Why Gov. Whitmer renamed Lansing's Lewis Cass Building the 'Elliott-Larsen Building'


  • Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)
  • Lewis Cass.

Downtown Lansing's Lewis Cass Building is no more. On Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order renaming it the Elliott-Larsen Building.

The move comes after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests have toppled Confederate statues and other racist monuments. Detroit, of course, doesn't have any monuments to the Confederacy, but as University of Michigan professor Tiya Miles pointed out in a New York Times op-ed a few years ago, Michigan once had slaveowners, and many of them have been immortalized in the names of buildings and streets.

Cass was a Detroit politician and governor of Michigan from 1813 to 1831 who supported slavery and negotiated the sale of a woman he had enslaved named Sally to the Macomb family in 1818. Later, Cass resigned as governor to serve as President Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War, helping implement the president's "Indian removal" policy of forced migration.

The Elliott-Larsen Building is named after Republican State Rep. Melvin Larsen and Democratic State Rep. Daisy Elliott, who introduced Michigan's landmark civil rights act in 1976.

According to a press release from Whitmer's office, it's the first building to be named after an African-American woman in Michigan.

"Together, Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott’s names have become synonymous in Michigan with the protection of civil rights," Whitmer saud in a press release. "In 2020, we must honor the work of our predecessors who, 44 years ago, outlined in law the vision of what we continue to strive for even today. We must hold up those who worked to build a better Michigan for us all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity."

The building formerly known as the Lewis Cass Building. - SIMON SEAMOUNT, WIKIMEDIA CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Simon Seamount, Wikimedia Creative Commons
  • The building formerly known as the Lewis Cass Building.
Whitmer also used the opportunity to once again call on the legislature to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII protects gay and transgender people from discrimination in a landmark ruling that stemmed from a workplace discrimination case from Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman from metro Detroit.

Elliott died in 2015. Lasren said, "I am humbled and thrilled at this announcement and give all credit to Daisy who initiated working together to sponsor the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act."

In her press release, Whitmer acknowledged Cass's important role in Michigan's history, but explained why she decided to change the name of the building:

No one can deny the important role that Lewis Cass (1782-1866) played in Michigan’s and the nation’s early history. But Governor Whitmer recognizes that the names we elevate express our values: to the workers who enter those halls every day and the public who those workers serve. Cass owned a slave; defended a system that would permit the expansion of slavery; and implemented a policy that forcibly removed Native communities from their tribal lands. Today’s order is a small, but meaningful step forward as we seek to better express our shared values.

Looks like the ball's in your court now, Cass Technical High School.

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