Eastern Michigan University secures Detroit Civil Rights heritage grant from the National Park Service

Project will survey places related to Black civil rights on Detroit’s East Side

A student takes photos at an historic home site in Detroit.
EMU Preservation students Jaclyn Panter (foreground), Brooke Boyst, and Taylor Williams record damage to the Malcom X House on Detroit’s east side with photographs and drawings. (Photo by Dan Bonenberger)

YPSILANTI — The National Park Service awarded Eastern Michigan University a $75,000 grant as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program. The funds will empower efforts to identify and safeguard sites vital to the African American struggle for equality.

Led by EMU Preservation Studies professor Dan Bonenberger, "Detroit’s African American Civil Rights Survey Phase 2: Eastside," is a collaborative endeavor spanning the next 18 months. Under Bonenberger's guidance, students and community partners will identify, document, and designate locations pivotal to Black history, heritage, and culture in Detroit's east side.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with the Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Black Historic Sites Committee, Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board, Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, NPS, and our Black Heroes of Detroit advisory group to engage with eastside community leaders, elders, block clubs, and others so that we have maximum positive impact on how places like the Sarah E. Ray House, Robert X House, and Gladys Mitchell Sweet House are seen, remembered, and preserved,” said Bonenberger.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this opportunity possible.” 

The project's initial phase involves analyzing and digitizing papers from the Detroit Black Historic Sites Committee at the Detroit Historical Museum, and adding places to the Black Heroes of Detroit geodatabase under development at Eastern’s Digital Heritage Preservation Lab.  The historical geographic information system brings together information about Detroit African American Heritage sites that have been identified or designated at the state, federal, and local levels. Results will be shared with various groups for feedback and further exploration.

The project builds upon a prior National Park Service-funded survey of African American Civil Rights history in Detroit from 1900 to 1970 completed in 2019.  Like the previous project, the current effort will draw upon the knowledge of local communities and Black heritage scholars to identify, document, and designate significant places. Two sites will be nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and a driving tour will be developed to complement the Civil Rights bike tour that was launched by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in 2020 https://www.miplace.org/biketour/

“The geodatabase and other findings will serve groups like the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board and local preservationists to prioritize future efforts and serve as a resource for the Detroit Black Historic Sites Committee, eastside residents, community groups, civil rights activists, and visitors to connect with places and share stories of Detroit’s remarkable civil rights heritage and the struggle for equality,” said Bonenberger.

“Detroit’s African American Civil Rights Survey Phase 2: Eastside” is one of 39 projects in 16 states and the District of Columbia to receive funding from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights grant program, which focuses on the preservation of sites and stories directly associated with the struggle of African Americans to gain equal rights. 


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.

May 29, 2024

Written by:
Melissa Thrasher

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher