© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
TECHNOTE: WKAR broadcast signals will be off-air or low power during tower maintenance

Lansing & I-496: Back In The Olds Days

In the 1960’s, Interstate 496 changed the city of Lansing.  Starting in 1963, hundreds of homes and businesses in the heart of the city’s African-American neighborhood were demolished to make room for the highway.  Many people who were displaced came from families who’d moved to Lansing to find careers in the auto industry.



Editor’s Note:  The R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing will host a panel discussion tonight (Monday) entitled “At The Intersection of I-496 & Oldsmobile.”  The event begins at 7 p.m.  Doors open at 6 p.m.




Arthur Austin put in 37 ½ years at GM’s old Fisher Body plant in Lansing.  He started in 1963…the same year construction began on Interstate 496.

Those were heady times at General Motors, Austin recalls. 

“Well, that’s why we stayed in business,” he says.  “We built good cars.”

Cars like the Oldsmobile Toronado.

With its hideaway headlights and innovative subframe design, the Toronado was GM’s first front-wheel drive car.  It debuted in 1966 as an engineering masterpiece.

Oldsmobile – and by extension, GM – was riding high in ’66. 

But while GM was expanding, Lansing was shrinking.  Interstate 496 bisected neighborhoods and created a large chain of dead-end streets.  Many African-Americans who’d lived under restrictive housing covenants quickly moved into white neighborhoods, sparking a mass exodus to the suburbs.

Before he worked a summer at GM’s Fisher Body Plant, Van Loggins watched the work crews tear down his hometown.

“We used to affectionately call that corridor the ‘desert area,’” Loggins recalls.  “A lot of times we’d walk down the corridor, and you know, the earth moving equipment; the dirt, the this, the that.  Looking back on the time as an adult through adult eyes, you see it exactly for what it is.  Groups of people that were marginalized.  The uncertainty of moving; how people were treated in terms of eminent domain.  Taking their houses and not giving them enough money to purchase a similar house.  Where could you actually purchase a house?  You know…redlining.”

In 1966, Oldsmobile moved into its new headquarters at Townsend and Main Street.  It’s now called Malcolm X Boulevard. 

That’s where Fred Ford would work years later.

“I was a manager at GM and came up through the ranks as an electrician through GM and worked my way up through.”

“How does a guy named Ford get a job at GM?” I inquire, playfully.

“Well, Ford sent me over here to get a better idea from GM!”  he jokes.

“My office was right there in that corner. So we talk about General Motors in Oldsmobile...it was the heartbeat here in Lansing, and the history.  But when I-496 came through, it actually took away a lot of our history. “

“Did anything positive come out of that?” I ask.

“It gave us the opportunity to outreach; go outside our walls, fired us up to talk about segregation and integration,” Ford says.  “But then, I go in the back of my mind…could we have done that without putting in I-496 and dispersing us?”

“That's what really gets to me.  We were actually self-sustaining as a community in this area between St. (Joseph) and Main Street.”

Ford says while physical displacement was hard on Lansing’s African-American community, emotional bonds remained intact.

“So, we had that family atmosphere to say, hey…we’re going to make it,” he says.  “We can make it; we’re going to stick together.  And it actually made us stronger as far as individuals surviving.”

Interstate 496 was completed in 1970 and was officially named the “R.E. Olds Freeway.”  The brand that Ransom Eli Olds founded in Lansing continued for more than 30 years. 

The very last Oldsmobile rolled off the line in 2004.



Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
Related Content
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!