On January 16 the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Department of History, and Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies once again worked together to put together a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Symposium. It was their fifth collaboration since 2019. 

"Before the Black Action Movement: The U-M African American Student Project, Washtenaw County’s Black Communities, and the Struggle for Inclusion" involved a distinguished panel of U-M African American alumni, and representatives of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County (AACHM) and the Bentley Historical Library, to discuss the African American presence in Washtenaw County prior to 1970.

After an introduction by History Department Chair Angela D. Dillard, Brian A. Williams, an archivist at the Bentley Historical Library, provided an overview of the African American Student Project.

Brian A. Williams, assistant director and archivist for university history at the Bentley Historical Library, presents the African American Student Project. (photo: Gregory Parker)


Matthew Countryman, chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and member of the Black Washtenaw County Humanities Collaboratory, introduced the panel which included Lauretta Flowers, retired Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher and U-M alum; Joyce Hunter, president and CEO of the AACHM; Elizabeth James, program associate for the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and U-M alum; and Alma Wheeler Smith, Michigan State Representative (2005–2010), Michigan State Senator (1995–2002), and U-M alum.

Each panelist shared personal stories of their time as students and community members in Washtenaw County in the time leading up to the Black Action Movement.

Panel, from left to right: Lauretta Flowers, Joyce Hunter, Alma Wheeler Smith, Elizabeth James. (photo: Gregory Parker)


During the Q&A, U-M students, faculty, and local community members engaged the panelists with questions about their exeriences—and how to continue to build on the work that's been done.


A U-M student asks a question of the panel. (photo: Gregory Parker)


Following the program, guests met with representatives from the Bentley Historical Library, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and Ann Arbor Public Library to invesitgate their efforts to document and preserve the stories of Washtenaw County's Black communities.


Bentley Historical Library's Andrew Rutledge demonstrates the African American Student Project's digital archive. (photo: Gregory Parker)


Learn more about these and related efforts: