Whitmer strips name of slavery advocate Cass from Michigan office building

Lewis Cass advocated for slavery expansion and the forced removal of Native Americans. Now, his name is being stripped from a state office building in favor of the names of civil rights advocates. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

A state office building named for a slavery advocate will now bear the names of the authors of Michigan’s civil rights law. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Tuesday to rename the Lewis Cass Building in downtown Lansing to the “Elliott-Larsen Building,” honoring the two former legislators, Democrat Daisy Elliott and Republican Melvin Larsen, who sponsored landmark legislation in 1976. 

It is the first time a state building in Michigan has been named for an African-American woman.

Lewis Cass, a Michigan territorial governor, advocated for the expansion of slavery. Now, his name has been stripped from a state office building. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Elliott died in 2015, but Larsen was “humbled and thrilled” at the announcement, giving “all credit to Daisy who initiated working together to sponsor the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act,” Larsen said in a news release. “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.” 

Lewis Cass was a territorial governor of Michigan before it was a state, represented Michigan in the Senate from 1845-1857 and served as President James Buchanan’s secretary of state. He was a slave owner and supported the expansion of slavery into northern states. As President Andrew Jackson’s secretary of war, Cass was involved in the forced removal of Native Americans from their homelands.

The building name change comes in the wake of protests against racism and police violence sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, during an arrest in Minneapolis in May. In recent days, Mississippi has taken down its state flag, which bore an image of the flag of the Confederacy, and Princeton University renamed a building that had been named after former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who espoused racist views about African Americans.

The former Lewis Cass Building, located in downtown Lansing, houses parts of state departments, including the headquarters of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and some workers from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, signed into law by Gov. William Milliken in 1977, declared it is a civil right to be free from discrimination and expanded constitutional protections to a broader class of individuals. 

Several state officials spoke out in support of the change. 

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon said that his staff “will be proud to go to work in ‘Elliot-Larsen,’ a building now named to reflect our shared commitment to equal rights for all Michiganders.” 

“This should be a universally supported change,” Brian Calley, the former Michigan lieutenant governor, tweeted Tuesday. “Elliott-Larson was historic, landmark state legislation. It is fitting that ... a building be named in honor of the sponsors. And the Cass building is the right one to rename.” 

State Rep. Cynthia Neeley, D-Flint, also expressed her support for Whitmer’s order in a news release. 

“While Lewis Cass was our territorial governor and a U.S. senator from Michigan, he also owned a slave, supported the expansion of slavery and implemented the ‘Trail of Tears,’ which was the forced removal of native indigenous American people from their ancestral lands,” Neeley wrote. “Renaming it the Elliott-Larsen Building is a touching tribute to two legislators who sponsored Michigan’s landmark civil rights act.”

Cass still has a Detroit street, Detroit high school, a statue in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and a Michigan county named after him.

“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,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a news release. 

“We can and must build upon the foundation laid by Elliott and Larsen to make our state a home for opportunity for all.”

“Together, Melvin Larsen and Daisy Elliott’s names have become synonymous in Michigan with the protection of civil rights,” Whitmer said in a news release. “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.”

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Pax Romana
Tue, 06/30/2020 - 6:06pm

If Democrats are so against Racism, why did they create the KKK, the Black Lynching epidemic in the South, Jim Crow, the party of Bull Connor, Racial Segregation, and Japanese Internment Camps??

If these Democrats are so against slavery, why did they own so many slaves, and then start a war, killing 600,000 mostly white men and boys, in an effort to preserve it? And why did they destabilize Libya, bringing back Black Slavery there? And why haven't they and their MSM shown any outrage over that, or done anything about it??

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:46am

Pax,,U are so VERY correct!!! Kudo's to U. :)

Paul Jordan
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:54am

An excellent question!
And in addition we could ask, 'Why do the Republicans now embrace white supremacists and plot to disenfranchise black Americans when their original purpose was to oppose the enslavement of black Americans?'
The answer to both questions is, 'Current political parties reflect their current adherents, regardless of their histories'.

Lisa M
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 11:24am

Great point! These narratives that prop up a blind allegiance to party lines (on both sides) have lead this country to this crossroad. But I still believe that our greatest opportunity to shape an America that is equal for ALL, lies in this extraordinary moment. (Independent voter here)

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 10:34am

Have you studied the history of the changes in both major political parties in the US Over the past 100 years? The Democrats of Reconstruction and the old “Solid South” are gone. They became Republicans.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/03/2020 - 8:49pm

Why is the party of Lincoln defending democrat slaveholding racist statues and calling that their Heritage?

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 4:14am

What a great governor!

A Yooper
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 8:40am

That’s fantastic!

Sheryl Taylor
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:50am

We also have a river named after him!

Sheryl Taylor
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:54am

There is river in Tuscola county named Cass River also!

View From Kzoo
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 2:08pm

While we're at it, let's rename Michigan counties that are named for un-politically correct Americans: Calhoun, Wayne, and, yes, Cass. Imagine what that would cost. Who wants the bill?

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 5:13pm

Great. One more Democrat to forget all about...

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:17pm

One filthy rotten racist at a time we ALL will dismantle White Supremacy in all its ugly forms. Yes this USA was founded on Genocide and built its White Riches on the backs of Slaves - It has never been about either party its about bigoted racist white superiority.

Guy Laraway
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:16pm

When will you rename the counties of Cass and Monroe? Are removing the statue of G. A. Custer? Changing the name of Wayne County? Why don't you just burn every book and start over?

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 3:59pm

We'll rename the counties of Cass, Monroe, and Wayne whenever the people of those counties want to. It's just a building. Unknot your knickers.

Inconvenient genius
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 1:21pm

Not sure we are being told the full truth about cass, but let's assume he was as awful as they suddenly want us to believe. Where does she derive the authority to unilaterally enact this change? This woman is totally out of control and should be criminally charged for her overreach. I hope she is happy when the next governor decides to follow her precedent and change the name of the building once again. Perhaps the "Donald J Trump state office building"? Or John Engler Center? Of course we could invoke parity and give her the Gretchen Whitmer Outhouse up at Wilderness state park so she does not feel left out. Ruling by executive fiat is a weak tactic and a dangerous little precedent to set, as your successors may decide to expand on the practice in ways you find distasteful

middle of the mit
Sat, 07/04/2020 - 9:15pm

Why name Government buildings after people who despise Government at all? Why not name them after their geography and then the people who chose to live there can be confident that they will never have to be defending something other than their area? Is vanity something we are aspiring to? I understand acknowledging accomplishments, but no one person did anything by themselves, ever. Henry Ford "invented the assembly line". For who? His workers. Einstein figured out E=MC to the second power. Who paid him to do it?

The only time conservatives hate ruling by executive fiat is when they are not allowed to rule by executive fiat. Do you complain about Trumps phone and pen? Did you complain when both branches of State Government signed off their duties to Governor Snyder?


I will tell you this though.......[[[Of course we could invoke parity and give her the Gretchen Whitmer Outhouse up at Wilderness state park so she does not feel left out.]]]

This type of talk is just going to further alienate Northern Michiganders against your cause.

In fact, this is the perfect place to insert this little opinion piece.


This is Dennis Lennox. And when Dennis Lennox is saying Northern MI is too conservative............

He tells us all the things I have been trying to tell you, except he doesn't read our Court sections because he thinks crime is relatively low. Well yeah, but compared with per capita rating........

He wants people to move up here after the virus because work at home will work and you don't have to live in the rat race anymore. What happens when you move up here? Up here becomes the rat race. It is this weekend! Not that we would mind it. But your taxes are going to have to go up just like the rest of ours to provide services and infrastructure and all the things that humans deem necessary. Don't you think you would be moving from one tax hole and creating a whole new one? And that is where this conservative tells us Northern Mi doesn't want and is too conservative for that change.

Here is where this Progressive Democratic Liberal that lives up north is going to tell him those things you think we deny you, are the very reason you come here to get away.

And then bring it up here and ask if you actually got away.

Is it from the rat race or the COVID?

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 8:06am

Changing the name of a slave owner doesn't change the fact that they were a slave owner. You had better tear the whole building down and replace it with a pink one, Stretchin' Gretchen.