Dearborn mayor defends quashing article on Henry Ford's anti-Semitism

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
The 28-page Dearborn Historian Magazine that was set for publication in January.

Dearborn — Dearborn's mayor said he worried that an article on Henry Ford's anti-Semitism that was pulled before it ran in the city's historical magazine would be a 'distraction.' .

John O'Reilly Jr. was criticized when the editor of the Dearborn Historian was fired last month for reporting on Ford's history of anti-Semitism for the publication's 100th anniversary issue last week. 

"It was thought that by presenting information from 100 years ago that included hateful messages — without a compelling reason directly linked to events in Dearborn today — this edition of the city-funded Historian could become a distraction from our continuing messages of inclusion and respect," O'Reilly said.

The move drew swift rebukes from those who wanted to see the article published in the city publication. The quarterly magazine focused on the centennial anniversary of Ford buying the Dearborn Independent, a weekly newspaper that Ford used to spread anti-Semitic views.

There also were concerns by the publication board about the cover, which had a black-and-white photo of Ford with a quote reading, "The Jew is a race that has no civilization to point to, no aspiring religion, no great achievement in any realm."

The 28-page issue was never sent to its 200 subscribers as planned in January.

In a letter to the Dearborn Historian's subscribers Friday, O'Reilly said he would use his own resources to print and mail four articles about Ford in an eight-page booklet in place of the unpublished issue.

"In a world where negativity is so prevalent, I thought they could lead people to link the city of Dearborn of today with hateful messages repeated from 100 years ago," O'Reilly said to subscribers. "I wanted to distance the city from possible criticism for being seen as a source of despicable viewpoints.

"I felt in a city publication, these viewpoints could interfere with people's understanding of our commitment to inclusion and respect. I felt they could potentially undermine our efforts, and those of our community and business partners, to promote Dearborn as a welcoming place," he said.

Museum officials said O’Reilly ordered museum curator Jake Tate to fire magazine editor Bill McGraw after he saw the January cover of the Dearborn Historian. O'Reilly said he did not fire McGraw. 

"The Dearborn Historical Museum, via the chief curator, contracted with Mr. McGraw to produce the city-funded Historian, one edition at a time, of the quarterly publication. Mr. McGraw is not an employee of the city of Dearborn or of the museum," according to the statement. "Per the contract, the curator has the right to end the contract for any reason. The chief curator made the decision to terminate the contract."

McGraw, a veteran Metro Detroit journalist, worked part-time as the editor of the magazine. The January issue would have been the second he oversaw. He is a co-founder of Deadline Detroit, which published the 10-page story.

McGraw declined to comment on the mayor's words Saturday. 

O'Reilly's actions came after the Dearborn Historical Museum Commission called on O'Reilly to release the most current issue of the Dearborn Historian to its readers in a resolution at an emergency meeting on Jan. 31. 

"The Dearborn Historical Commission endorses the efforts of the editor of the Dearborn Historian, in the best traditions of journalistic integrity and historical accuracy, to analyze and report on significant events from the city’s past, even when the publication of such reporting may not reflect favorably on actions taken by local institutions or individuals, including city officials," the commission said. "The commission further expresses its strong objection to efforts to stop publication of such reporting — as exemplified by Bill McGraw’s 'Henry Ford and the International Jew.'"

O’Reilly's actions drew widespread outcry, including from the history faculty at the University of Michigan Dearborn.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_