Grand Rapids history is not that long but some aspects run deep.
Native American’s lived in the Grand Rapids region long before white settlers arrived. Following their arrival, African American’s came to the region.
Whatever history we are talking about, the City of Grand Rapids has not been around that long. The city was founded in 1850 but had been a village since 1839. The first non-Native American to settle in the region was Louis Campau, who arrived in 1826.
The first known African-American to arrive in Grand Rapids worked on the east side power canal in the 1830’s.
Part of that history is revealed when Caroline Cook, who operates Grand Rapids Running Tours, a company that provides historical walking tours around the city, highlights important moments in Grand Rapids history. As part of Black History Month, Cook will carry out walking tours exploring the contribution African American’s have made in Grand Rapids, including Rosa Parks and Paul Collins. The tours are also part of the World of Winter Festival running though the end of the month World of Winter.
Cook says even though she’s conducted hundreds of tours, she is reminded of this important fact.
“I’m reminded each time how short our history is. Whether it is black history, or Dutch history, or whatever history we are talking about. Grand Rapids did not become a city until the 1850’s….With black history, we’ve come a long way.”
Cook believes this because as she studies and learns, the African American history story reveals itself to have been filled with painful experiences. Those were not confined to slave holding states in the south.
“The way the African American’s were treated, even in the north, Michigan was never a slave state but segregation, the policies, the practices. It’s been a painful progress, we’ve made progress, but it’s been painful along the way.”
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s changed the legislation but did not always change people’s hearts and minds. Attitudes towards African American’s did not change immediately but Cook says she sees so many positive signs in recent years that speak to progress and opportunity.
Cook points to the Grand Rapids Public School’s which has had several African American Superintendent’s and leadership. The city Manager is African American and so is the Police Chief. Cook says signs of progress abound and are important to recognize.
So, as she prepares tours to visit important sites around the city, she looks to convey those significant aspects so people can gain a better understanding of the challenges people faced. But overcoming those challenges have contributed to both the advancement of the city, and the African American population.
“We are making progress. We have these great people who are going to help shape our future. I have nothing but faith and good feelings the more I study. I’ve learned about the pain of the past, but I’m also looking to the prospects of the future.”
For more information on tours, availability, and cost, visit http://www.grandrapidsrunningtours.com.