© 2022 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Students March Behind Civil Rights Activist After East Lansing Names School In His Honor

East Lansing students marching behind robert green
Sarah Lehr
Elementary school students march behind civil rights rights activist Robert L. Green on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 to the street where Green fought housing segregation in East Lansing in the 1960s.

Robert Green rode in a golf cart Friday as hundreds of children marched behind him to the street where the 87-year-old fought housing segregation nearly six decades prior.

The students attend Dr. Robert L. Green Elementary School, which was recently renamed from Pinecrest Elementary in his honor.

When Green, who is Black, tried to buy a house at Bessemaur Drive in East Lansing in 1964, a realtor threatened him.

“He said, ‘Why don't you go on the west side of Lansing?'" Green remembered. "I said, 'no, I work in East Lansing.' He said, ‘I ought to hit you, you pup.’"

Green was planning to take a faculty job at Michigan State University, but he told the school's president, John Hannah, he would leave if he couldn't buy property in town.

The white university president offered to buy a house and then resell it to Green, but Green refused.

"I said, 'No, sir, I won't accept that because the next person of color that comes along will have the same problem,'" Green recalled. "I'm going to fight to open East Lansing up."

Michigan's newly created Civil Rights Commission ordered the realty company to sell to Green and his wife, Lettie, after Green filed a complaint.

The couple ended up buying a different house also on Bessemaur Drive so the racist realtor wouldn't profit from their commission.

Robert L. Green
Sarah Lehr
Civil rights activist Robert L. Green speaks on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 outside an East Lansing elementary school which was recently renamed from Pinecrest Elementary in his honor.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was among the dignitaries who dedicated historical markers Friday at Bessemaur Drive.

King says the city owes a debt to Green.

"That’s who he is — the personification doing so many things that are right," King said. "You know, it wasn't popular to try to fight to get housing in this city.”

Ron Bacon, the first Black man serving on East Lansing's City Council, says civil rights leaders like Green taught him the value of human dignity.

"My issues are a lot less intense thanks to their work," Bacon said. "But there are times when I would like to do other things than show composure and that composure and that pride and that dignity rests in me.”

Green’s struggle inspired activists to protest housing discrimination in East Lansing. But the City Council didn’t adopt a fair housing ordinance until four years later, days after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

News from WKAR will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.