Democratic Party of Michigan Records

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Democratic Party of Michigan records

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Democratic Party of Michigan records collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Files of state chairs, Neil Staebler, John J. Collins, Zolton Ferency, Sander Levin, James McNeely, Morley Winograd, Olivia Maynard, Richard Wiener, F. Thomas LeWand, and Gary Corbin; files of deputy state chair, Billie S. Farnum, vice chairs Adelaide Hart and Olivia Maynard, and vice chair Robert Mitchell; files relating to state constitutional convention, and to state and national political campaigns, since 1950; sound recordings and visual materials.

The Democratic Party of Michigan is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, and its State Chairman is a member of the Association of State Democratic chairs. The group is dedicated to supporting Democratic candidates for public office in the state of Michigan, promoting the party in Michigan, and fielding the concerns of Michigan citizens as part of their effort to affect legislative change.

Although the Democratic Party State Central Committee has been in Michigan since the mid-19th century, it wasn't until the late 1940s that it was rejuvenated and strengthened. Until that time there were only small "paper groups" of isolated Democratic enthusiasts, with the exceptions of Wayne County and the western Upper Peninsula where more substantial committees had organized. At the time, the Democratic Party represented a more liberal perspective, including protest groups, new immigrants, and fledgling unions. With the 1948 election of Democrat G. Mennen Williams, the party began to gain a foothold in Michigan politics, and the Democratic Party State Central Committee (DPSCC) began to develop.

In 1949 the group held its Spring Convention and elected Chairman Hicks Griffiths and Vice Chairman Margaret Cotsikas. Its first major project was the revitalization of the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Attended by 1200 people at the Detroit Masonic Temple, the guest speaker was Senator Hubert Humphrey.

With the success of the "Jeff-Jack" Dinner and a morale boost for the party, the DPSCC adopted the slogan "A candidate for every office, a challenger in every polling place and a worker in every precinct." They followed up the slogan with manuals on challenging and precinct work and through the development of county-level, grassroots organizations. In the early 1950s, the DPSCC set a budget and opened itself to public scrutiny. The group established field representatives, county committees, and sub-committees, and the operation became year-round rather than solely at the time of elections. The group enjoyed increased membership, improved fund-raising, diversified participation, and a reputation for "honest politics." They established financial drives, founded the Young Democrats, worked to further integrate women into the party, and established the monthly publication Michigan Democrat.

In 1965, under the second term of State Chairman Zolton Ferency, the group purchased a building in Lansing for their permanent headquarters. It was dedicated the John F. Kennedy House in October 1965, and the dedication address was given by Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The Democratic Party of Michigan suffered financial and developmental difficulties in the early 1990s after the surprising defeat of Governor James Blanchard by Republican John Engler. (Some records in the collection hint that the party has followed a similar cycle throughout its history.) As a result, much of 1991 and 1992, under the leadership of State Chairman Gary Corbin, was spent trying to rebuild the party through financial support, increased membership, speaking events, and direct communication via mail with citizens who wrote the party to express their concerns. One of the primary issues of concern for the party and for citizens was Governor Engler's budget for Michigan, including sharp cuts in social services for the poor and elderly and concerns regarding education and taxation.

Please note:

Copyright is not held by the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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