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Social change and conflict: Race relations in 1920s Michigan

– Monday, March 24, 2014 12:00PM

Lorenzo Cultural Center presentations explore the often contentious race relations of the Jazz Age

From about 1916 until 1930, the impact of Jim Crow laws combined with economic opportunities in the North to propel the First Great Migration. During that time, roughly 1.5 million African-Americans left the rural South for urban areas of the Midwest, Northeast and West. Their transition to a new life was not always easy. The rapid demographic changes in Northern cities led to conflicts that sometimes turned violent.  Much of what happened foreshadowed the upheaval seen during the larger Second Great Migration of the 1940s through 1960s.

Free presentations at the Lorenzo Cultural Center in Clinton Township will take an unflinching look at race relations in Michigan during the 1920s, a time that saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, expanded segregation, racial discrimination and the growth of new alliances in Detroit’s fast-growing African- American community:

  • The KKK in Michigan in the 1920s: An Overview, April 12, 1 p.m.:  Michael V. Placco, professor of history at Macomb Community College, will offer an overview of the Ku Klux Klan in Michigan during the 1920s. Placco will show why the organization came to such prominence and size and explore the role it played in the backlash against the Progressive Era.
  • The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford, April 21, 11 a.m.:  Beth Bates, professor emeritus at Wayne State University, traces allegiances within Detroit’s African-American community as reflected in its opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, challenges to unfair housing practices and demands for effective political participation. She also will show how Henry Ford and his company helped spark the civil rights movement in Detroit without intending to do so.
  • Black Resorts in Michigan During the “Nervous Generation,” April 30, 11 a.m.:  Benjamin Wilson, professor emeritus at Western Michigan University, describes how African-Americans in Michigan developed rest and relaxation spots – such as resorts like Idlewild, Woodland Park and Rainbow Inn – far from the racism of the “nervous generation.”

The presentations are part of the Lorenzo Cultural Center’s program series, The Roaring Twenties: From Riches to Rags, which continues through May 4. The program series offers nearly 40 free events, including presentations from local and national experts and authors, as well as exhibits and video showings.  A complete schedule of events is available here.

Exhibits include:

  • We Don’t Want Them: Race and Housing in Metropolitan Detroit, 1900–1968: This exhibit uses reproductions of historic documents and photographs to illustrate the history, causes and effects of residential segregation in Detroit.    
  • Welcome to Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan:  Idlewild, located in rural northwestern Michigan, was one of only a few resorts in the country where African-Americans could vacation and purchase property. At its peak in the 1920s, it was the most popular resort in the Midwest. This exhibition, from the Michigan State University Museum, created in collaboration with current residents and scholars of Idlewild, consists of photographs, interpretive banners and a reproduction of an Idlewild history quilt.

All presentations are free but require preregistration at or by calling 586.445.7348. The Lorenzo Cultural Center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday -Saturday and 1- 4 p.m. Sundays. School and group tours are available.

About The Lorenzo Cultural Center

The Lorenzo Cultural Center ( explores the influences and experiences that shape our community's heritage, examining topics from a variety of perspectives and creating interactive opportunities for learning, celebration and entertainment. Located on Macomb Community College's Center Campus, Hall and Garfield roads in Clinton Township, the cultural center is adjacent to the Macomb Center for Performing Arts.

About Macomb Community College

Macomb Community College ( is one of the nation’s leading community colleges, providing learning experiences to nearly 48,000 students annually. Macomb nationally ranks in the top two percent in the number of associate degrees awarded by community colleges and as the largest grantor of associate degrees in Michigan. The college’s comprehensive educational programming includes pre-collegiate experiences, university transfer and career preparation programs, bachelor degree completion and graduate degree programs, workforce training, professional education and certification, and continuing education and enrichment opportunities. 

Media Contact: James Melton, 586.445.7271;