Anti-Racist Midland launches most comprehensive collection of Black Midland’s history

Something big happened at the Little Theater at the Midland Center for the Arts.  

“You all being here today — even us being in this room, not even this project — is an act of a revolutionary community,” says Jonathan Haynes, founding member of Anti-Racist Midland.

Jonathan Haynes, a founding member of ARM, leads the opening remarks at the Voices of Black Midland launch event.On Saturday, Anti-Racist Midland (ARM) launched the most comprehensive collection of Black Midland’s history, and there’s still room to grow. The digital exhibit, Voices of Black Midland, is filled with interviews totaling 23 hours from current and former Black residents.

“We sought out to create something which enabled us to come together for intimate and open conversations through personal interviews with our neighbors, to learn from one another, and to share these learnings with the larger community,” says Haynes.

Each conversation, ranging from roughly half an hour to 90 minutes long, can be listened to on the website. Full, written transcripts are also available. 

“It creates an enduring space for Black Midland founders to share in their own words their unique stories of what life has meant to them here, and their hopes of what it may become,” says Haynes .“... It’s a testament to our community’s resilience, showing that throughout it all we have been here — we are here — changing what we cannot accept, and bettering the environment for all.”

From left to right: Afua Ofori-Darko, Smallwood Holoman, Erin Patrice Walker. The oral stories are grouped into the following categories: Education, First Families, and Work and Community. You can also read articles about Midland’s racial history, for example, minstrel shows, Klan activity, housing covenants, Sambo’s restaurant, and more. If you want to venture further, there’s information about redlining and urban renewal in Saginaw, as well as national resources. 

On top of that, there are lesson plans that ARM hopes will be utilized in schools around town.

Principal investigator and local historian Jennifer Vannette played a major role in the research for this project.“Each generation has watched their children navigate lack of representation in school curriculum and lack of support when incidents happened during the school day,” says principal investigator and historian Jennifer Vannette, who played a major role in research for the project. “Those who graduated more recently recalled students making cracking whip sounds at them in the hallways after their classes watched the film ‘Roots.’”

Founding ARM members reflect on their learnings from the project.

“I was born and raised in Midland,” says Jared Hohman, founding member of ARM. “I don’t think you truly understand the quirks and interesting dynamics of perhaps the whole time you grew up until you get to move out and see other places in the world and learn more.”

Jared Hohman, a founding member of ARM, shares his learnings from the project and walks the audience through the website.Last year, ARM built a tracking document for racial incidents in Midland. The frequency of these incidents alarmed Hohman. 

“There are some smaller incidents that I don’t think many of us realize happen on the daily,” he says.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve enjoyed about this project,” says Afua Ofori-Darko, founding member of ARM, “is that growing up here, I understood what Black in Midland meant in a silo; what it meant for me … but I didn’t really understand what Black in Midland meant in a generational sense. For me, this project has really exemplified that.”

“I think the most significant part and certainly my favorite part is how much this project is rooted in the community,” says Haynes.

Afua Ofori-Darko, a founding member of ARM, interviews panelists at the launch event.The project was supported by the Midland Area Community Foundation, Midland County Historical Society, Cultural Awareness Coalition, Midland Center for the Arts, and Midland Daily News. That support sometimes came in the form of finances, but research and web development were huge components. 

“This is really the beginning of the project,” says Connor Reed, founding member of ARM. “This is a tremendous amount of work that has been put into this. To reach the point we’re at now, we really want this to be a baseline for communal understanding and to continue to add stories, to continue to add conversations and interviews to this growing repertoire.”

If you’d like to contribute to the oral histories, submit a short form on their website. To support ARM financially, you can donate to the Anti-Racist Midland Project Fund #01102 at the Midland Area Community Foundation’s website.
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Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.