MSU removes name of former KKK member from building

    Michigan State University | Susan J. Demas

    The Michigan State University (MSU) Board of Trustees on Friday unanimously approved the removal of Stephen Nisbet’s name from a university building. It followed the revelation of his ties to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1920s. 

    “As leaders of this university, we must build a campus community we are all proud of — one that values collaboration, mutual respect, support for each other,” MSU President Samuel Stanley said in a statement. “This commitment must be manifested in ways that extend well beyond words.”

    Nisbet, a Republican born in Newaygo County, died in 1986. He was a member of the Newaygo County branch of the KKK. Nisbet also served as MSU trustee. A copy of Nisbet’s KKK membership card is on file at the Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library.

    In 1974, MSU trustees named the building after Nisbet. He served as an MSU trustee from 1964 to 1971. Nisbet also served on the Alma College Board of Trustees from 1962 to 1970. His name also has been taken down from a residence hall on Alma’s campus. 

    The Friday vote followed a recommendation to the board from Stanley, after allegations of Nisbet’s ties to the KKK were brought to his attention in July. Stanley then initiated an investigation into the claims and the investigation found evidence to support them, including a signed membership card and a book detailing Nisbet’s role in the KKK. Stanley’s recommendation was reviewed and endorsed by the University-Wide Naming Committee before being presented to the MSU board.

    “I want to be clear,” Stanley said. “This decision is not about whether Mr. Nisbet contributed greatly to the state, our university or the educational attainment of many, nor do we believe that his history within our state should be erased or discounted. It is, in part, through continued examination of history through contemporary lenses that we learn and grow as a society. We take membership in the KKK and the hateful actions associated with that group very seriously.”

    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.