The Winter 2013 issue of the Journal of American Ethnic History includes Nora Faires’ final publication, “Across the Border to Freedom: The International Underground Railroad Memorial and the Meanings of Migration.” Professor Faires died on February 6, 2011, after a long, productive academic career that included her final twelve years as part of Western Michigan University’s Department of History. Her journal article is the centerpiece of a forum focusing on the same topic, and as the journal’s editor explains in a note on the essay, is “a fine example of her incisive scholarship, ethical values, and social sensibilities and a fitting memorial to her life and work.” Although she died before the essay was completed, John Bukowczyk and Jewel Spangler helped to prepare it for publication. WMU History Department Ph.D. student Caitlyn Perry Dial assisted with research for the article.
Faires’ essay builds on themes from her earlier work in Permeable Border: The Great Lakes Basin as Transnational Region, 1650-1990 (Pittsburgh, PA, 2005). In her contribution to the Journal of American Ethnic History, Faires reflects on how Detroit’s international memorial conveys a complicated history of not only border permeability between the United States and Canada, but also the many, often tragic, dimensions of African American and African Canadian history. The three remaining essays in the forum build on Faires’ themes. Linda Kerber’s essay points out that the international memorial “evokes an American counterhistory” as contrasted with the Statue of Liberty. Adam Arenson’s essay elaborates on African American return migration during and after the Civil War while Karolyn Smarkz Frost provides a case study that illuminates the community connections between people of African descent on both sides of the border.