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.
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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