Eastern Michigan University partners with Detroit Historical Society to host event exploring “Black Heroes of Detroit’s Eastside” – April 7

EMU students work to preserve Black historic places on Detroit’s Eastside

Black Heroes of Detroit's Eastside graphic with names in the background

YPSILANTI — Eastern Michigan University’s Preservation Studies Program is teaming up with the Detroit Historical Society to host “Black Heroes of Detroit’s Eastside,” to honor,  explore, and preserve the stories and places associated with 20th century civil rights activists who lived on Detroit’s Eastside. The event will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 7, at the Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. 

“‘Black Heroes of Detroit’s Eastside’ celebrates outstanding work achieved by previous generations along with the people today working to preserve their memories, stories, and places,” said Dan Bonenberger, EMU professor of historic preservation.  “Attendees will be inspired to see the l collective power of Black civil rights individuals and organizations who’ve overcome adversity during the 20th century to achieve historic significance during their time in Detroit.”

The afternoon will include an overview of past and future efforts to save significant black historic sites through a presentation led by Bonenberger, an enriching workshop session, and a panel discussion featuring historical speakers including: 

  • Rebecca Binno Savage, Historic Designation Advisory Board
  • Katie Kolokithas, Michigan State Historic Preservation Office 
  • Howard Lindsey, Ph.D., Black Historic Sites Committee
  • Ruth Mills, Quinn Evans Architects 
  • Andrew Oswald, Michigan History Center 
  • Sharon Sexton, Black Historic Sites committee
  • EMU student researchers

The event will explore how various groups, including EMU’s preservation program, have identified and designated Black historic places in Detroit over the past 50 years.  Utilizing EMU Digital Heritage Preservation Lab, a new geodatabase for “Black Heroes of Detroit” was developed and comprises black heritage surveys, research, and information for ongoing historic preservation projects, including the Malcolm X House, the Ossian Sweet House, and the Sarah Ray Project. 

Seeking public input and participation in the work planned over the next two to three years, Bonenberger and his team will introduce new projects to save Black historical places, such as the Gladys Mitchell Sweet House and the Robert X House, in their prospective communities. The group will also outline the Black Civil Rights Survey of Detroit’s eastside that’s proposed to begin this summer.

Founded in 1979, EMU’s Preservation Studies Graduate Program explores digital and hands-on tools that help identify, analyze, preserve, and interpret significant places, objects, and people important to American history and its cultural heritage. 

“Such places should stand as venerated sites where stories of community and collective action can inspire today's activists and future generations,” said Bonenberger. “Although few people realize it, Detroit must be recognized among America’s great centers of Black civil rights.”

The “Black Heroes of Detroit Eastside” is free with an EMU identification card or museum admission, and is open to the public.

For more information, visit the webpage

 About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 13,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

April 03, 2024

Written by:
Nina Scarpelli

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher