I remember, after President Obama was elected, my wife and I were sitting in front of the television, and she had tears in her eyes as Sam Cooke’s “A change is gonna come” played. I believe that Lansing’s embracing of diversity makes it a model for the rest of the country. I believe it is a model of the future of America. I am proud to be a former resident.
I believe that people cannot remediate the past until they acknowledge it. And this recollection from Lansing’s past is something I think people in Lansing need to be aware of:
It was 1963. The Cuban missile crisis was over, President Kennedy had been murdered, and I was on Christmas leave from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I served during the crisis. It must have been about 9:00pm, maybe later. Whatever the time was, it was pitch dark. I was riding in a car with my friend, Bill Langley.
We were in Munster, on Ridge Road, about a half-mile east of Lansing when a Lansing police car hit its flashing lights and pulled us over. Keep in mind, this was during the days when there was no reciprocal enforcement agreement between Munster and Lansing. In other words, police from these adjacent villages had no jurisdiction in the other town. but the cop pulled us over anyway. The officer asked for IDs, then told Bill to get out of the car. After a couple of minutes, the officer came around to my side and flashed a bright light in my eyes. Then he agreed to let us go. I asked Bill what was going on. “I’ll tell you after we get away from this situation here,” he said.
He pulled out and drove slowly ahead, watching carefully in the rear view mirror as the cop did a U-turn and drove back toward Lansing. Five miles later, I asked Bill to tell me, word for word, what the policeman had said. Bill said, “He thought I had a n_____ in the car.” So the guy was chasing my suntan!
Bill was right. And I was furious. The marines I served with in Cuba were from many different states, different races, different nationalities, and we even had a Canadian who served with us because he wanted to become a U.S. citizen.
The point of my story is that Lansing was not always a diverse place. Attitudes toward people who were treated as second-class citizens were strongly negative. There was an unwritten law that black folks had to be out of Lansing by sundown.
That attitude slowly changed, and now, I think, Lansing is an amazing place to live.
Thank you for letting me share. And thank you, Professor Long, for your “Lansing Voices” column of June 11. I appreciate your memories and your comments about Sam Cooke and the change that is is still in the process of coming!
former Lansing resident
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