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Groups seeks historic marker for site of first East Lansing home owned by Black family

Dr. Robert Green
Posted at 6:59 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 20:12:12-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. —

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order prohibiting race discrimination when selling or renting a house. But, when Robert Green tried to by a house in East Lansing, he was denied.

Former President John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination when it came to selling, renting or leasing a house.

“Started looking for housing, couldn’t get a house," Green said in a recent interview with FOX 47. "No realtor would touch me. They would give me the run-around.”

Green filed a complaint with the Federal Housing Administration Office for being discriminated against.

I would show up with my wife and I would get turned down

“There was a white couple, Jerry and Maryann Wish, he was a friend of mine," said Green. "They would go and look at a house and they would be offered the home. They would come back and say ‘Bob Green that house is available go look.’ I would show up with my wife and I would get turned down.”

Green was a professor at Michigan State University, where he would later become dean of the College of Urban Development. He would also go on to become national education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Council and work closely with Martin Luther King Jr.

And, in 1964, when Green and his wife, Lettie, bought their home on Bessemaur Drive, they became the first black people to own a home in East Lansing.

Robert Green's former house
Green and his wife purchased this house in 1964, becoming the first black couple to own a house in East Lansing.

“Initially when I heard the story at first that it wasn’t until 1964 that a black family was able to purchase and own a home in East Lansing it was such a shocking thing to me,” said Adam DeLay, a member of East Lansing's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee who lives next door to the Greens' former home.

After learning the history of Green, DeLay got an idea.

“I had this idea in my head that, you know, we see those green and gold historical markers," DeLay said. "I think this is something that would be appropriate.”

State historical marker
DeLay hopes to have a state historical marker similar to ones seen in downtown East Lansing, put in the empty lot across the street from the house.

DeLay presented the idea to other city officials.

“We started putting together a team to look at doing a historical marker to recognize the significance of this property,” DeLay said.

DeLay said the goal is to outline Green's history in the city.

“The goal that we have is that when people walk through here on the street they catch the sign, they learn about the history of redlining and housing discrimination here in East Lansing,” he said.

Pinecrest Elementay School
DeLay said there was already discussion to change Pinecrest Elementary to something else. Now, an option is to name it in honor of Green and his family.

When DeLay presented the idea of a historical marker, Pinecrest Elementary was brought up.

“Well, coincidentally, we’re talking about doing a renaming of Pinecrest Elementary School, because Dr. Green's children were among the first to integrate Pinecrest,” DeLay said.

DeLay said the name change would need to be approved by the district's Board of Education, but believes it would be a fitting way to honor Green and his family.

“Now that we have this drive that we haven't had in many many years on these issues, sort of, how can we put that together to take the next step,” he said.

With hopes of continuing to tell Green's story.

“The importance of telling this story is that it can, sort of show us that, you know, this has been a very long and ongoing fight,” DeLay said.

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