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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Black history walking tour in GR highlights historical landmarks

Grand Rapids Walking Tours

Caroline Cook and I met on a cold winter afternoon near the blue bridge in downtown Grand Rapids. She was taking me on the short version of a local African American History tour.

“We're crossing the Pearl Street Bridge right now and we're going toward the statue of Lucius Lyon.” 

Cook says Lyon was one of the first white people to settle in the area and he is responsible for hiring the first African American to settle here. His name was John Scott. 

“He is believed to be one of the first black men to arrive in Grand Rapids. So it is said that in 1834 Mr. Scott walked approximately 160 miles from Detroit to Grand Rapids, and that was with a group of laborers. He was coming here with a purpose to help build the canals that eventually lined both sides of the river.”

Nearing one of our final stops in our tour we stop inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum to look at two pieces painted by Paul Collins. 

“Mr. Collins is a lifelong Grand Rapidian who still lives and works and creates art here in Grand Rapids. He was the first African-American to paint a sitting president. And guess who that was? That would be Gerald Ford.” 

The tour highlighting local African American history was first developed by local Grand Rapidian LaTarro Traylor. 

“So it’s a lot of stuff that we don’t even know about and I think it’ll help with articulation a black identity in this city because its still kind of vague as far as what is black culture in Grand Rapids, and so I think that too it will help give us some history on the role that black people played and what’s possible for us now today.”

To sign up for the Black History Month tour this Saturday visit Grand Rapids Running Tours website. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo, WGVU News. 

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