Shelby Blair as she put together the finishing touches of her research into an exhibit for Alexis de Tocqueville.
Both Shelby and Jeanette have done an amazing job in helping to put this event together. It gives us a great sense of pride as a student organization to have partnered with the UM-Flint Thompson Library in this philanthropic venture. T
his is only 1 of 2 academic plaques on this campus I am told, and so am proud to say that we as a student organization played a major role in its unveiling. This is proof that the University of Michigan-Flint provides more than lectures but guides students into community involvement through academia.
We as an organization pride ourselves in giving back to the campus and the History Department that has nurtured us with our many endeavors.
I’m sure I speak for the History Club when I say I hope to continue working with the university not only in history but in student involvement. Thank you for all of the support. And if I may add, please, say good things about Flint.