Preserving Civil Rights Heritage: Detroit’s Malcolm X House (AKA Robert X House) and Gladys Mitchell Sweet House
Professor Dan Bonenberger
Important preservation efforts of Detroit’s Civil Rights locations are an ongoing project for EMU’s Geography and Geology department, which involves both students and faculty. Following Professor Dan Bonenberger and his students conducting field and archival research at the Malcolm X House in Detroit, Bonenberger speaks about the importance of sites like the Malcolm X House and how residents can get involved.
The Malcolm X House, where the famed Civil Rights activist lived in 1953, is located on Detroit’s east side. Due to fire damage suffered during the Pandemic, this vital piece of local and national history is now in more danger than ever before. Sites like these provide tangible links to the past and need to be preserved to keep our history alive. Bonenberger says that even though until recently, “most U.S. Civil Rights heritage sites were concentrated in the South… it should be no surprise that Detroit was a significant city in the struggle for civil rights.” His work involves identifying these sites so they can be officially recognized as heritage sites and receive the care they deserve.
Bonenberger, who admits he wasn’t terribly interested in history growing up, now utilizes digital technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) to support ongoing preservation projects. GIS allows historians to “identify historic buildings, examine their conservation problems, and interpret the spaces and places of history and everyday life in the past.”
Supporting the efforts of preservation historians can be as simple as visiting established heritage places such as Detroit’s Charles Wright Museum and the Motown Museum. Donating to the student researchers at EMU via the EMU Foundation is another excellent way to support fledgling preservation efforts. Finally, Bonenberger suggests taking a class on Preservation at EMU.