On June 30, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-139 to rename the state-owned Lewis Cass Building in downtown Lansing to the “Elliott-Larsen Building,” honoring the legislators who sponsored Michigan’s landmark civil rights act. The legislation was introduced by Republican State Rep. Melvin Larsen and Democratic State Rep. Daisy Elliott in 1976 and was signed into law by Governor William Milliken in January of 1977. This change marks the first time in Michigan history that a state building is named after an African-American woman.
In 1976, the people of Michigan, led by Daisy Elliott, a former Democratic member of the Michigan House of Representatives, and Melvin Larsen, a former Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives, passed Public Act 453, known as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The act declared that the right to be free from discrimination is a civil right and expanded constitutional protections to a broader class of individuals.
“Daisy Elliott and Mel Larson’s landmark legislation has removed barriers to equity, progress, and participation for Michiganders in every part of our state” said Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.
“As we continue the march toward justice and equity in Michigan, naming this building for these leaders sets in stone their names as a reminder to Michigan public servants to choose inclusive ideals over closed-minded ideologies,” Gilchrist added. “We can and must build upon the foundation laid by Elliott and Larsen to make our state a home for opportunity for all.”
“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,” said Melvin Larsen. “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.”
“The family of Daisy Elliott is honored and grateful to the state of Michigan for acknowledging the contributions of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act,” said Badriyyah Sabree, granddaughter of Daisy Elliott.
“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,” Sabree added. “Michigan is forever indebted to Daisy Elliott and Mel Larson for championing this landmark legislation.”
“Together, Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott’s names have become synonymous in Michigan with the protection of civil rights,” Whitmer said. “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. We must hold up those who worked to build a better Michigan for us all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s why I am proud to rename the Cass building in Lansing to the Elliott-Larsen building. There is still more work to do. It’s time for the legislature to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and make Michigan a state where more people want to move to for opportunity.”
No one can deny the important role that Lewis Cass (1782-1866) played in Michigan’s and the nation’s early history. But Governor Whitmer recognizes that the names we elevate express our values: to the workers who enter those halls every day and the public who those workers serve. Cass owned a slave; defended a system that would permit the expansion of slavery and implemented a policy that forcibly removed Native communities from their tribal lands. Today’s order is a small, but meaningful step forward as we seek to better express our shared values.
This order is effective immediately, and the Department of Management, Technology and Budget will begin efforts to update the signage of the Elliott-Larsen Building as soon as possible.