Polish Americans in Michigan
Polish Pageants, n.d.
Polish Activities League records, Box 6, Folder "Pageants."
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Poles are the second largest ethnic group in Michigan (Detroit and Grand Rapids area) and have been a significant part of the history of Detroit and the state of Michigan.
The first Polish mass migration took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following years of aggression and occupation by its neighbors. During that time about 2.5 million ethnic Poles came to the United States in search of freedom and economic stability.
The Detroit's area large Polish community was for many years concentrated in Poletown and Hamtramck, a suburb of Detroit. Hamtramck was originally settled by German farmers. It became a dominantly Polish industrial town in 1914, when the Dodge Brothers automotive plant was opened providing great employment opportunities. These Polish communities became vital centers of immigrant social life, with small businesses, press, and cultural, political, veterans, patriotic and professional organizations. The heart of Polonia, however, was its Polish Roman Catholic church and its parishes. Poles were able to keep their identity by cultivating their cultural traditions, language and faith.
In addition to the auto industry in the Detroit area, Poles worked in copper mines (Upper Peninsula), iron mines (Western Upper Peninsula), and in the lumber mills. However, the great majority became factory workers and farmers.
The second wave of new Polish immigrants (over 200,000) came to the U.S. following WWII, when Poland became part of the Soviet Union bloc. Of these, 38,000 came to Michigan.
The next large population of immigrants arrived between the late 1960s and early 1990s and consisted of refugees, and non-immigrants on temporary visas. Many of these Poles were political refugees from the SOLIDARITY, the Polish trade union movement. Of this group 34% were professionals, while 27% were skilled workers.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Michigan is home to the third largest Polish population (854,844) after New York (986,141) and Illinois (932,996). The current population of Michigan's Polish Americans is concentrated in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. Troy became the center of Poles in Michigan, after their migration from Hamtramck.
"Poles were the largest immigrant group in Detroit during its greatest era and they contributed enormously to its greatness. It was their intelligence, skill, hard work, and dedication that helped to make Detroit the Motor City and the Arsenal of Democracy... They brought piety, a love of God, beauty, sociability, and a human scale to one of the bleakest industrial areas in the country."
Thaddeus C. Radzilowski, Ph.D.,"The Polish Experience in Detroit"
This guide is designed to inform interested researchers of the existence of unique Polish American materials at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. It lists all manuscript collections and selected publications currently held at the library reflecting the life, history and culture of Polish Americans in Michigan. These materials are open to researchers for the study of the social, political, religious, and economic dimensions of this ethnic group.