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Whitmer renames Lewis Cass Building in Lansing to honor civil rights pioneers

 A resident has filed paperwork with Michigan's election board seeking to recall Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
A resident has filed paperwork with Michigan's election board seeking to recall Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (WJRT)
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 11:52 AM EDT
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(6/30/2020) - The state-owned Lewis Cass Building in Lansing has been renamed to honor two legislators who sponsored Michigan's 1977 civil rights law.

It will not be known as the Elliott-Larsen Building under an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday. The new name honors State Reps. Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott.

Both legislators sponsored the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which former Gov. William Milliken signed in 1977. Whitmer said the name change marks the first time a state building was named for an African-American woman.

“Together, Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott’s names have become synonymous in Michigan with the protection of civil rights,” said Whitmer. “In 2020, we must honor the work of our predecessors who, 44 years ago, outlined in law the vision of what we continue to strive for even today."

The Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act declared that living without discrimination is a civil right and expanded constitutional protections to more people.

“I am humbled and thrilled at this announcement and give all credit to Daisy who initiated working together to sponsor the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act,” Larsen said. “Having the honor of this building named after the two of us is the ultimate honor of the work she began decades ago to guarantee equality and justice for all of Michigan’s people.”

Elliott's family also was honored and grateful to have the building named after them.

“There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think of our beloved Daisy, and there is not a day that goes by in the state of Michigan when the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is not utilized in one of Michigan’s courts to protect the civil rights of its residents,” said Badriyyah Sabree, granddaughter of Daisy Elliott. "Michigan is forever indebted to Daisy Elliott and Mel Larson for championing this landmark legislation.”

Cass was an important figure in early Michigan and U.S. government before his death in 1866. But Whitmer pointed out that he owned a slave and supported policies that forcibly removed American Indians from their lands.

The building that formerly bore Cass' name is Michigan's oldest state office building and currently houses the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Changes to remove Cass' name from the building will begin as soon as possible.

Whitmer has advocated for an expansion to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ+ residents in protections against employment, education, housing and public facility discrimination.

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