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EMU Students May Become Part Of Ypsilanti District Library's African-American History Archive

Ypsilanti District Library
Ypsilanti District Library

As students continue to protest at Eastern Michigan University, their movement could soon become a permanent part of our history.  The Ypsilanti District Library launched an African-American Oral History Archive last summer that has expanded since then.

Lois Cook is being interviewed by former Eastern Michigan University professor A.P. Marshall on March 26, 1981.  To help preserve African-American history, Marshall interviewed dozens of black leaders in Ypsilanti during the 1980's.  The Ypsilanti District Library created an online African-American Oral History Archive with six of the interviews so far.  

Gillian Ream Gainsley is a communication coordinator for the library.

"These are folks who were, you know, largely born in the 1890's and 1900. And, so, they lived through the Depression, through the Civil Rights Movement, through the Jim Crow era. They're people who experienced a lot of what we consider iconic moments in American history. And, so, seeing those perspectives is really incredible on its own. But then, if you think about it in light of, you know, current changes, we're having, in some ways, a new civil rights movement that's happening right now."

In Washtenaw County, that new movement has a lot to do with the Black Lives Matter campaign.  As well as students protesting racist graffiti found at Eastern Michigan University, students released a video that's almost six minutes long on social media expressing how they feel about how EMU's administration is handling the situation.  This is what one unidentified student said.

"We, the Black students of Eastern Michigan University, are disgusted, angry, and hurt by the way we are being dealt with for our justified public expressions. We have done all we can to appeal to the University's formal side of diversity and inclusion."

Gillian says the Ypsilanti District Library is paying close attention to the movement taking place in Washtenaw County.  

"The library, in general, is definitely interested in preserving more of the history, especially history of things that are happening right now. You don't think of it as history, but, you know, historians often wished that people had realized that this was going to be a historically significant thing and actually make better records of things as they were happening."

Darius Anthony is the only student who identified himself in the video that features several students criticizing EMU.  He's the president of Eastern's NAACP chapter and says the university is not doing enough to find those responsible for the graffiti.

"The big part of it is them trying to cover themselves, make themselves not look, you know, like they're a bad university, and, in the process of doing so, they're hurting the Black students."

EMU spokesperson Geoff Larcom says the university continues to investigate the incidents.  They're also offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and encourages students to exercise the right to express themselves.

"This is a tendency--a trait--that has been illustrated time and again on this campus this year and in the past. And, in this past fall, the University worked diligently with our students to manage the variety of protests that occurred on campus--to manage them peacefully."

But Darius believes the University doesn't really pay attention to their messages when they protest.

"There's actually a list of demands--I'm not sure if it was the 70's or the 80's--from Black students at EMU, and five of those demands are the same demands that we have right now."

Some of those demands include hiring more Black professors.  EMU revealed that 13% of new faculty hired for the Fall of 2016 self-identified as Black.

If you're interested in listening to the interviews from the 1980's, you can find the African-American Oral History Archive on the Ypsilanti District Library's website.  

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— Jorge Avellan is the Ann Arbor beat reporter and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News.  Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him

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