The East Lansing School Board unanimously voted to re-name Pinecrest Elementary School to honor Dr. Robert L. Green, the first Black homeowner in East Lansing and civil rights activist. Emotions ran high as the board room began to clap following the final approval of the name change.
The Robert L. Green Commission, which was formed earlier this year, was created in an effort to commemorate Green and his efforts to improve the East Lansing community for people of color in the 1960s. Ron Bacon, a member of the commission as well as a city councilman, said that this change brings light to a missing part of East Lansing’s history.
“There is a long history of Dr. Green that I wanted to know,” said Bacon. “His story being told makes all of our communities’ history make a lot more sense.”
In 1962, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 11063. This order, “prohibited discrimination on the basis of race in the sale, leasing, rental, or other disposition of properties and facilities owned or operated by the federal government or provided with federal funds.”
The goal of this order was to provide equal housing opportunities regardless of race or ethnicity. Green, who worked for Michigan State University as an associate professor of education, was denied his right to own a home and filed a complaint to the Federal Housing Administration.
In 1964, Green was able to purchase 207 Bessemaur Drive, where he would send his children to Pinecrest Elementary as the first to integrate into a previously segregated school. Green’s son, Vince Green, spoke to the East Lansing School Board before the vote.
“We are so proud,” said Vince Green. “It would be an honor to have my elementary school, and my brother Kurt’s elementary school, named after my father.”
Elaine Hardy, diversity, equity and inclusion administrator of East Lansing, also worked on the Robert L. Green Commission. However, before she spoke to the board, Hardy asked to speak as a resident rather than the commissioner.
“We pride ourselves on our diversity, I want us to be a community that represents that,” said Hardy. “I would be so honored to now send my two grandchildren to Dr. Robert L. Green Elementary.”
Hardy has worked on the commission in an effort to not only rename the school, but to place a Michigan historic marker across from 207 Bessemer Drive, the house that Green purchased in 1964. She said that learning about the history behind his efforts has been an amazing experience.
“He opened doors for Black people all over this country,” said Hardy. “In order for them to be able to live in neighborhoods that traditionally would not allow them to. I am obviously in support of this, not only that but my whole heart is in support of this.”
Adam Delay, a member of the parks and recreation advisory commission, was the first to reach out to Hardy and Bacon about finding ways to honor Dr. Green and his legacy.
“When I learned the house next to mine was the first purchased by a Black owner in the 1960s, I thought we should do something to commemorate that history,” said Delay.
Delay said this property was more than just the first Black-owned home in East Lansing.
“It was owned by someone heavily involved in the civil rights movement, who was a lieutenant to MLK,” said Delay. “When someone tells you ‘Coretta King spent the night at your neighbors house once back in the 60s’ you are left in awe. There was no way I would have known, so I wanted to bring this huge aspect of East Lansing history to light.”
With the board passing the renaming Nichole Biber, librarian of now Dr. Robert L. Green Elementary School, said she believes that the name change will bring historical awareness to the community.
“We know now that there is no way the children coming through the elementary school will not learn about this very pivotal aspect of our community’s history,” said Biber. “This is a tangible way to teach the reality of how historic actions affect the way we live today.”