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Black Fridays of yore

The gruesome art of “Black Friday”

Gruesome posters at U-M’s Bentley Historical Library document the old-school ritual of “rush” — not a sedate round of Greek sociables, but semi-violent warfare. First it was between “Lits,” “Laws,” and “Medics,” then, increasingly, between freshmen and sophomores.

Rush ruled from the Civil War to World War I — in the later years, on “Black Friday” in early October. The video here showcases 10 samples from the poster collection, most of them from the early 1900s.

For more on the early days of rush, see “Class Warfare.”

(All images courtesy of U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)


  1. Martha Jones

    Thank you for this interesting glimpse into the University’s past. I’d like to know more about the origins of the phrase Black Friday as used in this context. Was it understood to be a biblical reference, or a play on the financial panic of the 1860s, for example? And what of the face painting? How did students explain this ritual or what in one of the posters appear to have been the donning of hooded robes? To a contemporary audience, these might appear to be derived from racist practices of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. But perhaps you can explain what the were intended to mean in the past. Thank you.


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