Boom Town: Detroit in the 1920s
Boom Town: Detroit in the 1920s. (Gary North)

“Rabbi Franklin has been included in the section on ‘Social Activism’ because of his interaction in the larger community, advocating for assimilation and non-discrimination,” said Joel Stone, exhibit curator.

The late Rabbi Leo Franklin, 11th spiritual leader of Temple Beth El, is one of 20 people spotlighted in an exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum.

The information and artifacts from the rabbi’s life are part of the display Boom Town: Detroit in the 1920s, which focuses on community luminaries of the decade. 

“Rabbi Franklin has been included in the section on ‘Social Activism’ because of his interaction in the larger community, advocating for assimilation and non-discrimination,” said Joel Stone, exhibit curator.

Other segments of the exhibit designate notables in “Technology/Engineering,” “Business,” “Arts and Culture” and “Entertainment.”

“These are stories of Detroit told through individuals whose lives flesh out broader thematic concepts,” Stone said. “They represent a broad cross-section of the people living during a period that saw great wealth and great poverty at the same time.”

Three mannequins hold different suits Franklin wore as he fostered relationships among different ethnic groups: a business suit, formal tails and an outfit with some military-type piping on the sleeves, all donated to the museum by the rabbi.

Rabbi Franklin’s suit
Rabbi Franklin’s suit Gary North

“The exhibit points out that Rabbi Franklin was a member of the first executive board of the Anti-Defamation League,” Stone said. “Other artifacts brought out from museum archives include a pair of glasses, an art deco desk lamp and a guest lapel identification badge from the opening of the Edison Institute [now known as The Henry Ford].”

A small replica of the Model T sedan complements a panel explaining the rabbi’s relationship with Henry Ford. After Ford began publishing antisemitic booklets titled “The International Jew,” Rabbi Franklin tried to convince him to stop; when that did not happen, the rabbi gave up ownership of his Model T.

Two other members of the Jewish community also are referenced but not in as much detail. 

Louis Surowitz, in the “Business” section, was a teenager in the 1920s working with his father selling vegetables in a horse-drawn wagon. Members of the Surowitz family later established Surwin’s clothing stores at Northland and Eastland.

Jean Goldkettte, a musician and jazz bandleader, brought dance music to live crowds and radio listeners. He opened the Graystone Ballroom on Woodward.

Details:
Boom Town: Detroit in the 1920s is open through spring of 2023. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday). Exhibit viewing comes with general admission ($6-$10). (313) 833-1805. Detroithistorical.org.