I-496 project split up Black community - The Lookout - LCC's Independent Student Newspaper Since 1959
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I-496 project split up Black community

1-496

The documentary “Pave the Way: They Even Took the Dirt,” was shown Feb. 27 in the recently refinished Dart Auditorium at LCC.  Photo by Mallory Stiles

Mallory Stiles

By Mallory Stiles
Editor in Chief

The documentary “Pave the Way: They Even Took the Dirt,” produced by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, was shown on Tuesday, Feb. 27 at LCC.

The event took place in the recently refinished Dart Auditorium as part of LCC’s tribute to Black History Month.

By 2:10 p.m., almost every seat in the house was full. LCC President Dr. Steve Robinson welcomed the audience, his staff and the special guest speakers he was sharing the stage with.

Bill Castanier, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, then took the podium.

He thanked Dr. Robinson for such a warm welcome, and thanked the LCC community for providing such a wonderful space to further a vital conversation.

“This is a pretty special place to be,” Castanier said. “This is an important documentary; it tells a story through the eyes of more than 850 families who lived through the destruction of their homes for the I-496 Expressway.”

Shortly after his address, a staff member from the office of Senator Sarah Anthony introduced herself. She presented the society with an award for its perseverance in the pursuit of such remarkable research.

“My name is Annalise Wilson,” she said, “and I have served as the new district director for Senator Anthony for all of 10 days now. However, I am also a lifelong Lansing resident and a former LCC student.

“I am very proud to present this to the Historical Society of Greater Lansing for their hard work and dedication to preserving the history of this great city, and also shining a light on some of the most marginalized communities in our country.”

Following the presentation of the award, the lights were dimmed and every person in the auditorium was taken all the way back to 1966.

The film showed Lansing’s west side as a thriving Black community instead of the “ghetto” it was referred to as in the land contracts.

It was said thousands of lives were forever changed by the construction of the I-496 highway, and it was no accident who exactly was suffering the consequences.

That new 11.9-mile strip of road not only reportedly paved over 150 businesses, but also hundreds of homes, most of which were paid off, robbing community members of capital and leaving them at the mercy of the banks.

The struggles displaced people faced after the wreckage was also talked about in detail. Starkening accounts of the systemic racism brought the film to a bitter close.

After the credits were through rolling, a panel formed on stage, moderated by Prof. David Siwik. The panel consisted of Film Project Coordinator Greta McHaney-Trice and Film Editor/Narrator Craig Derek Jones.

After all questions were asked and answers were given, the crowd started to dissipate. The emotion carried by every individual exiting the auditorium was palpable, especially after they learned that history could be repeating itself.

The City of Lansing is planning to widen Martin Luther King Boulevard to a five-lane road, without any crash data analysis or traffic studies. Residents were not made aware or consulted before the city began moving forward with construction.

Other implications of the change include further lowering the area tree equity score, blocking pathways to schools and churches, and detracting what was originally meant to be a tribute to the works of Martin Luther King Jr.

Local resident Lysandra Lang said she knows all about the destruction that happened so long ago and confessed she is afraid for what could come.

“My parents live on St. Joe,” she said. “My dad was one of those people that moved their home. It was heartbreaking. A lady was talking about Martin Luther King being widened and the boulevard coming out. I go to Union Baptist Church, and if they widen that, it’s going to affect the church as well.

“Why are they taking the west side, where the Black people used to be? Now we are all spread out and don’t have what they were saying in the film; we don’t have our community.”

Bobbie Jones, 87, was another face in the crowd. She said she used to live on Westmoreland Avenue and saw the I-496 project happen. The grief was all over her face.  

She was accompanied by her great nephew, Anthony Winston, who said he came to see where his grandparents grew up, and get a sense of the connectivity that was disbanded so long ago.

“If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be devastation,” Winston said. “What was lost is irreplaceable.”

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