PRESERVING HISTORY AGAINST THE ODDS!
Our Lady of Victory (OLV) is a narrative history and a biography. It started out as a project to collect data and honor the pioneers of this ‘little catholic community that could.’ I say could because it was founded in 1943 in a little storefront and then moved into a real church in 1946 and by 1954 it opened its brand new school and a catholic community was born. In 1972 the school was shut down and the church merged. How sad is that? The school was up only 18 years. It was leased out a few more years and then sat vacant for many years until it was finally torn down from decay and neglect.
While this was going on, I kept saying to myself, “somebody needs to write our story.” It didn’t occur to me that I would be the one to do it. It was all about capturing and preserving the history and thus the title, Our Lady of Victory, the Saga of an African-American Catholic Community was born, and I became a published author.
Shirley Harris-Slaughter is a Michigan native. She is a community activist having been a school board trustee in the Oak Park School District and mentored four freshmen girls in the Winning Futures Program. Shirley loves trains, vintage clothes, and old buildings with historic significance. So it was a natural that she would write about growing up in historic Royal Oak Twp. and keep alive a catholic community that was about to lose its history and identity. It seems that everything she loved closed down and she was not about to let any of it be forgotten. Shirley joined Rave Reviews Book Club because she recognized the need to support fellow authors in order to move forward in her own endeavors. She already had a thriving relationship with like twitter followers that lead her here. “We all had the same goals so it was a natural fit.”
SHIRLEY HARRIS-SLAUGHTER, AUTHOR
To my dismay, most folks, both in and outside of our community, have never
heard of Detroit’s Our Lady of Victory Church. Most of those who worshipped
there are not aware of its legacy. And those who lived it are not
inclined to talk about it much. But we should commend the folks who
contributed to the development of both the West Eight Mile Community and
the Church. They left a legacy to be proud of. They were making history while
those of us who lived it became a part of it and reaped the benefits.
This book will present the facts—and some of those facts may not make for
pleasant reading. I make no apologies since I had nothing to do with making
the policies that shaped Our Lady of Victory and our lives except be a recipient.
I ask that you understand that I am only the messenger. I ask this because
I was totally unprepared for a hostile reaction after the manuscript was read. I
was told how fascinating the story was, but that I shouldn’t expect support. It
was only after someone else in the diocese’s encouragement and my husband’s
support that I continued to forge ahead. However, I did go back and take
another look at the history, and decided to remove my personal opinions from
the narrative and talk about my memories separately, in Part I. In that way the
historical facts are not distorted. But the fact is black people have always been
on the receiving end of the negative consequences of racism. So why must we
always bear the guilt for exposing it?
I had to introduce the book this way to give you a feel for what was revealed when old files were examined and my reaction to the content. I was experiencing my own personal “Culture Shock” from the discoveries and from having experienced it. An example of that was getting off a chartered bus to see a movie and seeing so many Caucasians and realizing how little we (young children) were represented in the scheme of things. Having grown up in a neighborhood of folks who “look like me” wouldn’t prepare you for something like this. That is why it is called Culture Shock.
This book is not just a historic piece but it is also laced with personal memories of growing up in this environment. And that makes it a narrative biography as well. I did not set out to dwell on race and all its complexities. I did not grow up hating or even knowing the downside of the race issue. But let’s be honest; it is always there as distressing as it is. I was shocked by the way I was treated by the local priest who read the manuscript which he thought was a fascinating piece but, he couldn’t support it and then shoved me out of his office. I sat in my car to calm down because I was so shaken up by his treatment of me and was seriously wondering whether or not I should continue with this project. It was frightening.
We cannot just shove it under the rug and pretend like it doesn’t happen. We tend to do this in every aspect of American life and I will not apologize for bringing it out even though it was not my intention to do so. Doing the research didn’t spare me the details. Why should I spare you? I didn’t create this environment. So why is it a subject that I dare not speak about? I have to tell you how disappointed I was while researching the history, of learning some of the most blatant sides of racism and how it affected my writing. Evidently I was living a sheltered existence. My husband told me I was naïve. And obviously, I was. So let’s treat this for what it is, deal with it, and learn from it.
Question: What are your thoughts on my singular goal to preserve history no matter what?
Book title: Our Lady of Victory, the Saga of an African-American Catholic Community.
RRBC Seal of Excellence
Genre: Biography; Narrative History