Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1977: Gov. Milliken signs the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act 

By: - January 13, 2023 4:24 am

Gov. William Milliken in 1983 | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

On Jan. 13, 1977 Gov. William Milliken signed into law the seminal Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It went into effect on March 31, 1977. 

The bill package at the time was regarded by many as the leading statute of its type in America. It prohibited discriminatory practices, policies, and customs. It also prescribed additional powers and duties to the civil rights commission and the department of civil rights. 

A portion of the Act reads:

“The opportunity to obtain employment, housing and other real estate, and the full and equal utilization of public accommodations, public service, and educational facilities without discrimination because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status as prohibited by this act is hereby recognized and declared to be a civil right.”

The legislation’s primary bill sponsors were Daisy Elliott, a Detroit state House Democrat and Mel Larsen, a state House Republican from Oxford, located in Northern Oakland County. Elliott was African American. Larsen is white. Milliken was a white Republican. 

The Act also helped strengthen the role of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, which was formed in 1965 to support the work of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission of the 1963 Constitution of Michigan. 

Elliott-Larsen State Office Building | Susan J. Demas

The State Bar of Michigan recognized the Act during its 37th Legal Milestone dedication on Aug, 28, 2012, at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing. 

Michigan’s Lewis Cass Building in downtown Lansing was renamed in 2020 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to honor Elliott and Larsen. The building was previously named for Lewis Cass, who was appointed Michigan’s territorial governor in 1813, who had been an owner of slaves. 

“Together, Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott’s names have become synonymous in Michigan with the protection of civil rights,” Whitmer said at the time. 

State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and state Rep. Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield) have introduced legislation this month that will codify into law protections for the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination and enshrine them in the act.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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