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Whitmer renames Lewis Cass Building ‘Elliott-Larsen Building’

By: - June 30, 2020 10:24 am

Susan J. Demas photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed an executive order  to rename the state-owned Lewis Cass Building in downtown Lansing to the “Elliott-Larsen Building,” honoring the legislators who sponsored Michigan’s landmark civil rights act.

In 1976, state Reps. Melvin Larsen (R-Oxford) and Daisy Elliott (D-Detroit) co-sponsored the legislation. Gov. William Milliken signed it into law in January 1977. Whitmer’s action is believed to be the first time in Michigan history that a state building is named after an African-American woman.

“Together, Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott’s names have become synonymous in Michigan with the protection of civil rights,” said Whitmer. “In 2020, we must honor the work of our predecessors who, 44 years ago, outlined in law the vision of what we continue to strive for even today. We must hold up those who worked to build a better Michigan for us all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

Cass, a former Michigan territorial governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state, owned a slave. He also implemented a policy known as “Trail of Tears” that forcibly removed Native Americans from their tribal lands. Whitmer took the opportunity to urge the legislature to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect members of the LGBTQ community. There is currently legislation to do so, but GOP leaders have yet to move it.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the state’s first African American to serve in the post, agreed with Whitmer.

“We can and must build upon the foundation laid by Elliott and Larsen to make our state a home for opportunity for all,” Gilchrist said.

Elliott died in 2015 at age 98. Larsen, now 83, said he is “humbled and thrilled” about the announcement.

“Having the honor of this building named after the two of us is the ultimate honor of the work she began decades ago to guarantee equality and justice for all of Michigan’s people,” Larsen said.  

Elliott’s granddaughter, Badriyyah Sabree, noted the continued importance of the act. 

“There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think of our beloved Daisy, and there is not a day that goes by in the state of Michigan when the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is not utilized in one of Michigan’s courts to protect the civil rights of its residents,” Sabree said. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history 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.