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Project preserves history of black Lansing neighborhood razed to make way for I-496

During the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government funded the construction of highways in cities across the country. To build the new infrastructure, many cities seized land from existing neighborhoods in a process that came to be known as "urban renewal.” Many of those neighborhoods had predominantly African-American or immigrant residents. 

A Lansing project called“Paving the Way”wants to digitally preserve the history of one such black neighborhood demolished during the construction of I-496.

Bill Castanier is the president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, which is leading the project. Adolph Burton is a lifelong Lansing resident who grew up in the community that was displaced to make way for I-496.  

The city of Lansing used federal dollars to purchase the homes of more than 650 black families in the neighborhood where I-496 now stands.  Those families then had 45 days to find somewhere else to live. This was at a time when Lansing's residential areas were deeply segregated, and the city was in the midst of a housing shortage.  

“Paving the Way” aims to revive the stories of people who lived in that demolished neighborhood through audio and video oral histories. The project will also include an interactive map that lets viewers click on houses to see who lived there and where they eventually moved. 

“We wanted to tell the story of a time and place that’s totally gone,” Castanier said.

Click through the slideshow at the top of the page to learn more about the history behind the black Lansing neighborhood lost to urban renewal. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas. 

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