A History of Welcoming

They came for a new life, better opportunities and a promise of freedom. They also came to escape war, political oppression, hunger and natural disasters. Whatever the reason, Ann Arbor has long put out the welcome mat for immigrants and refugees, and those who came left their mark on their new home.

Every year new citizens of the United States have pledged their allegiance to the United States at swearing in ceremonies in District Court in Ann Arbor. Each year the Ann Arbor News recorded the names of new citizens from every corner of the world. They were students, carpenters, nurses, engineers, barbers, homemakers, lexicographers, medical technologists and scholars. They were Ethiopian, Chinese, Haitian, Syrian, British, French, Greek, immigrants from more than 100 others nations of the world. The news ran photos showing new patriots beaming with anticipation, waving little American flags and, sometimes, shedding tears to have finally made that final step in the long road to citizenship. The names of former immigrants can be seen all over town in historic buildings, park names, long thriving businesses.

Some came to Ann Arbor as refugees. In 1957, Joseph Kovacs celebrated his 12th birthday with two birthday cakes and his new classmates at Eberwhite School. Joseph and his family had fled Hungary after Soviet troops drove tanks into Budapest. They found a warm welcome in Ann Arbor. In 1940, children from Britain found a safe haven from German bombs. Others from France, Germany and other countries found their way from the ravages of Nazism and World War II. Refugees were later welcomed in 1964 from Castro’s Cuba, in 1980 from Vietnam, in 1982 from Haiti and from many other human and natural situations. Local churches found a place for displaced persons, local charitable groups gave shelter, clothes, food and opportunities.

Their stories are became part of Ann Arbor’s story, a town where people from every walk of life and every corner of the world made a contribution to the community.