How a name change impacted Pinecrest Elementary in East Lansing

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A school in the Pinecrest neighborhood keeps alive the memory of those who fought for desegregation in the East Lansing community. In a unanimous decision, The East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education voted to change the name of Pinecrest Elementary to Green Elementary to honor the legacy of Dr. Robert L. Green. He was a civil rights leader whose contributions have had a life-changing impact on the East Lansing community that continues to this day. The name change occurred in 2021, but the impacts are still ongoing in the East Lansing community and around the school.

 Green is best known for fighting against housing discrimination in East Lansing and became the first African American alongside his wife Lettie to purchase a home at 207 Bessemaur Drive in East Lansing’s Pinecrest neighborhood. Green’s contributions to the East Lansing community helped to desegregate the East Lansing Public School district. His children became some of the first African-American children to attend Pinecrest Elementary School when it was first integrated back in 1968.

Green was also a professor at Michigan State University and was a member of the East Lansing Human Relations Commission in the 1960s. He also worked very closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement where Dr. King helped him to understand the importance of overcoming fear.

Two years after the renaming of the school, the decision continues to have many impacts on the East Lansing community, Green Elementary School, and citizens who once called Green Elementary home. Amy Webster, who is the principal of Green Elementary says that the changing of the name has had a great impact on the school. “It is an honor and privilege to work at an elementary school named after Dr. Green,” said Webster.

 Farah Hanley, whose sons Jack, Patrick, and Thomas all attended the school when it was formerly known as Pinecrest Elementary says that the decision to change the name to Green Elementary teaches kids who attend the school the importance of what Robert L. Green was fighting for.

“It had an impact on the curriculum of the school, and the students there are better prepared to enter the world of middle school because they’ve been taught at a young age how important it is for a U.S. citizen that the expense of freedom came from the Civil War and the pain that people went through.”

Her son Patrick Hanley, a junior at Purdue University double majoring in Criminal Justice and Brain and Behavioral Science says that the name change has given the Pinecrest neighborhood in East Lansing a step forward. “Pinecrest is special to me, I’ll always be a Pinecrest puppy, but being able to do things like naming the elementary school after a person who deserves to be recognized for what they’ve done is a cool thing, and I think the people in East Lansing recognize that we want to uplift these people,” said the Purdue junior. 

 Sarah Sheets, a junior double majoring in Psychology and Political Science at Michigan State University also grew up in East Lansing and attended Green Elementary says she hopes that the decision to change the name of the school can shine a light on the rest of the state on the good that the city of East Lansing provides.

“I hope they view it as a community trying to be more diverse and inclusive by just recognizing the history of the city in general,” said the MSU junior.

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