MICHIGAN QUARTERLY REVIEW
awaited her. The welcome thawings of racial prejudice after the
war, and the first signs of a civil rights movement, would only have
mocked and embittered her in the years of her deception. A happy
child become desperate, she is a case study of the "dark sister"
excluded by the American Dream.
Elsie Roxborough came from an elite Michigan family. In 1930
her father, attorney Charles Anthony Roxborough, a Republican,
was elected from Detroit's Third District as the state's first black
state senator. He attempted to implement the Civil Rights Bill of
1885 by his own Resolution #11 which called upon the state "to
investigate the discrimination at the University of Michigan."3 Colored coeds had been denied space in the University residence halls by
the Housing Director, the Dean of Women, and President Alexander
Ruthven, who told the press he would allow the Union Trust of
Detroit -since the funds for the women's dormitory, MosherJordan, came from that source -to select who could live on campus.4 Roxborough's uncle, John Roxborough, who started "policy"
or "the numbers" (gambling) in Detroit, was one of the wealthiest
men in town during the Depression. She became close to Uncle John
during her high school and college years because he financed her,
her sister Virginia, and their brother John at the University, just as
he had helped to support young men with athletic potential who
came to his attention.
In 1932, after graduating from Northern High School, Elsie Roxborough stayed in Detroit for a year reporting on cultural events and
writing gossip for the weekly newspaper her father owned, the
Detroit Guardian. During that year, her life became intertwined
with Joe Louis's. Uncle John had discovered Louis at the Brewster
Athletic club in 1930, and groomed him, as he would Elsie, to prove
the splendor of blackness - its strength, beauty, artistry, and character. Louis, who wrote "I always followed other people," followed his
promoter with blind faith, for John Roxborough was a gentleman
who wore tailor-made suits and held power in the black community.
Louis later recalled in his autobiography:
He told me to drop by his real estate office.... The office was just a
front.... In those days it was hard living.... If you were smart
enough to have your own numbers operation and you were kind and
giving in the black neighborhoods, you got as much respect as a
doctor or lawyer... I'll never forget the day Mr. Roxborough took
me over to Long's Drugstore and told the owner to give me anything I
wanted and charge it to him. First time I ever had so many clean