AfriGeneas States Research Forum
[MI] Lansing Black History
Forgotten history: Local blacks try to capture their community's stories
By Matthew Miller
James Little may not be the first black man ever to set foot in Lansing, but the recorded history of the area's black community begins with him.
Little was a freed slave from New York state, a man who had once been sold for the sum of $65, and he arrived in Eaton County in 1847, carving a farm out of the wilderness.
According to a tattered newspaper article found in an album owned by the Turner family (of the Turner-Dodge House), the date and origin of which are unclear, Little was "rather undersized, nearly bald, with a homely face, a slight stoop in his shoulders, and hands so thin and unshapely that they resembled birds claws."
He was also an educated man, "was intelligent beyond many of those with whom he came in contact," a devout Christian, "a welcome guest in the homes of many of the wealthiest, most cultured people."
Little's story is just a small piece of a history that, according to Mary Lipscomb, a founding member of the Lansing Area African-American Genealogy Society, is known only in "bits and pieces, maybe here and there if somebody thinks about looking for it."
But there is a handful of individuals - Lipscomb and the other members of the genealogy society among them - who have thought about looking for it, who have made tracing the history of Lansing's black community a slow but ongoing project.
History matters, Lipscomb said. It matters for knowing who you are, where you've come from, what your ancestors have overcome.
"If we want our stories to be known, we need to do it ourselves," Lipscomb said. "We can't wait for other people to do it for us."
Find out more about that pursuit in Sunday's Lansing State Journal.