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Prohibition: How did THAT happen?

– Monday, April 7, 2014 12:00AM

Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” to discuss why the 18th Amendment was passed, its lasting impact

In hindsight, the era of Prohibition is bewildering. Most people know that the unintended effects – such as the rise of criminal syndicates like Detroit’s Purple Gang and Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit – doomed the “noble experiment” to failure.  Less understood is how it happened in the first place. That tale played out over decades and was full of colorful characters like the bar-busting temperance activist Carry Nation; Billy Sunday, a former pro baseball player who became an evangelist; and Wayne Wheeler, the brilliant operative who made the Anti-Saloon League a political powerhouse.

On April 26 at 1 p.m., Daniel Okrent, the award-winning author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” will explain the story of Prohibition at a free event at the Lorenzo Cultural Center in Clinton Township.  “Last Call,” which was used as the basis for the Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition,” also received the 2011 Albert J. Beveridge Award for historical writing from the American Historical Association. 

New York Times reviewer David Oshinsky said Okrent’s book “provides the sobering answers” to questions about why Prohibition happened and why it failed. In the story of its failure, Detroit played a pivotal role, thanks in part to its proximity to a very porous Canadian border.

“At its law-breaking best in the ’20s, Detroit housed more than 20,000 speak­easies, about one for every 30 adults,” Oshinsky wrote in his review. “The local Board of Commerce estimated that the illegal-alcohol business employed 50,000 people, excluding sticky-fingered police officers and politicians; it was the city’s second-largest industry, behind auto­mobile manufacturing.”

The presentation is part of the Lorenzo Cultural Center’s program series, The Roaring Twenties: From Riches to Rags, which continues through May 4. The program series offers nearly 40 free events, including presentations from local and national experts and authors, as well as exhibits and video showings. The exhibits include a speakeasy room with artifacts loaned from several area museums, such as a poker table used in a gambling hall in Mount Clemens, speakeasy membership cards, flasks, bottles and poker chips. The room also includes information about Prohibition, organized crime, gambling and Detroit’s Purple Gang. A complete schedule of events is available here.

All presentations are free, but require preregistration at or by calling 586.445.7348. The Lorenzo Cultural Center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday -Saturday and 1- 4 p.m. Sundays. School and group tours are available.

About The Lorenzo Cultural Center

The Lorenzo Cultural Center ( explores the influences and experiences that shape our community's heritage, examining topics from a variety of perspectives and creating interactive opportunities for learning, celebration and entertainment. Located on Macomb Community College's Center Campus, Hall and Garfield roads in Clinton Township, the cultural center is adjacent to the Macomb Center for Performing Arts.

About Macomb Community College

Macomb Community College ( is one of the nation’s leading community colleges, providing learning experiences to nearly 48,000 students annually. Macomb nationally ranks in the top two percent in the number of associate degrees awarded by community colleges and as the largest grantor of associate degrees in Michigan. The college’s comprehensive educational programming includes pre-collegiate experiences, university transfer and career preparation programs, bachelor degree completion and graduate degree programs, workforce training, professional education and certification, and continuing education and enrichment opportunities.

Media Contact: James Melton, 586.445.7271;