The Fort: Growing Up in Grosse Pointe During the Civil Rights Movement by Douglas J. Vrieland

In this blend of personal narrative and historical record, author Douglas Vrieland relates his experiences as a young boy in the late 1960s, growing up in the one of the wealthy Grosse Pointes neighborhoods close to the city of Detroit and attending the First Christian Reformed Church of Detroit—nicknamed the Fort—and Grosse Pointe Christian Day School. As racial tensions and, eventually, race riots consumed Detroit, the members of the church and school community were radically challenged in their faith and worldview.  

Douglas—“a spiritually sensitive young boy”—watched as his “godly father and a faithful pastor” chose to lead the church and school community, exclusively made up of white people, to welcome African Americans, even as he witnessed others who opposed them. In that climate of fear, insecurity, and suspicion, Douglas became “a conflicted pre-adolescent” and, he says, “many of these conflicts remained with me for most of my life.”  

Vrieland relates what he learned as a boy—including his experience of hearing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Grosse Pointe High School auditorium March 14, 1968—to the racial tensions and clashes of the present-day American context. He asserts, “We are a nation divided, entrenched in our positions. … In such an environment we need to remember who we are as a people and from where we come. The best way to do this is through the telling of stories. ... It is my hope that the telling of the story of the Fort will … benefit those who carefully reflect on the lessons available from this piece of Detroit history.”  

Detailed and well researched, The Fort is the story of a church and school community molded by Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is also a portrait of how God used adverse events to mold the life of one child—the author, who became a minister in the CRC—into a person filled with compassion and a longing for justice. (Trimble Hollow Press)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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