Detrioters: The Rise and Fall of the Detroit Rumor Control Center, 1967-1970

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by Martin Pimentel, 20C History and Political Science
Fox Center Undergraduate Humanities SIRE Fellow

In the summer of 2019, I spent a week in Detroit and a week in Austin researching the Detroit rumor control center with the generous financial support of SIRE and the Fox Center. I had initially intended to travel to Chicago and Washington D.C. as well, in order to write a comparative examination of various rumor control centers across the country. However, after traveling to Detroit in May, I realized that the trove of rich primary sources I had gathered necessitated a focus on Detroit.

In Detroit, I worked in the archives of the Reuther P. Library at Wayne State University. In the archives, I spent most of my time in two collections: the personal papers of Jerome P. Cavanagh, the mayor of Detroit during the period of my thesis, and the Detroit Commission on Community Relations (DCCR), which was the government body that housed the rumor control center. Cavanagh’s personal papers gave me a unique insight into the decision-making processes of the political and community leaders of Detroit during the period, while the DCCR’s collection of internal rumor control center documents provided an unparalleled view of the internal workings of the rumor control center. In particular, the call logs to the center have the potential to provide a valuable set of quantitative data on call rates and geographic distribution that can add a quantitative element to my history of the rumor control center.

In Austin, I worked in the archives of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, which is housed on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. In these archives, I focused primarily on the records of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, whose endorsement of rumor control centers ultimately contributed to Detroit’s adoption of the method. At the LBJ Library, I combed through the records of Department of Justice officials, Federal Bureau of Investigations leaders, and White House aides to ascertain what, if any, role the federal government had in establishing and supporting Detroit’s rumor control center.

These private records were invaluable in pushing my research beyond the current historical record. Archival research is a laborious and detailed process, and progress is only possible through collaboration and financial support. The Fox Center’s financial support of my research and the collaborative environment of the Center itself made an indelible impact on my thesis and me personally.

Martin Pimentel is a senior on the pre-international affairs track, double majoring in History and Political Science. He is currently writing an honors thesis on the history of the Detroit rumor control center. Martin conducted his research in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas during the summer of 2019. Using previously unseen archival documents, including personal papers, internal reports, memos, and call logs, Martin hopes to ignite a historical discussion of a highly understudied institution.

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