City of East Lansing Formally Apologizes for Racist History

Wednesday, February 28, 2018, 7:45 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

Above: Hosey runs in a relay race for the MacDonald Middle School track team.

East Lansing High School Freshman Alex Hosey received local and national media attention last month for the essay he wrote for his basketball coach, entitled “Why I Sit,” which explained his decision to sit during the National Anthem. In that essay, he asked that East Lansing acknowledge and apologize for the City’s complicity in racist “redlining” policies during the 1960’s.

This request was honored last night when East Lansing’s City Council unanimously passed a resolution that had been drafted by the Human Relations Commission in direct response to issues raised in Hosey’s essay.

Council slightly amended and passed a draft resolution prepared by the Commission. That resolution acknowledged East Lansing’s housing discrimination history, in which “deed restrictions and overt discrimination by community members or persons acting on their behalf [which] prohibited or discouraged the purchase of real property in the City by individuals because of their race, color, or national origin.”

The resolution also called “long overdue” the acknowledgment of “the City’s historic complicity, and reflection upon its present and future objectives, policies and education related to the protection of all individuals against discrimination and harassment because of their race, color, or national origin.”

Prior to the meeting, Hosey told ELi, "I feel an abundance of emotions. I feel ecstatic. I feel peaceful. I feel all the good emotions that you can feel right now. To think that something like this would happen in such a short amount of time."

Before the vote, Chair of the Human Relations Commission Julia Christensen addressed Council on behalf of the Commission, saying that it was her hope that the resolution would be a starting point for a community conversation on racism and discrimination and that young people would be able to take on leadership roles in that conversation.

The final paragraph of the resolution specifies that “the City Manager, together with the Human Relations Commission and the East Lansing School District, shall commence planning for an open and continuing community dialogue, incorporating awareness and education regarding racism in East Lansing, encompassing its past, present and future, and with the first conversation to be held in Spring 2018.”

Alex Hosey was in attendance last night along with his family. In his essay, Hosey wrote about his grandparents’ experience looking for a home in East Lansing: “When [my grandparents] hired a realtor, however, he had something else in mind. He tried to send my grandparents to Churchill Downs on Lansing’s south side because the policy of the bank was to keep blacks in a certain area (a redlined area). And the fact that the East Lansing City Government knew that this was happening and were complicit with these practices, is wrong.”

Last night, Councilmember Shanna Draheim told Hosey that he had inspired her to dig deeper into East Lansing’s history. She made reference to Bill Castanier’s history of East Lansing housing discrimination, which documents MSU President John Hannah’s complex role in the local and national civil rights movements.

Councilmember Aaron Stephens, who was a member of the Human Relations Commission prior to his election and now serves as the Council liaison to that group, said that the Commission meeting to draft the ordinance had been long but “a good conversation.” He said he was glad that there would now be an annual conversation regarding equality and racism in East Lansing “Equality is something that we have to constantly fight for and be vigilant for,” he said.

Councilmember Ruth Beier said that in addition to the City’s apology, “I really feel like a personal apology from my generation is needed,” saying that millennials as a block had voted “for the future,” in the last election. She concluded, “My generation will die and finally we’ll have something more approaching equality.”

Mayor Mark Meadows also acknowledged that the City of East Lansing has more work to do in regard to racial equality: “Even as recently as during this term on the City Council, I’ve had one of the individuals who is in charge of the Jazz Festival approach me and say African Americans don’t come to East Lansing because they don’t feel welcome here. I think we have a whole lot of work to do and this is just the beginning of work we need to do.”

The first community forum on race will take place before June of this year and during Black History Month in following years.

Hosey told Eli before last night’s meeting that he was personally very moved “just to think that someone like me could change something this drastically or at least show people how to make a push that equality is worth fighting for to the point that people will actually listen if you stand up for yourself and help carry the burden of others.”