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Mel Ravitz Papers

Identifier: UP001720

Scope and Content

The Mel Ravitz Collection offers a rich source of documentation on the momentous changes engulfing Detroit and other large, northern industrial cities during the latter half of the twentieth century and local attempts to deal with the far-reaching social and economic problems arising from these changes. The papers reflect not only the turbulent history of Detroit politics during those years, but Dr. Ravitz’s professional and scholarly interest in community participation in redevelopment decisions, urban housing policy, police-community relations, mental health care, race relations and regional planning.

Important subjects in the collection: Afro-American police--Michigan--Detroit Afro-Americans--Community development--Michigan--Detroit Afro-Americans--Economic conditions--Michigan--Detroit Afro-Americans--Housing--Michigan--Detroit Afro-Americans--Medical care--Michigan--Detroit Afro-Americans--Social life and customs--Michigan--Detroit Air--Pollution--Michigan--Wayne County Archer, Dennis W. Butzel Family Center (Detroit, Mich.) Cable television--Michigan--Detroit Casino gambling--Michigan--Detroit Cavanagh, Jerome P. Community development, Urban--Michigan--Detroit Comprehensive Health Planning Council of Southeastern Michigan Day care centers--Michigan--Detroit Democratic Party--Michigan Detroit. Belle Isle Park Detroit Commission on Children and Youth Detroit churches Detroit (Mich.)--Buildings, structures, etc. Detroit (Mich.)--Central business districts--Planning Detroit (Mich.). City Council Detroit (Mich.). City Plan Commission Detroit (Mich.)--Community centers Detroit (Mich.)--Community organization Detroit (Mich.)--Crime and criminals Detroit (Mich.)-- Discrimination in education Detroit (Mich.)--Discrimination in employment Detroit (Mich.)--Discrimination in housing Detroit (Mich.)--Housing policy Detroit (Mich.)--Manpower development programs Detroit (Mich.). Model Neighborhood Agency Detroit (Mich.). Police Dept. Detroit (Mich.). Police Dept. STRESS Detroit (Mich.) riot, 1967 Detroit Central High School Detroit. Citizens’ District Councils Detroit General Hospital Detroit House of Correction Detroit Metropolitan Area (Mich.)--Community health programs Detroit Metropolitan Area (Mich.)--Local transit—Planning

Important subjects (cont’d): Detroit Metropolitan Area (Mich.)--Politics and government Detroit Public Schools Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Board Drug abuse--Michigan--Detroit Elmwood Park Projects II and III (Detroit, Mich.) Express highways--Environmental aspects--Michigan--Detroit Federal aid to community development--Michigan--Detroit Federated East Side Improvement Associations Grass Roots Organization Workers (G.R.O.W.) Gribbs, Roman S. Gun control--Michigan--Detroit Health planning--Michigan Herman Kiefer Hospital Homeowners’ associations--Michigan--Detroit Housing rehabilitation--Michigan--Detroit Hubbard-Richard Community Council (Detroit, Mich.) Income tax, Municipal--Michigan--Detroit Juvenile delinquency--Michigan--Detroit Kern Block (Detroit, Mich.) Land use, Urban--Michigan--Detroit Magnum Oil Company Mental health policy--Detroit Metropolitan Area (Mich.) Municipal services--Contracting out--Michigan--Detroit Police--Complaints against--Michigan--Detroit Pornography--Law and legislation--Michigan--Detroit Public health--Michigan--Wayne County Race relations--Michigan--Detroit Ralph J. Bunche Neighborhood Council (Detroit, Mich.) Sociology, Urban Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Trade-unions--Political activity--Michigan--Detroit University City II Project (Detroit, Mich.) Urban renewal--Citizen participation--Michigan--Detroit Urban renewal--Social aspects--Michigan--Detroit Virginia Park Rehabilitation Project (Detroit, Mich.) Water--Fluoridation--Michigan--Detroit Water--Pollution--Michigan--Wayne County Wayne County (Mich.) Child Development Center Wayne County (Mich.)--Politics and government Wayne State University (Detroit, Mich.) West Central Organization--Michigan--Detroit Young, Coleman A. Youth--Services for--Michigan--Detroit

Important correspondents in the collection: Archer, Dennis W. Barbour, Al Beckham, Charles Blessing, Charles Cavanagh, Jerome P. Citron, Abraham Cohn, Avern Collins, Barbara-Rose Del Rio, James Gribbs, Roman S. Edwards, George C., Jr. Edwards, George C. III Fisher, Max Gentry, Bronson Girardin, Ray Gomon, Josephine Hanlon, John Hewitt, Ronald Hood, Nicholas Lawrence, David Levin, Carl Levin, Sander Lincoln, James H. Maher, Richard M. McCabe, Robert E. Meltzer, Marvin Miriani, Louis Moten, Emmett S., Jr. Nichols, John Patrick, William Plafkin, Sol Ryan, Daniel Schore, Joseph Sheffield, Horace Stroud, Joe H. Swieczkowska, Clara Wierzbicki, Anthony Wolfgang, Myra Young, Coleman A. Young, Joseph F., Jr.

Series Description: Series I, Detroit City Council, 1962-1997, Boxes 1-55 Series includes constituent mail, departmental reports responding to citizen complaints and material relating to issues under discussion by the Council. The bulk of the files document Mel Ravitz’s tenure from 1962-1973, especially the years 1970-1973 when he served as president of the Council. The files are arranged chronologically and then alphabetically. Inclusive dates of subject files spanning more than one year are noted in the folder heading. File headings also may have changed over time. Correspondence, for example, filed alphabetically in the early 1960s, was later placed in the appropriate department file. By 1972 alphabetical correspondence files were replaced by those labeled “miscellaneous” and “personal.” The files from 1982-1997, much less voluminous, are arranged alphabetically and then chronologically.

Series II, Political Campaigns, 1961-1997, Boxes 55-56

Series III, Community and Professional Organizations, 1961-1993, Boxes 56-66 Material relating to his service as an officer or board member of these organizations.

Series IV, Speeches and Writings, Biographical Background and Publicity, 1943-2001, Boxes 66-70 In addition to articles published, speeches delivered and papers presented by Mel Ravitz, the series includes magazine profiles and newspaper articles about him, oral interviews and public testimony he gave, radio scripts he wrote, certificates and awards he received, entries from a journal he kept in the 1940s and a small amount of correspondence pre-dating his Council years. Council resolutions he introduced will be found in Series I as will public statements issued during his last four terms on the Council.

Series V, Publications, 1939-1978, Boxes 70-73 Publications about the metropolitan Detroit area not authored by Mel Ravitz.
Part II: Part 2 of Ravitz’s papers provides information on a wide range of social and urban issues affecting the City of Detroit, including the numerous speeches he made discussing these issues. Information concerning Ravitz’s mayoral campaign is included. There is also material covering his parallel academic career, including research and lectures given at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

Important Subjects: City of Detroit Detroit Common Council Detroit—Politics and government Detroit—Race relations Detroit Riot—1967 Social change—United States Urban renewal City planning Wayne State University

Important Names: Levin, Sander Cavanagh, Jerome P. Glusac, Michael M. Doss, Lawrence P. Kern, Father Clement Jones, Clara S. Mazey, Ernest

Series Description: Series VI: Speeches and Manuscript, 1956-1972 (Boxes 74- 75)

Series VII: City of Detroit, 1950-1975 (Boxes 76-77)

Series VIII: Academia, 1944-1976 (Box 77)
Part III: This collection primarily consists of Dr. Mel Ravtiz’s writings. These writings reflect his activism in Detroit, urban planning and social justice. This includes both published and unpublished essays, as well as speeches and brief journaling. Additionally, this collection includes an unpublished book about events occurring within city council. Finally, this collection holds photographs of Mel Ravitz throughout his years of service to Detroit.

Important Subjects: City of Detroit Detroit Common Council Detroit—Politics and government Detroit—Race relations Detroit Riot—1967 Social change—United States Urban renewal City planning Wayne State University

Important Names: Cohn, Avern, 1924- Young, Coleman A.

Series Description: Series IX: Correspondence, 1981-2007, box 78 Series X: Essays and speeches, 1945-2009, boxes 79-84


  • 1939 - 2001
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 2005


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Part I: Mel Jerome Ravitz was born in New York City on January 7, 1924, but moved to Detroit with his family in 1929. He graduated from Detroit’s Central High School in 1942 and went on to receive a B.A. in history from Wayne State University in 1948. While there, he worked as a staff announcer for WJLB-AM and wrote a column for the school’s newspaper, Detroit Collegian. In 1949, he earned an M.A. in sociology from the New School for Social Research, returning to Detroit that year and taking a job as news editor for the fledgling UAW radio station, WDET-FM. He was awarded a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan in 1955.

In 1953 the Detroit City Plan Commission hired Dr. Ravitz as Director of Community Organization to coordinate local participation in neighborhood conservation projects as mandated by the Federal Housing Act for those cities receiving urban renewal funds. He left that position in 1960, but the associations with block clubs and neighborhood organizations formed during those years provided the political base from which Mel Ravitz mounted his first campaign for Detroit Common Council in 1961.

He was reelected in 1965 and again in 1969, this time as president of the Council, but relinquished his seat to run for mayor in the 1973 Democratic primary won by Coleman Young. A year later Dr. Ravitz joined the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Services Board as staff director, but left in 1982 to begin the first of another four terms on Detroit’s City Council, retiring in 1997. A strong proponent of regional solutions to urban problems, he also chaired the Wayne County Board of Supervisors from 1966-68 and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which he helped to create, from 1970-71.

Serving the city of Detroit for twenty-eight years, under four mayors, Mel Ravitz earned a reputation for hard work, integrity and fairness. A frequent critic of mayoral policy, identifying himself as the loyal opposition, his focus was always on the average citizen, solutions to grassroots problems and neighborhood revitalization rather than high profile riverfront and downtown development projects. A forceful civil rights advocate and vigorous opponent of racial discrimination, he was often identified as Detroit’s most liberal-minded white city official in the 1960's.

Mel Ravitz pursued dual careers in academia and politics, a situation he judged beneficial to his performance in both. He taught intermittently at Wayne State University from 1949 until his retirement in 1987 as Emeritus Professor of Sociology. He was instrumental in the formation of Wayne State’s Department of Urban Planning in the mid-1950's and has written and spoken extensively on urban problems and social planning.
Part II: Mel Ravitz was a Detroit City Council president, onetime mayoral candidate and social advocate in Detroit government for more than 40 years. Known as a profound orator, he often made public presentations on urban issues and social problems affecting the City of Detroit. He diligently worked to help disadvantaged people, improve race relations, and promote social action in Detroit.
Part III: Dr. Mel Ravitz, a liberal Detroit politician, had his hand on the pulse of the city for decades. From 1961 to 1973, he was a member of the Detroit Common Council. He left this position to run for mayor, which was in the same election that Detroit elected its first African American mayor- Coleman Young. Dr. Ravitz then became an active member of Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Services Board, after which he served four more terms on Detroit City Council, from which he retired in 1997. Additionally, Dr. Ravitz taught sociology at Wayne State University intermittently from 1949 to 1987.


84.5 Linear Feet (83 SB, 1 MB, 1 OS)

17 Megabytes


Professor and Detroit community advocate Mel Ravitz held various posts in Detroit politics, including positions such as the Detroit City Plan Commission Director of Community Organization, on the Detroit City Council and as staff director of the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Services Board. As a professor at Wayne State University, Mr. Ravitz assisted in the formation of the University’s Department of Urban Planning.

Mr. Ravitz’s papers reflect his interests in community organizing and neighborhood revitalization, and serve to document the history of Detroit politics and the social and economic changes that the city faced during the later half of the twentieth century. In addition there are files relating to his activities to 2005.

The collection is in three parts.


Part I: Arranged in 5 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-55), Series 2 (Boxes 55-56), Series 3 (Boxes 56-66), Series 4 (Boxes 66-70) and Series 5 (Boxes 70-73). Folders are arranged alphabetically.
Part II: Arranged in 3 series - Series 6 (Boxes 74-75), Series 7 (Boxes 76-77), and SEreis 8 (Box 77). Folders in each series are simply listed by location within each box. They are not arranged, so any given subject may be dispersed throughout several boxes within each series.
Part III: Arranged in 2 series - Series 9 (Box 78), and Series 10 (Boxes 79-84). Folders in each series are simply listed by their location within each box. They are not arranged, so any given subject may be dispersed throughout several boxes within each series.


Part I: The papers of Mel Ravitz were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in 1999 by Dr. Ravitz.
Part II: Part 2 of the Mel Ravitz Papers was placed in the Reuther Library in May 2003.
Part III: Part 3 was donated to the Reuther in 2013 by Jill Ravitz Curmi and family.


Part I: Over 100 photographs and a few items of memorabilia documenting Mel Ravitz’s political campaigns and his career as a Detroit City Councilman have been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Collection.
Part II: Photographs and audio/video tapes were transferred to the Reuther’s Audiovisual Department.
Part III: 15 cassette tapes, one VHS tape, and one photograph slide have been transferred to the Reuther’s audiovisual department. 20 floppy disks have been imaged and transferred to the Reuther’s digital repository.

Processing History

Part I: Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in February 2000.
Part II: Finding aid written by Maureen Simari on May 12, 2010.
Part III: Finding aid written by Meghan McGowan on December 2, 2015.
Guide to the Mel Ravitz Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA