EAST LANSING, Mich. — When Robert L. Green and his wife, Lettie, bought their home in 1964, they became the first Black people to own a home in East Lansing.
"I finished my PhD in November 1962," Green said. "Started looking for housing, couldn’t get a house. No Realtor would touch me. They would give me the run-around. There was a white couple...Jerry Wish...he was a friend of mine. And (he and his wife) 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 teaching at Michigan State. As a young, tenured Black professor in the School of Education, Black students would come to him when they had problems.
"For example, I remember…Blacks couldn’t get a haircut in the Union building on the campus of Michigan State. So a black athlete was very concerned and came to me about it. He was turned down – he was well-known on campus… So I went to John Hannah, President Hannah. President Hannah got up, took the football player by the hand, three of us went to the Union and John Hanna said, 'Cut his hair.'"
Green was finally able to purchase his home on Bessemaur Drive after asking for help from Gov. George Romney.
"I went in and I sat down. He said, 'What can I do to help you young man?' I said, 'I’m on the faculty and Michigan State and I can’t buy a home.' He told me who to go see, and he wrote a letter to me and it’s in my book...about housing discrimination," Green recalled.
Green’s book is called "At the Crossroads of Fear and Freedom." Fear was a common theme in Green’s life.
"There was obviously a lot of fear in the black community about what whites would do to you, how they would hurt you…and, there were some Blacks who in spite of that kind of fear, who would stand up and be pushy."
People like this mother. His father was more fearful. And, in stories his father told him, Green can see the reasons.
"He said, 'When I was 13 or 14 years of age, my best friend was hung from a tree—he was lynched.' And he said, 'I saw it.' He said, 'I was standing on the edge of the woods with another buddy of mine, we were both 13 or 14 years old, and 35 white men said a prayer, then they hung him from a tree, and I saw him hung and lynched and kicking for his life.' Very calm I said, 'Dad, what did he do? What did he do wrong?' My father said, 'Nothing.'"
Green says he's proud of the new generation of activists working with the Black Lives Matter movement.
"And I always tell them, work aggressively against discrimination, just stay nonviolent. Don’t ever give the public or anyone a reason to come out against you."