The East Lansing School Board on Monday voted unanimously to rename Pinecrest Elementary School to Dr. Robert L. Green Elementary School to honor the person believed to be the first Black man to purchase a house in East Lansing, in 1964, and known to be a national leader in civil rights.
Renaming the school Green’s children attended — as among the first Black students enrolled in the district — is one of several recognitions planned for the work Green did both in East Lansing and nationally.
Since April, an ad hoc group including City Council Member Ron Bacon, City Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator Elaine Hardy, Parks & Rec Advisory Commissioner Adam DeLay, and Human Rights Commissioner Karen Hoene have worked to not only rename Pinecrest, but to place a State Historical Marker across the street from the house Green bought with his wife Lettie Green.
On Monday, Hardy told the School Board that the State Historical Marker had been approved by the Michigan Historical Society, and will be installed in the park across the street from the house at 207 Bessemaur Drive. A ceremony for that will take place in late September, but a final date has not been set, Hardy said.
Prior to Monday’s vote, there had been some degree of public debate about whether it made sense to honor Green by renaming Pinecrest Elementary after him. As ELi’s Emily Joan Elliott reported then, the debate focused on whether Green made significant local contributions.
But supporters of the name change pointed out then — and again on Monday — that along with being a national civil rights leader who, as Education Director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Green played an integral role in advancing the lives of Black people here in mid-Michigan.
Green helped desegregate East Lansing, both by buying a house and sending his children to school in East Lansing’s public school system. He was one of the first Black faculty members at Michigan State University, where he served as the Director of the Department of Urban Development.
“He opened doors for Black people across the country,” Hardy said on Monday.
In attendance at the vote on Monday was Green’s eldest son, Vince Green. He spoke briefly about the work his father did, acknowledged his mother Lettie, and thanked the school board for honoring his father and family this way. School Board Trustee Kath Edsall made a point to specifically acknowledge Lettie Green, and said advocates of the change had wanted to put her name on the building, too, but that she had declined.
Vince Green spoke positively about his own experiences in East Lansing Public Schools, noting that by attending these schools, he had access to far more opportunities than many Black American children of his generation.
After the unanimous decision to honor Green and his legacy, applause broke out at Monday’s in-person meeting, as many in attendance took a moment to celebrate the event.
Editor’s note: ELi will be bringing a separate report on other aspects of Monday’s School Board meeting.