Panelists to Discuss 1968 in East Lansing
Image: A civil rights demonstration on the MSU campus, courtesy of MSU Archives
Five decades ago, the Vietnam war was raging, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated and the Democratic Convention in Chicago was underway.
In 1968, East Lansing was undergoing major changes as well. The City was ending a ban on alcohol sales and debating the issue of open housing.
The public is invited to explore these and other events and how they continue to impact the City today at “1968: A year in American history and its impact on the East Lansing area” Wednesday night at the East Lansing High School Student Union.
Moderated by longtime resident and former state legislator Lynn Jondahl, the event will take place from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Panelists include Clarence Underwood, Sarah Fryer and Nelson Brown. It is presented by the East Lansing Educational Foundation and the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.
Underwood was a student at MSU in 1955 when he was unable to find housing in the City for himself, his wife and their newborn daughter. He was forced to rent a room instead near the state Capitol in Lansing. In 1961, he graduated and was hired as the first black teacher in the East Lansing School District but still was not allowed to live in the City until a local attorney and activist offered to sell him a house in the all-white neighborhood near Edgewood United Church.
It wasn’t until 1964 when the East Lansing Human Relations Commission drafted an open housing ordinance for the City but it sat dormant until a series of protests from MSU students and others leading up to mass arrests in 1965. The Open Housing Ordinance was debated for another three years until it was passed on April 8, 1968 – weeks after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act and four days after the death of Dr. King.
Students continued to hold demonstrations on other issues including anti-war activities throughout 1968.
Fryer and Brown were also MSU students in 1968 who were active in fighting for open housing and against the Vietnam War.
Meanwhile, voters had approved a change to the City’s charter provision in 1968 to overturn the 1907 prohibition against the possession, sale or consumption of alcohol. Prior to 1968, East Lansing was a “dry town” long after the end of federal Prohibition laws. Residents, students and others had to travel outside the City limits to indulge in alcoholic beverages.
East Lansing High School is located at 509 Burcham Drive