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Eastern Michigan University awarded grant to expand Civil Rights Sites Survey in Detroit

EMU Preservation students work to record the home of Robert X on Detroit's eastside. Exterior restoration work is scheduled to begin this fall.
Dan Bonenberger
EMU Preservation students work to record the home of Robert X on Detroit's eastside. Exterior restoration work is scheduled to begin this fall.

Detroit’s African American Civil Rights Survey aims to catalog and safeguard sites that were significant to the historical movement. Those working on the project are collaborating with the Detroit Historical Society to locate homes and properties that influential Black leaders or activists once lived in.

Dan Bonenberger is a professor of Historical Preservation at Eastern Michigan University and is leading the project. He says along the way, through talking to neighbors and community elders, the team has found additional sites significant to the project.

“Places out there that are associated with important figures and themes in civil rights and Black cultural history, from the struggle for fair housing, public accommodations, and local and national activism."

Those additional sites include the home of Gladys Mitchell, wife of Dr. Ossian Sweet. The couple was involved in an important legal case involving housing discrimination after they moved into an all-white neighborhood in 1925.

Bonenberger says the team is looking forward to continuing working with community groups, and the historical society on their efforts and plan to hold in-person events on their findings in the future. Bonenberger says he hopes their work will inspire other communities to preserve sites relevant to the civil rights movement, and Black activism.

“You start to look around, you realize there are amazing, important historic places in and around Detroit that makes it a center for civil rights heritage that people around the country need to know about.”

Eastern was awarded $75,000 by the National Parks Service to continue the project to Detroit’s Eastside.

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Taylor Bowie was a WEMU reporter from October 2023 to June 2024.
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