$30,000 grant will be used to document two significant Civil Rights sites in Detroit

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sites to be nominated include the Orsel and Minnie McGhee House and the Sojourner Truth Homes public housing complex

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has been awarded a $30,000 Underrepresented Communities grant from the National Park Service, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced today. The funding will be used to document and nominate two sites significant to the 20th Century African American Civil Rights movement in Detroit to the National Register of Historic Places, the Nation’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation.

“The nomination of these sites to the National Register will recognize two locations where African Americans in Detroit struggled for equality,” said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Martha MacFarlane-Faes. “The significance of these sites extends beyond Detroit’s borders, as events which took place each had national ramifications. We look forward to building on previous Civil Rights documentation undertaken in recent years to further expand our understanding of the Civil Rights movement in Michigan.”

Specifically, the two sites to be nominated are the Orsel and Minnie McGhee House and the Sojourner Truth Homes public housing complex. The grant to Michigan SHPO is among 18 grants awarded from the Underrepresented Communities grant program in this funding round.

When Orsel and Minnie McGhee tried to purchase the Detroit house they had rented for 10 years, they were sued for violating the neighborhood’s restrictive racial covenant. Their case was included in Shelly v. Kramer, a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall. The result was a landmark decision declaring restrictive racial housing covenants unconstitutional in the United States.

Events surrounding the construction of the Sojourner Truth Homes public housing complex became a flashpoint that revealed the institutionalized segregation practiced by the federal government in 1942. Originally designated for African American defense workers, the occupancy was changed to all white following local protests. Detroit’s black leaders organized to demand Congress reinstate black occupancy. When black families attempted to move in, they were met with violence. The incident laid the foundation for the Detroit Race Riot of 1943.

The National Register is the official federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. National Register properties have significance in the history of their community, state, or the nation. Once listed, any federal project must take into account the potential for impacts on sites listed in the National Register, just as they must consider impacts to the natural environment. The listing is honorary and is used to recognize and celebrate how the past plays a role in the future. Once listed, these two sites will join nearly 2,000 other National Register-designated places in Michigan.

“These competitive grants will help diversify the nominations submitted to the National Register of Historic Places," said National Park Service Deputy Director David Vela. “They will provide assistance to state, tribal, and local governments to identify and preserve sites that will convey a more complete history of our country.”

Examples of other projects selected for funding in this cycle include a historic landscape nomination in the first underrepresented community grant awarded to the Federated States of Micronesia; National Register nominations for significant LGBT women’s history sites in New York State; documentation of slavery in Massachusetts; and nominations of significant tribal sites in California and Washington.

This funding is the latest in a series of competitive National Park Service grants awarded to the Michigan SHPO and partners to better document and tell Civil Rights stories across the state. The award directly builds on a 2016 grant which documented thirty 20th Century civil rights sites in Detroit, developed National Register of Historic Places nominations for five sites, and created a bike tour encompassing 15 of the sites, including the McGhee House, which is scheduled to launch later this year. In addition, Michigan State Historical Markers will be placed at three of the civil rights sites. This 2020 award builds on these prior efforts and the momentum to properly document Michigan’s complete range of Civil Rights sites and consider their significance.

Focused on the historic preservation of culturally or archaeologically significant sites throughout the state, Michigan's State Historic Preservation Office’s main function is to provide technical assistance to local communities in their efforts to identify, evaluate, designate, interpret and protect Michigan’s historic above- and below-ground resources. SHPO also administers an incentives program that includes federal tax credits and pass-through grants available to certified local governments.

To learn more about the State Historic Preservation Office, visit https://www.miplace.org/historic-preservation/.

NOTE: This material was produced with assistance from the Underrepresented Communities grant program, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

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