Acknowledging the past

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Lansing Voices

Frank Fetters

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!

Frank Fetters,
former Lansing resident


Lansing Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writer, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I’d like to thank Frank Fetters for his thoughtful contribution. This is the second time I’ve heard about this “sundown law” in Lansing. I’m 71 and have to older sisters, 78 and 81. None of us remembers this “law” from our youth. I’m not doubting it, but it’s surprising to me to not have been aware of it at the time. If my parents were aware of it, they didn’t share it with us. I wasn’t really aware of race except for one incident when I was at a grade school field trip to the Field Museum. There were lots of other schools there that day, and I remember seeing a black girl drink from a water fountain, and a white teacher from another school shooed her white students away to another water fountain. I have never forgotten that after all these years. From that time on, I have tried to be more aware and empathetic. I am encouraged by the youth in Lansing. They are our future.

  2. Thank you for this piece. People tend to forget history and facts. Lansing is a better community now. And our citizens try to be better , always.

  3. While I don’t doubt the story, we must be careful of these “facts”.
    Individuals often take rumor, legend and anecdotes as fact. The friend in this story made the race comment based on limited information.
    I applied to a very selective college when in high school. The process involved an interview with the plant manager where my father worked. When I was not accepted the manager told my father that the school had a racial quota and I was passed over for a less qualified applicant. The truth is while this may have been the case neither one had first hand knowledge of the admission boards decision. I could have easily convinced myself that I was being judged on the color of my skin and not academic achievement.
    Just as today every video confrontation between two people with different skin colors does not in and of itself indicate a racial bias.

  4. My “fact” had no quotes around it. It was a FACT. My friend didn’t have a problem with limited memory when quoting the policeman. He was able to say, word-for-word, what the police officer told him. I’m, sure that. at some point in my life, I lost a job to a black person,
    but my ancestors were not sold into slavery or lynched.

    I really don’t know what else to tell you.

Comments are closed.