Historic Detroit

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James J. Brady Monument

This monument honors James J. Brady, founder of the Old Newsboys Association, which has sold newspapers to raise funds for impoverished children in metro Detroit for more than 100 years.

It was dedicated June 23, 1928. His 7-year-old daughter, Evelyn, presented the monument to the city. The dedication was preceded by a ceremony that lasted more than an hour and was filled with remarks by speaker after speaker extolling his dedication to the community. More than 200 people attended. The monument was accepted on behalf of the city by Mayor John C. Lodge.

Speeches were given by David A. Brown, former president of the Goodfellows organization; Dr. Merton S. Rice, pastor of the Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church; Federal Judge Charles C. Simons; and Father George Keith, dean of men at the University of Detroit and chaplain of the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows fund.

“Jim Brady,” Brown eulogized, “was the richest man in Detroit. His wealth was not measured in material things – giant business organizations, buildings, banks or money – but in his priceless, incomparable spirit, a spirit of kindliness and charity for one and all, and a spirit that recognized no race, creed, color or social position. Jim Brady was a living Santa Claus to thousands of poor children of this city, who otherwise, probably would not have believed there was a Santa Claus.

“Although this monument fittingly effuses his work and the charity toward all mankind that he ever practiced, it, after all, is a material thing, and will crumble with the ages, but Jim Brady’s spirit, his outlook toward his fellow beings will, I hope, remain with us forever.”

The monument is made of marble and bronze and faces Central Avenue on Belle Isle. Brady is depicted holding a newspaper while sheltering a small girl who is clinging to him for protection.

On either side of the monument are plaques of bronze. One reads, "Because he loved the children of the poor and devoted his life to good works, his friends have caused this monument to be created and erected." The other says, "As our tribute to the spirit of charity, this monument is affectionately dedicated to the memory of James J. Brady, founder of the Old Newsboys' Goodfellow Fund of Detroit."

It cost about $7,000 to erect (about $107,000 today, when adjusted for inflation). Samuel A. Cashwan sculpted Brady and the small child; Frederick C. O'Dell, a professor of the University of Michigan's School of Architecture, was the architect of the monument itself.

A champion for the city's children

Brady was, in many ways, the quintessential American success story. He was born in 1878 in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood -- and he was born poor. When he was only 6 years old, he ran away from home and soon "knew the bitterest pangs of poverty for the next few years," the Free Press wrote June 17, 1928. He would perform odd jobs to get by, including selling newspapers.

He would rise through the ranks to become a plant manager for automaker Ransom E. Olds, and also served as a tax collector for the IRS. He also was a Detroit water commissioner. Though he made a decent living, he never forgot what it was like to be poor and hungry as a small boy, and so he sought to help the children of Detroit. He turned to Detroit News managing editor E.J. Pipp for ideas, and the newspaperman suggested that Brady reach out to the Detroit Newsboys Association, a group of successful businessmen who had once been newspaper boys. In 1914, Brady asked them to return to once again don the newspaper bags and hit the street corners and hawk the papers for any amount they could get. He would then take the proceeds and buy clothes and toys for the kids at Christmas. Their motto: "No Kiddie Without a Christmas."

That first December, Brady's goal was to raise $400. "In case they fell short," The Detroit News wrote on the 100th anniversary of the fund, "Brady withdrew $400 from his bank account. He needn't have worried. Close to 75 Old Newsboys brought in a total of $2,275, enough to buy toys for 3,379 kids."

Sadly, Brady died June 15, 1925, of a heart attack at age 47, just nine years after he founded the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund. Brady is interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit. His brothers, Joseph W. Brady and Frank J. Brady II, took up the torch, along with other notable families, and have continued the tradition for more than 100 years. To memorialize this veritable Santa, they raised funds to build the monument to him on Belle Isle.

The Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows Fund has raised millions of dollars for hundreds of thousands of metro Detroit children. In 2014, the Fund filled 35,000 boxes with toys, clothes, books and dolls for kids 4 to 13 years old in Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Harper Woods and River Rouge.

Gifts used to be delivered by police officers to the families' homes. Now, the packages are dropped off at distribution centers, where parents can pick them up so they can be wrapped and underneath the tree on Christmas morning.

You can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Goodfellows Fund of Detroit at www.detroitgoodfellows.org, or by mail: P.O. Box 44444, Detroit, MI, 48244.

Last updated 20/09/2020