Historymaker: McConnell becomes first African-American legislator in Grosse Pointe Park 

Darci McConnell on the right being sworn-in as a member of the Grosse Pointe Park City Council | Darci McConnell photo
Updated, 12:54 p.m., 12/2/20

Darci McConnell was born in 1967.* That was just one year after A. Gordon Wright, a lawyer and federal government official, bought a two-story red brick Colonial home in Grosse Pointe Woods. He was the first Black person to purchase a home in one of the five Grosse Pointe communities, which were known as well-off Detroit suburbs.

Wright told the Associated Press that his family was called the N-word during their early days in the neighborhood. However, the community later embraced his family during their short stay.

“We’re being treated with friendliness and courtesy, and our two girls have had no problems in school. There have been no further incidents,” Wright said at the time.

Flash forward to 2020.

In a unanimous vote last month, McConnell was appointed to the Grosse Pointe Park City Council, making her the first African American to serve on the body. The Lansing native and University of Michigan graduate is a former Detroit News and Detroit Free Press reporter and currently owns a public relations firm. She has lived in Grosse Pointe Park for 17 years. 

Being a public official is an interesting twist for McConnell after covering politicians like former Detroit mayors Dennis Archer and Kwame Kilpatrick and later managing election campaigns for officials like Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. 

“It was very awkward around the swearing-in period having people who were peers and former colleagues asking me for quotes and being the story rather than covering the story,” McConnell chuckled. “What’s that saying, ‘It’s not so fun when the rabbit has the gun.’ It was definitely different.”

She filled the vacant seat that had been held by Dan Grano, who moved to another city. Thirteen individuals applied for the position. McConnell’s appointment was approved on Nov. 12. She will serve the remainder of Grano’s term which expires in 2021. 

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The five Pointes (Grosse Pointe Park, Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Shores, Grosse Pointe Woods) were among the last metro Detroit communities to racially integrate. As late as the 1960s, several of the communities were using a point system to carry out racial exclusionary practices based on race, religion and economic status. The effort was largely carried out by the Grosse Pointe Property Owners Association and the Grosse Pointe Brokers Association. 

William Bufalino, the noted International Brotherhood of Teamsters attorney, tried to buy a home in Grosse Pointe Shores for two years but could not score high on the point system enough to land one. He filed a lawsuit in 1962 and later was bought a dwelling on Webber Place. In 1963, Republican Gov. George Romney — U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s father — joined the Detroit NAACP in a march through the five communities designed to push back against discrimination in housing. 

In recent years, however, Blacks have begun to make strides as governmental officials in the five communities. In 2018, Sierra Leone Donaven was appointed to a seat on the Grosse Pointe Farms City Council. However, she lost her bid for a full term in 2019. 

Terence Thomas, a longtime Lansing lobbyist, is an elected Grosse Pointe City Council member. Joseph Herd was appointed to the Grosse Pointe Board of Education in January. 

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U.S. census estimates show that Grosse Pointe Park is about 10% African American. Greg Bowens, a Grosse Pointe Park resident who helped to create a NAACP chapter representing the Pointes and Harper Woods in 2017, has known McConnell for more than 20 years. Given her knowledge of government, Bowens believes that she will work to bring more equity and increase minority presence in civil service positions like local law enforcement. 

“Having Darci McConnell on the City Council means a lot,” Bowens said. 

McConnell said the position will help her to continue the work that she’s always done such as serving as volunteer mentor with Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and founding an adult literacy program through Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit. 

“It really is an opportunity for me to build on my ability to help people,” she said.

Correction: The year of McConnell’s birth has been corrected and so has the city in the lead photo caption.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.