The State News Black History Month Edition, February 20, 2024

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Michigan State’s Independent Voice

BLACK HISTORY MONTH EDITION FUTURE BLACK EDUCATORS AT MSU NAVIGATE CAREERS AS EDUCATION BECOMES POLITICIZED By Hannah Locke Since 2021, 44 states have taken steps to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, as well as discussions of racism and sexism in classrooms, according to data from Education Weekly. Eighteen states have either signed these restrictions into law or approved similar actions. With the teaching of Black h i stor y bei ng t a rgeted i n America, the positions of teachers are impacted nationally. Those studying to become teachers are preparing themselves to enter a field that has been placed under immense social and legislative pressure, and Black students are working to navigate this challenge. M S U t e ac he r e duc at ion freshman Kyleigh Ferguson has always been drawn to teaching. When she was a kid, she used to play school with her friends by having them sit and learn from her while she guided them through pretend lessons. Ferguson said these attacks on Black history affect both her

identity and future profession. At the same time, they make her more motivated to become a teacher. “When Black history and stuff is pushed aside, it sends the message that Black people, their history doesn’t matter,” Ferguson said. “As someone who’s biracial, I know how crucial it is for students to see themselves reflected in what they learn.” Senior teacher education major Savanna Solano-Maefield said she wants her students to feel differently from how she felt when she was in school. “I didn’t see a lot of myself in the material or in the curriculum,” Solano-Maefield said. “That’s kind of a reason why I wanted to be a teacher, because there’s so many books, so many other sides and other narratives that are out there in history, and just life in general, that we never get as children.” The curriculum restrictions have the potential to continue spreading ignorance among younger generations, she said. “K ids are so young and impressionable — they’re like


Black representation among faculty is vital to student belonging Why is representation important in a school setting and how can MSU reflect the student body? It starts with professors. PAGE 4


Freshman teacher education major Kyleigh Ferguson explains the importance of new education majors and what it means in today’s political/social climate. Feb. 14, 2024 MSU Library. Photo by Trina Fiebig.

sponges,” Solano-Maefield said. “So they’re taking in all that information. If you push this one idea … this master narrative on them, that’s all they’re gonna know.” Solano-Maefield, who didn’t really begin learning about the history of Black and Indigenous people in classrooms until she got to college, said this is part of what needs to change. “So then I start to think, if I’m learning this now, in my higher education, this is something I would have benefited from in high school,” Solano-Maefield said. “So, what can I do now to fix that?” When she is a teacher, SolanoMaefield hopes to spread “truth”

to her students by presenting the varied sides to every story and letting her students build their own conclusions and opinions. “We just have to let our kids know about the world around them, because it’s constantly changing,” she said. “That’s the whole point, like when you teach both sides of the story. The future generation has to be able to think for themselves.” Senior teacher education major Jessica Williams is on the advisory board for Future Teachers of Color, an MSU campus organization that began holding events this year.


MSU libraries participate in Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon The MSU community transcribed all 8,731 pages of letters sent to Frederick Douglass. PAGE 6


MSU historian talks Malcolm X’s Lansing years Did you know Malcolm X grew up in Lansing? Learn about his legacy on the Greater Lansing community. PAGE 7

MSU professor explores reproductive justice, dreams in new project By Theo Scheer

Dr. Leconté Dill poses for a photo in Bessey Hall on Feb. 15, 2024. Photo by Matthew Williams. T U ES DAY, F E BRUARY 20, 2024


When Dr. Leconté Dill was pregnant, her dream journal was very thick. “A lot of blood, a lot of fear” filled many nights, she said. Some dreams contained tales of ghosts and hauntings. But others held hope. “I would actually imagine my daughter,” Dill said. “How she’ll look when she’s born, how she’ll look when she’s four years old, how we’ll play together.” Dill, an associate chair and professor in Michigan State Universit y ’s Department of African American and African Studies, had two miscarriages before becoming pregnant again in 2020. Her birth journey, and the STAT E N EWS.COM

nightly dreams that accompanied it, serve as the basis for her new project, a play called “Pregnant with Freedom.” The play uses auto-ethnography, a genre of academic writing centered around the lived experience of the author, to tell a story of tradition, culture and Black motherhood. “There’s a lot of ritual in the play, a lot of spirituality,” Dill said. “The main character is trying to become a mother, trying to keep herself and her baby healthy, trying to birth in a healthy way and be a mother with concern with healing and wellness and breaking generational cycles and combating larger macro-aggressions.” The play, which is still in the works, marks Dill’s first voyage into theater. Once completed, Dill hopes it can be performed at MSU

and submitted to competitions. The project recently won an approximately $25,000 grant from MSU, which Dill says will help her carve out time to work on it. “Black women overwhelmingly are not cared for during birth,” Dill said. Her close friend, Dr. Shalon Irving, a public health researcher and a Black woman, also had fertility problems precede her pregnancy. But those problems became fatal when doctors ignored her repeated pleas for further postpartum treatment. She died two weeks after giving birth, in 2017. Dill says that’s just one example of a larger issue. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is 2.6 times that of white women, according to the Center for

Disease Control and Prevention. Dill’s own birth experience was marked by “a lot of advocacy, but also some pressuring,” she said. Some doctors pushed her to have a C-section, even though it was not in her birth plan to do so unless medically necessary. “There were doctors saying, like, ‘let’s just hurry up and get it over with,’” Dill said. Others provided a more helpful hand. One Black female doctor stood up for her desire not to have the C-section. “She was literally having to fight with her peers,” Dill said. She hopes her play will spur more conversation around fertility and Black motherhood, and inspire people to think more about their own dreams.



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Vol. 114 | No. 11



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MSU jazz students play at James Madison College second annual Black History Month Symposium in Case Hall on Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Maya Kolton.

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FROM COVER: FUTURE BLACK EDUCATORS For Williams, being in a primarily white institution, or PWI, makes it feel as though her voice isn’t heard at times. Having communities like Future Teachers of Color can help with this sense of invisibility and isolation, she said. Williams said she wants to prepare her students for society through her teaching. “(I hope) to make them good citizens for the future, that’s all school is about outside of learning,” Williams said. For students like Solano-Maefield, one way to navigate these obstacles is through communities of color on campus and finding mentors. SolanoMaefield, who is also on the advisory board for Future Teachers of Color, didn’t feel like she had a strong community at MSU before joining the organization. “I was just kind of going through it alone, because I didn’t really know if anybody felt the same way or if anybody would relate to me,” SolanoMaefield said. Now, she enjoys helping new freshman come into MSU with a

stronger support system than she had. Ferguson said in classes, she has found it hard to relate to everyone, and having a Black professor has helped her. “When I’m speaking out in class, I just feel like she kind of understands what I’m saying,” Ferguson said. Similarly, Solano-Maefield found a sense of comfort when she had her first professor of color at MSU. This professor was also her first teacher of color throughout the entirety of her education. There is another level of support and understanding when students of color have teachers of color in front of them, she said. “At least I know that me and the professor are on the same page, and I’m not alone in feeling like I can’t say something,” Solano-Maefield said. “I feel like I can address it... When you have teachers who look like you and talk like you, it’s a little bit different.” W hen Ferguson is a teacher herself, she hopes to provide similar feelings of comfort for her students. “I want to be like an advocate and

feel like if they don’t have a good home life or whatever, that they can come to me. And I can help with that,” Ferguson said. In her approach to teaching and her future, Solano-Maefield said she wants to teach truth and create larger changes. After teaching, she hopes to become an administrator and make decisions that will fix the education systems around her. Solano-Maefield grew up in a bilingual household, with a Spanishspeaking mother and an Englishspeaking father. Because of this, she had to take certain classes and the WIDA test annually to test her language proficiency. “As a student of color, I know that a lot of those assessments that they give us are set up for us to fail,” she said. Using her personal experience, she hopes to make curriculum level changes that favor students with all different kinds of learning abilities. There are other ways to capture st udents’ understandings t han through papers or tests, she said. “I want to teach in a way that

Senior special education major Savanna Solano-Maefield speaks on her learning experience at MSU and the importance of education majors. Feb. 15, 2024 MSU Library. Photo by Trina Fiebig.

promotes critical thinking and encourage students to do stuff on their own, rather than like, there’s a textbook, here’s the answer,” Ferguson said. Solano-Maefield considers herself a multi-modal learner, and believes this type of teaching needs to be

implemented in order to adapt to changing circumstances like technology and social media. “Kids need that versatility in their life, there’s technology everywhere,” she said. “And as teachers, we have to be willing to change with the times, or we’re gonna get left behind.”

BLACK REPRESENTATION AMONG FACULTY IS VITAL TO STUDENT BELONGING, SUCCESS, STUDENTS SAY By Amy Cho Only 6.5% of MSU undergraduate st udents are Black or A f rican American, which is 2,633 out of 40,483 total undergraduate students. For these students, representation on campus is not only less common, but also of great importance. One v ital source of representation, students say, is through professors who look like you. African American and African Studies Assistant Professor Dr. Sheri Lewis said it’s especially important for Black students at a predominantly white institution like MSU to have professors who look similar to them to create a “kinship and a communal space.” It also allows students to see themselves reflected in those roles, Lewis said. “Having a professor that looks like you is important because it shows what’s possible and it, at times, can provide a sense of belonging, where you’re not feeling isolated,” Lewis said. “You see there’s someone that looks like you, (and) possibly have (a) similar background as you, it can be motivating and inspiring and provides a sense of hope and belonging.” Similarly, pre-nursing freshman Deborah Obi said t hat hav ing someone who looks similar to her as a professor provides a connection and inspiration for her to achieve her personal career goals. “For me, it ’s always just felt like someone that I can connect to and kind of relate to,” Obi said. “Just being in like the career world knowing that someone who looks like you can achieve this career makes it more motivating for me.” Human resource management junior Paris Carter said representation matters everywhere, but specifically in a school setting because it provides a larger pool of knowledge to learn from. “I’m often asked, ‘Do you prefer 4


CAS 112 night lecture in The Communications of Arts and Sciences building on Sept. 28 2023. Photo by Maya Kolton.

working in a team or working like on your own,’ and I always say working in a team because I think it’s really important to have a very diverse set of ideas,” Carter said. “If you don’t have diversity within the teams you’re working on within your school, then you’re just going to have a lack of experiences and just a lack of diversity. You have more opportunities to grow and learn when there’s more diversity represented.” In addition, Lewis said representation is also important in school settings when it comes to wanting guidance regarding personal issues. “Representation matters in a school setting because, for example, if there’s an issue that takes place or if you’re homesick, you’re most likely going to go to the professor that you connect with the most,” Lewis said. “You want to be able to share feelings and perspectives that are intimate with someone who you

believe understands, that’s why the African American and African Studies Department is so significant and unique and important.” Not having enough representation in educational communities can be harmful to Black students and students in other minority racial groups. Obi said the lack of representation feels discouraging, even causing her to question her belonging in certain situations. “It’s kind of discouraging in a way .. just being the minority around is sometimes like ‘Oh, am I really supposed to be here?’” Obi said. “Just kind of identity issues, as well as (thinking) ‘am I able to do this? Because I don’t see many people around me doing this.’ So it’s like the odds are kind of stacked against me. It kind of is discouraging.” Similarly, Carter said she thinks being among the few minorit y s t ude nt s i n c l a s s e s c a n g e t


intimidating at times, as it can foster fear and reduce class participation. “I think it definitely negatively affects students,” Carter said. “I also think in certain classes, when all of your teachers are white (and) the majority of the students in the class are white, it definitely can be a little bit scary. Sometimes, you might be afraid to raise your hand to participate in discussions, and that’s something that you should never be feeling, but it’s just the reality.” Obi said that throughout her schooling experience, she hasn’t had many educational instructors who looked like her, but finds comfort in the rare chances she does have a professor who is also Black. “A lot of the times in my classes, I am the only minority,” Obi said. “I am the only Black person, so I’m like ‘you understand that as a Black professor,’ so in a way, (the professor) relates to how I feel about that.” Since attending MSU, Carter has

not had many, if any, professors of color. Conversely, Carter said that before coming to MSU, she had many educational instructors representing different racial groups and it was “amazing” for her, as she felt comfortable and at ease with those instructors. “It’s amazing ... to have people that look like you in positions like that, and I think it really just helps you to feel more accepted,” Carter said. “There’s just a level of comfortability that you have with someone else who is a person of color. I feel, especially growing up, I feel like since you have smaller classrooms, you have a more tight-knit relationship with those teachers. Especially when you have like a person of color teacher, or at least from my perspective, it’s easier to open up and talk about more vulnerable things.” Obi also said that having professors who were also Black helped foster personal connections with them. “When I did have teachers who did look like me, I always had a very good connection with them,” Obi said. “(It) feels as if I could just talk to them about more of the issues that I face kind of being a minority student and being an African American.” When it comes to representation, Lewis believes representation doesn’t stop at just similar features or race. “I would say representation would be a person, an aesthetic that mirrors (or) reflects who you are, your values, your beliefs, what you like, so it is a range,” Lewis said. Lewis believes that in order to display representation that extends further than race to their students, professors should be more vocal about their identities. “Having professors speak more publicly about the ways in which they sit at intersections of identity that have been typically oppressed is important for students to know they are seen, heard, and valued,” Lewis said.


‘Don’t let anybody outwork you’: Michigan’s first Black woman Supreme Court Justice Kyra Bolden speaks at MSU By Willow Symonds Justice Kyra H. Bolden, the first Black woman to sit on the Michigan Supreme Court, spoke at James Madison College’s second annual Black History Month Symposium on Wednesday, Feb. 7th. Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Bolden graduated from Grand Valley State University and later represented Michigan’s 35th District. She advocated for criminal justice reform and protection for survivors of sexual assault, as she said she’s “always had a fire under her belt for justice.” “My favorite phrase to say to my mom growing up was, ‘That’s not fair,’” Bolden said. Bolden said that less than a century ago, her great-grandfather was lynched after asking a storeowner for a receipt, but his death was ruled as an “accidental drowning.” She said that this injustice has fueled her throughout her career. A couple of years into her time in the legislature, a Michigan Congresswoman invited Bolden to her house and asked her an unexpected question: “Have you ever considered running for Michigan’s Supreme Court?” Bolden told her, “Maybe in 20 years,” as she didn’t feel 2022 was the right time. She was 34 years old, still adjusting to her representative job and hoped to have a child. “In 2019, as I was entering the legislature, I actually had a miscarriage, so that was very difficult to start a new job with a miscarriage,” Bolden said. “I also suffer from uterine fibroids, which I know a lot of women do. But I wasn’t sure of my reproductive viability. I definitely didn’t want to run a state-wide race pregnant.” When she did become pregnant, Bolden often corrected people’s assumptions that she was running for Michigan’s Supreme Court. Several people who’d learned of her pregnancy still wanted her to run for the position, which led her to seriously consider serving a bigger community, she said. “Internally, I thought, ‘W hat

James Madison College hosted its second annual Black History Month Symposium in Case Hall on Feb. 7 2024. Photo by Maya Kolton.

Michigan’s first Black woman Supreme Court Justice, Kyra H. Bolden speaks at James Madison College second annual Black History Month Symposium. Photo by Maya Kolton.

message would I be sending to my daughter if I didn’t run?’” Bolden said. “How could I let my daughter grow up in a world where there hasn’t been representation on the Michigan Supreme Court? How could I tell her she could be anything she wanted to be if her mom was too afraid to run?” she said. Bolden began her campaig n for the court while pregnant and representing the 35th District of Michigan. “No, I did not miss one day in the Legislature,” she said. “It was really not fun being there at four o’clock in the morning, seven months pregnant, but whatever – work must be done.” Bolden ran against t he t wo incumbents and severa l ot her candidates. “I knew there was a high likelihood that I wouldn’t win; it is really hard to unseat somebody,” she said. “I ran for representation, to show that it’s possible, because quite frankly, I didn’t know if there would be another Black woman running.” Bolden lost in third place with 21.9% of votes. However, seeing that 1,369,291 voters had believed in her instantly uplifted Bolden, she said,

even if she hadn’t won, she said. Then, Justice Bridget McCormack unexpectedly left the Michigan Supreme Court. Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Bolden to succeed McCormack and fill the vacancy in November 2022. “Because I was appointed, some people think the governor called me and was like, ‘Hey, Kyra, you’re up!’” she said. “No, that’s not how that works.” “You can say what you want about me, but I will not be outworked,” she said. Bolden emphasizes that if she hadn’t run the race, she never would’ve been appointed. “Sometimes your failures can be a stepping stone to success,” she said. “If a door closed, that was not for you. That position was for me, because regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the fact that I lost, I was still in the position to be appointed.” “Especially for people that are young, you’re going to think, ‘That job was the job,’” she said. “Don’t think because a door is closed, that that’s deterring you. It may be leading you to exactly where you need to go.” Bolden said ser v ing on t he

Michigan Supreme Court for the past year has been the honor of her life. Since January 2023, she has authored three majority opinions, one being unanimous. “It will be difficult, but don’t let anyone outwork you,” she said. After her talk, Bolden advised MSU students, “You can’t let other people’s limitations of themselves impress upon you.” “I hope people feel inspired by my story,” she told The State News. “I get inspired that people enjoy hearing me speak.” Brian Johnson, Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for James Madison College, helped organize the symposium. He said he was inspired to invite Justice Bolden when touring with students through Lansing’s Michigan Hall of Justice last summer. “The Hall had pictures of the Justices, including one of Bolden, and the students just lit up seeing her picture,” he said. Joh nson said Bolden was “more than accommodating.” He believes the symposium went well, representing not just MSU students but high schoolers and facult y

members from multiple departments. James Madison College student and social relations policy sophomore Mary Stein attended the symposium, where she realized that Bolden and her “are very similar.” Stein also hopes to attend law school and work in public policy, which she said not many women go into. “Obviously, it’s not an easy journey, but she was able to make it, which is inspiring,” Stein said. “She was saying it can be a big burden to try and inspire people, but I think she did a great job of that.” Pol it ica l sc ience sophomore Jaelynn Smith said she was drawn to this symposium because, being a minority student at a PWI school like MSU, she wants to engage with “fun and interactive” events for Black History Month. Smith called Bolden’s words “inspiring” and “encouraging.” “Her speech felt open and honest, of f-t he -sc r ipt, wh ic h I hadn’t expected,” Smith said. “What she told us is not something you can just find on a website. Like they had said in the introduction, we’re probably never going to hear this speech again,” she said.






T U ES DAY, FE BRUA RY 20, 2024



As part of the Black Students’ A lliance Black Empowerment Week, a Black Alumni Networking Event will be held in the STEM Building room 2130 from 6-8 p.m.

By Demonte Thomas

Illustration by Grace Montgomery.

Check out these upcoming events on campus celebrating Black History Month.

For more information on these events, visit

Located in Erickson Hall room 133F, Wellbeing Coordinator Angelica Bajos and Beal Education Scholar Mark Powers will teach participants about the significance of plants connected to well-being within the African diaspora. T h is event w i l l a l low it s par ticipants to lear n of t he importance of plants for beauty remedies, medicine and spiritual care. The event will take place at 12:10 p.m. with a virtual option via Zoom.

This event will allow pa r t ic ipa nt s to lea r n about traditional African dishes and have an experience through food being catered and served. “Taste of Africa” will be held in the STEM Building room 2130 from 6-8 p.m.



MSU LIBRARIES PARTICIPATE IN DOUGLASS DAY TRANSCRIBE-A-THON By Kaspar Haehnle Though Feb. 14 is most commonly recognized as Valentine’s Day, one national effort that falls on “love day” is beginning to gain more traction all across America. Frederick Douglass birthday, also known as Douglass Day, is a day when people celebrate and honor the life of Frederick Douglass and the letters that the many people of the 19th century composed to the public figure. These letters were written to Frederick Douglass by peers, colleagues and everyday people. In efforts to make these letters more recognizable and accessible, Michigan State, along with many other institutions around the country, have partnered to create the “Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon.” The main goal of this event is to have people from the community transcribe all 8,731 pages of Douglass’ received letters and writings in one day. Assistant Director of Digital Humanities Kristen Mapes said the event allows the community to bond. “The event provides an opportunity for people to come together,” Mapes said. “I’m most excited about seeing how we’re able to build a little bit of community through the activity of transcribing, sharing cake together, and seeing how this can connect our work to the libraries, students and faculty all around campus to build the future.” This event, which was hosted Feb. 14 at the MSU Library, brought in a flurry of participants. Participants could also help themselves to baked goods from the Sweet Encounters bakery to celebrate Douglass’ birthday. Along with Michigan State, other universities like Arizona, Michigan, and Marquette, participated in the transcribe-a-thon. The nationwide effort was clear at MSU’s event, as a Zoom call with other participating institutions was projected onto the wall. While the Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon has been an annual event for over the past half decade at many institutions, this is the first year that Michigan State will participate, and Mapes hopes that this isn’t the last. Before becoming an abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a Black man born into slavery. Upon gaining his freedom in 1838, Douglass began working for the American Anti-Slavery Society and founded an abolitionist newspaper, “The North Star.” Douglass worked with key public figures like Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony to advocate for freedom, all while traveling the world to give speeches to enlighten the public on the harsh realities of slavery. “He was able to speak to white audiences,



A guest during Frederick Douglass’ transcribe-a-thon works to transcribe one of his correspondences during his birthday event at the MSU Library on Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by Zari Dixson.

Frederick Douglass pins were available for guests during the transcribe-a-thon event at the MSU Library on Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by Zari Dixson.

MSU Library and CAL Partner provided a cake for Frederick Douglass during the transcribe-a-thon event at the MSU Library on Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by Zari Dixson.

as well as Black audiences, about what slavery really looked like and what it meant,” Mapes said. “He put it in the framing for political theory to articulate how it was a problematic and wrong institution while advocating for the humanity of enslaved people.” Along with Mapes, graduate student LiChail Gaines sees Douglass’ work as an act of “courageousness” and “inspiration.” “The first thing I think about when I hear Frederick Douglass is advocacy,” Gaines said. “As a Black woman, especially at a predominantly white institution, there is an inspiration for advocacy. These letters and being here have even emboldened me to advocate not just for myself but for my peers and colleagues.” Gaines, who was at the event transcribing a letter, described a feeling of “awe” when working

on the letters. The letters, which were in picture form on a computer document, were written on what seemed like scrolls of old paper, with inked cursive writing that was barely readable. Gaines was shocked by how traditional the writings were, and said she could see why the letters needed to be transcribed. Gaines believes this transcribe-a-thon is important because it not only allows the transcribers to understand what was written, but it also gives other people who can’t read the letters access them and give them the ability to unlock a portion of history. “The impact isn’t just on people back in the 1800s, it’s my peers, and now quite frankly there will be a new generation that will have access to this,” Gaines said. “(Douglass) defied odds


and here we are being able to take a piece of history and make it more accessible to others. It’s impressive.” Another transcriber was Associate Professor of Theater Studies Philip Effiong, who transcribed the letters in hopes of gaining a new understanding of what Douglass was all about. “I didn’t know that I could actually do this, so I’m really getting into it, and I’m learning about Douglass and how he and his followers communicated,” Effiong said. “These transcriptions have absolutely made an impact on people today. He was selfless in his pursuits, and it is quite clear that he had a great value of the sanctity of human life, which is timeless and isn’t limited to any society or any time in history. It’s just a part of the human reality, and we all want that.” For Effiong, it’s not just the transcription of letters that excites him, but also the history behind his own life. This part of history that Douglass represented and what the letters entailed made Effiong think back to his own history, which extends from Nigeria and West Africa to the United States. He said that it’s a part of his history, making him even more enamored with the event. While both Gaines and Effiong transcribed the letters, it was Integrated Studies Assistant Professor Amber Bryant who worked on the review portion of the transcribe-a-thon. Reviews are completed or partially completed transcriptions of the letters that are sent to a reviewer, who looks over the letter and transcription to see if all the information is accurate. If the information isn’t accurate, the reviewer edits the transcription to fit the letter. Once the review process is complete, the transcribed letter is uploaded to the computer. Some of the letters Bryant read peaked her interest, with many of them being “personal,” she said. One letter she reviewed was from Douglass’ colleague, who was traveling and going into detail about their personal life and family. It was letters like this that made Bryant realize what Douglass was all about. Bryant said events like the transcribe-a-thon that allow the public to read historical and personal documents can help create a larger buzz for transcribing, allowing important history, like Douglass’ story and work, to be told. “For a lot of people, and especially for African Americans, he’s a trailblazer for overcoming and being successful,” Bryant said. “Anybody who feels like they’re a part of the forgotten or were not thought of as being valuable for society, they can relate to this story of perseverance and believing in themselves and overcoming obstacles.”


Michigan State University historian talks Malcolm X’s Lansing years

Photo from Library of Congress.

By Kyle O’Connor When local history often gets lost in the textbooks, it’s important to call to mind the icons who walked the same streets we do every day, including

Malcolm X, one of the most prominent figures of the civil rights movement. Malcolm X grew up in Lansing. Arts and humanities professor John AerniFlessner focused his curriculum on Malcolm X and his time in Lansing within his teachings at MSU.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X and his family relocated many times due to his parents’ activism, according to Aerni-Flessner. Even in his early upbringing, Malcolm X and his family faced severe discrimination for residing in Lansing neighborhoods that were predominantly white. Aerni-Flessner said a portion of Malcolm X’s time in Lansing was rather traumatic due to racial prejudice. “The family was hounded out of a house that they bought in the Westmont neighborhood because it was whites only,” he said. “There was a restrictive covenant on the deed of the property, so there was a court case that was ongoing, that would have led to the family’s eviction, but prior to that someone burned down the family house. Malcolm and his family had to escape their burning house.” Malcolm X’s family had a history of relocation because of his parent’s activism and the racism that erupted in Lansing at the time. After his father’s death, Malcolm X had hefty responsibilities early in his life, said Aerni-Flessner. “His father died under suspicious circumstances in 1931,” he said. “It’s unclear who may have killed him. It was likely not suicide as the insurance claims to refuse to pay out to the family. In the 1930’s, after the death of his father, their mother

was taken away to the state asylum down in Kalamazoo, basically leaving the family in charge of his two older siblings. That’s when Malcolm ended up in the foster system.”

“The family was hounded out of a house that they bought in the Westmont neighborhood because it was whites only.” John Aerni-Flessner MSU Historian As Malcolm X went on to be a major face of the civil rights movement, his Lansing roots continued to be an important factor in his timeline. He was married in the city in 1958, according to Aerni-Flessner. He said that in his younger years, Malcolm X worked various jobs at establishments that still stand in modern day: including Coral Gables on East Grand River Avenue.

T U ES DAY, FE BRUA RY 20, 2024

Aerni-Flessner said many other historical landmarks of Malcolm X’s Lansing upbringing are no longer standing. “All of the family houses are gone, many of the schools where he attended are either gone or repurposed. His elementary school is about to be demolished in South Lansing — Pleasant Grove Elementary. It’s been vacant for many years and there have been failed redevelopment attempts,” he said. Malcolm X left Lansing in his teenage years and traveled to the northeastern side of the country, finding work in concessions within the train system. He joined the Nation of Islam and focused on his ministry for equal rights in America. He went on to be a global figure for equality. He was known for his public speaking and empowerment of others. He emphasized the need for change in America, advocating for African Americans in the face of oppression, following in his parents’ footsteps. Lansing was not only the place where he got married, but also a place he would visit recurrently to see his relatives. Jan. 23, 1963, Malcolm X came back to the area for another reason: speaking to MSU students about racial prejudice in his “The Race Problem in America speech” at the Erickson Kiva building in MSU’s campus.



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