A nonprofit group is slated to hold an event honoring Michigan African-American leaders in honor of Black History Month. Last year, now-Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was awarded with the the African-American Leadership Institute’s “Great Expectations Award.”
This year’s gala is on Friday, Feb. 22 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. History plays a vital role in the event.
African-Americans have served in the Michigan Legislature since 1893 when William Ferguson was sworn in to serve in the state House.
Ferguson, a successful businessman and attorney, gained prominence when he sued Gies’ European Hotel Restaurant in Detroit for attempting to restrict him to eating in the “colored section” of the business.
Represented by lawyer David Augustus Straker, a Black man, the case led to the historic 1890 state Supreme Court ruling that separation by race in public places was illegal. It has come to be known as Michigan’s “Great Civil Rights Case.”
Ferguson’s legacy is important to the African-American Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that presents the annual African-American Leadership Awards.
The event honors unsung heroes who “labor behind the scenes to advance the policies and causes that empower the community,” says Al Williams, president of the African-American Leadership Institute.
The ceremony began 2014. Previous winners include: Daisy Elliott, a former state House and 1961-62 Michigan Constitutional Convention member; A. Gregory Eaton, longtime lobbyist with Karoub Associates; Highland Park’s Martha Scott, a former state Senate member and first Black woman to serve as a Michigan mayor; and, posthumously, Richard Austin, former Michigan Secretary of State who served from 1971-95.
“This year our theme is ‘Shared History,’” said Williams. “It’s hard to make history if it’s not shared. It’s important for us to recognize the work done and highlight the leaders from yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Event emcees are Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley and WXYZ Detroit editorial/public affairs Director Chuck Stokes. Gail Perry-Mason, senior director of Investments at Oppenheimer & Co Inc., will be the keynote speaker.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.