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Project Seeks A More Inclusive Kalamazoo History

Donna Alford

A new project hopes to tell a more complete - and inclusive - version of Kalamazoo's history.

The Historical and Cultural Landscape Project is part of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Kalamazoo. Local scholar and historian, Dr. Michelle S. Johnson, is one of those involved.

"This project is really intended to identify locations in Kalamazoo that have particular significance as it relates to resistance to racism, but especially the social and cultural empowerment of people who make up the fabric of Kalamazoo."

Johnson says the project allows those who've suffered from discrimination to tell their own stories.

"That's one of the key pieces of this project, is to re-situate the narrator in the stories of indigenous, and Black, and Latinx people in the area."

Johnson also says a more inclusive history of Kalamazoo benefits everyone.

Credit TRHT/Historical & Cultural Landscape Project
TRHT/Historical & Cultural Landscape Project
Front page of a 1967 issue of Focus, a newspaper that covered Kalamazoo's minority communities

"That gives the folks who are not Latinidad, who are not Black, who are not indigenous a greater access to a true story, one that is generated by the folks who have lived it."

To complete its work, Johnson she says the project needs to hear from Black, Latinx, and Native American residents.

"We're really looking for folks to help us provide more layers, more photographs, more stories, more of the texture of these very important stories of cultural empowerment and resistance to racism."

Some of the material the project has already collected involves the Pacific Club founded by Black Kalamazoo residents in the 1940's. Torn down in 2006, it was located on Riverview Drive at the site of the Indian Trails bus garage.

Johnson says the Historical and Cultural Landscape Project plans to create a website to provide access to the material it collects. It has also held online panel discussions and will work with area schools to update social studies and history curriculums. And Johnson says public art and historical commemoration will also play a role.

"My dream, of course, is to be able to create monuments and to create markers that are longstanding and are able to tell the stories of cultural empowerment and resistance to racism in ways that folks can access."

More information about the Historical and Cultural Landscape Project is available through the TRHT website at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and via the TRHT Facebook page.

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.
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