Organizers of a collaborative project to install historical markers commemorating Ypsilanti's black history are hoping to schedule a big kickoff event for spring of 2018.
The goal of the Black Ypsilanti Historical Signage Project is to develop signs highlighting African-American contributions to Ypsilanti's history and install them at various locations around the city. The project started when the city of Ypsi received a $10,000 Community Tourism Action Plan (CTAP) grant from the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, the city soon realized that would not be enough to hire designers and historians to work on the project.
The city partnered with Engage @ EMU, Eastern Michigan University's outreach organization, and won another $10,000 grant through the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development.
Jessica Alexander of Engage @ EMU says the project aims to encourage "historical tourism" by spotlighting Ypsi's community and its stories. Organizers developed several broad themes, ranging from the history of the Parkridge Community Center to the Civil War and the Underground Railroad to black protests.
Organizers sought community feedback during a number of public sessions in 2016 and 2017. There will be three more public meetings for residents to provide feedback on Jan. 11, 18, and 25 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St. in Ypsi, is the location for the meeting on the 18th, but locations have yet to be confirmed for the other two dates.
So far organizers have finished four signs, and hope to have three more done before a spring ribbon-cutting ceremony. Challenges have included deciding which historical movements to focus on first, getting permission from landowners to place the signs, and keeping the community informed of progress on the project.
Jermaine Dickerson serves as graphic designer for the project. While he has lived in Ypsilanti since 2009, he says he wanted to make sure his designs reflected lifelong city residents' desires and aesthetics. He worked closely with historian Matt Siegfried to gather historical data and use community feedback to inform his creative choices. Dickerson says his goal was to create "an Afrocentric aesthetic that reflected the bold nature of the project."
"What we're trying to do is create an experience that Ypsi's black community would want to be a part of," Dickerson says. "I wanted to make sure their voices were being heard and their story was being told."
Caroline Sanders of Engage @ EMU says these seven signs are a "first phase," and if additional funding can be found, more signs could be created during a second phase.
"This is an exciting opportunity to make people aware of the important contributions black citizens made to Ypsi and its history," Sanders says.
More information on the project and a map of proposed sign locations can be found at https://gisdev.ewashtenaw.org/blackypsi/.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.