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MSU Renames Nisbet Building Over Klan History

MSU Trustees Zoom meeting image
MSU Trustees met in a Zoom meeting on Friday.

Michigan State University Trustees have voted to rename a building on campus after its namesake’s Ku Klux Klan membership came to light.

The Nisbet Building was named for Stephen Nisbet, a former school administrator. It houses MSU’s human resources department. The book “Everyday Klansfolk” reveals evidence that Nisbet was a Klan member in Newaygo County in the 1920s.

Nisbet’s grandson, also named Stephen Nisbet, spoke during public comment to ask the board to table the motion while the matter undergoes a professional historical review, saying the book describes the rural Michigan KKK of nearly 100 years ago as being a benign civic organization like the Masons, Moose, or Lions Clubs. "Many persons were invited to join in those rural Michigan towns," Nisbet stated. "It certainly did not include any of the violence perpetrated by the KKK later in the south, nor did it hold the negative stigma that it does today.”

President Samuel Stanley Jr. recognized the effect on the Nisbet family, but says the decision couldn’t be based on that impact. “Instead," Stanley concluded, "it’s about acknowledging that the KKK has been engaged in extreme racism and horrific violence towards Black Americans from the end of the Civil War until today.”

In a unanimous vote, Trustees chose to rename the building after its address. It’s possible that a different namesake for the building could be chosen in the future.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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