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Grant will help Michigan locate, research African American tourism history spots

The historic Wilson Grocery in Idlewild, MI.
MI State Historic Preservation Office
The historic Wilson Grocery in Idlewild, MI.

A new grant from the National Park Service African American Civil Rights History program will help find some hidden historic treasures from the state’s past.

The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) will use the $75,000 grant to help pin down locations that were noted in what was known as the Negro Motorist Green Book. That book helped African American travelers find safe, friendly places to eat, sleep, or get other services throughout the country from the 1930s-60s.

“Even though Michigan is in the North—we're a long way from the South—there was not equal treatment for all. And especially when you were on the road,” said Nathan Nietering, Project Coordinator for SHPO.

Katie Kolokithas, Survey Coordinator for SHPO, said they’ve identified around three dozen of the 210 Michigan locations listed in the Green Book. “It’s kind of a big treasure hunt right now for us,” she said. “And then eventually we'll hire a professional historian that will do the bulk of the research and writing for us.”

Kolokithas said they ultimately hope to use this survey as the basis for a broader history of African American tourism and recreation spots in Michigan. Some of the Green Book spots are no longer standing and others’ precise locations are still undetermined, but Nietering said all of that history matters.

“Even the ones that are gone, even if they don't exist, they still help to tell the story about where were these people traveling, what was important to them?” he said. “Why did they come to Michigan? Where were they going?”

Nietering said SHPO can also use help from members of the public who know about or have family memories of these historic places. "We would love to hear from people who have knowledge or thoughts or photos, or just want to talk about it," he said.

State historic preservation officials also eventually hope to eventually nominate one Green Book property for the National Register of Historic Places.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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