Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, November 12, 2017, pg. 3

Dr. James L. Curtis (b. 1922) is a living legend in our community. A native of Jeffersonville, Georgia, he came with his family as an infant in 1922 as part of the "Great Migration"from the South and grew up in Albion during the 1920s and 1930s. James graduated from Albion High School (1940), Albion College (1944) and the University of Michigan (1946). Becoming a psychiatrist by profession, his expertise led him to many interesting arenas of service during his lifetime including as Director of Harlem Hospital's Department of Psychiatry in New York. He has had several recognition awards bestowed upon him, which locally includes an Albion College Distinguished Alumni Award (1968), and an Albion High School Distinguished Alumni award (2008).

Since his return to Albion in 2003 following his 2000 retirement, Dr. Curtis has been working on his memoirs. With eager anticipation, they were finally published on October 30, 2017. "Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist, A Life of Advocacy for Social Change"is a 208-page paperback just published by Michigan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60785-431-9. Copies are now being sold via Amazon at a retail price of $16.99. To help promote the book and the information it contains, you can actually read it online for free at: www.maizebooks.org. You'll want to invest in a real copy, however for your own library as I have.

There is much Albion material that Dr. Curtis included in his memoirs, especially about the social, racial, and economic conditions that he has observed and experienced during his lifetime. He gives numerous Albion examples and stories throughout the book. He first gives credit where it is due and spends ample space writing about his family. He states, (Pg. 11) "But the major architect of my life was my mother [Frances]…who turned my brothers Tom and Uly, my sister Gertrude and me into small farmers. Our house was situated on more than an acre of land, part of which she turned into a small garden where we grew string beans, tomatoes, beets, squash and okra. We also had a chicken coop and yard where we kept about 40 chickens, a small pond with six ducks, and a pig pen with four hogs."Readers will enjoy viewing family and other photographs found throughout the book.

Here are some other "Albion topic" excerpts from the book:

Concerning the topic of the segregated West Ward School (pg. 5): "Why West Ward School existed was a subject of much discussion in Albion's black community… In 1917, white school officials from Albion went to nearby Hillsdale College, which was graduating two black students, a young woman who was interested in teaching at the segregated black school, and a young man who became principal of that school [West Ward] in 1920."

Regarding his leadership in the local NAACP he writes (Pg. 31): "By the time I entered Albion College, I was increasingly looked upon as a spokesman for the local black community, and I recruited several of my professors to become NAACP members when I was a freshman…Our NAACP chapter brought a lawsuit against a restaurant that refused to serve Doc Anderson, my former scoutmaster; the restaurant owner filed for bankruptcy and closed his business before the trial could begin. Mr. Van Dellan, the young lawyer who was my mentor at the time, was to be our lawyer at that trial."

Regarding the deterioration of the Albion Public Schools and parents sending their children to neighboring school districts he writes on page 154: "u8230 Those districts have been sending their school buses to Albion to transport any children whose parents chose to transfer them to that district. In 2016, Michigan Department of Education statistics showed that more than 1,000 of Albion's school-age children were enrolled in nearby school districts… We have a nice case of increased racial and economic school integration, the likes of which had never been seen in those surrounding school districts."

On the topic of the recent annexation he observes: (pg. 148) "Albion High was eventually forced to merge with the high school in Marshall…Why did they work hard? Because the white students at Marshall High School and the black and white low-income students from Albion had worked well with each other from the start to make it a great success. They set the bar high for the adults in Marshall and Albion, both of which had school superintendents of great ability and imaginative leadership."

Chapters in Dr. Curtis'memoirs are titled: The Formative Years Childhood through High School, 1922-1940; Albion College and the University of Michigan, 1940-1946; Becoming a Psychiatrist My Way, 1946-1968; Affirmative Action, 1968-1980; Psychiatric Services in Central Harlem, 1982-2000; My Retirement Years 2000-2017; and "Even as We Fight and Die."There is a handy index in the back. Dr. Curtis relates numerous incidents, situations, events, and policies that existed or occurred at the places he has been, tying it to the social changes he has seen over his lifetime. This includes struggles that were waged on the National, State, and local levels.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present the cover of "Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist,"and congratulate Dr. Curtis on his latest achievement. Order your copy today. It should be noted that Dr. Curtis is also the author of "Affirmative Action in Medicine,"(2003) and an earlier work, "Blacks, Medical Schools, and Society"(1971), both published by the University of Michigan Press.

Cover of book by Dr. James Curtis, 2017


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