The Michigan Daily - Friday, July 8, 1988 - Page 3
Milan's true colors
BY JIM PONIEWOZIK
Returning to Ann Arbor from vacation last weekend, I drove, as I
usually do, through Milan, a rural town tucked away in the southeast
corner of Washtenaw county. It was July 3, and many of the houses I
drove by already had their flags up for Independence Day.
No surprise. Like the people of many similar towns, Milan folk are,
by and large, patriotic. They love to fly their red, white, and blue. But I
did think, driving by, that the display was ironic, since some of them had
1 just recently displayed a different version of the national colors, coming
across as red-necked, white-skinned bigots blue in the face with
indignation at the thought of letting a predominantly Black church come
The church in question is the Wells Temple Church of God, an Ann
Arbor-area church with a primarily Black congregation which recently
purchased an old schoolhouse in Milan with the intention of relocating
Small towns such as Milan are not known for any particular aversion
to churches. But such was not the case this time.
No sooner had the congregation applied for permission to open a
church in the schoolhouse (since the the area is zoned for agriculture) than
several citizens near the site raised a hue and cry over the proposal. They
argued that the influx of parishioners would create noise problems and
would raise unsightly dust clouds from the building's gravel parking lot.
Noise complaints? Against a church? In an area whose citizens allowed
a motorcycle club to open on the same street? Dust? In an an area whose
citizens are already accustomed to prodigious dust clouds raised daily by
tractors working farm fields?
If these points of contention sound flimsy to you, you're not alone.
The real danger with the church, in the eyes of some of its potential
neighbors, is not noise or dust pollution, but the possible "pollution" of
the mostly white community with its Black members.
Mary Jane Dennison, a Milan resident who lives near the schoolhouse,
said neighbors have called her and her mother trying to enlist their
support against the church. The neighbors, she said, were concerned that
the presence of Blacks in the community might lead to a lowering of
property values, or, heaven forfend, to some of the church members
actually moving to Milan.
I have no doubt that racism is the motivator of many of the
complaints. Not to say that it is the only one, or that Milan is a racist
community as a whole; there are a lot of decent people in the township
- I've known a few of them myself. But I've also lived in Monroe, just
a short drive from Milan, and worked at a greenhouse whose clientele
included farmers from the rural area that includes Milan. I've heard their
racial slurs. I've had one of them tell a co-worker of mine, while I was
out of earshot, that he didn't approve of my "nigger" haircut.
But I'm not writing this simply as a malediction against the Milan
citizens fighting the church. That was my original intent. And I wish it
could still be. I wish I could just look at this incident and, loftily
deprecate this incident as the work of a group of backward hayseeds, a
holdover of the segregation era which could never occur in a community
of educated, refined citizens such as ourselves. I wish I could write about
this "isolated incident" and think, Thank God the rcst of us aren't like
I wish I could but I can't. Instead I can only think of Kitty Genovese.
I first heard of Genovese in a psychology class. She was attacked in
her own home, screamed repeatedly for help and was heard by most of her
neighbors, none of whom came to her aid. She was killed.
I remember revulsion, on the part of my classmates and myself, then
denial - denial of the thought that any of us could possibly react in the
same way. And then shock, as we read about studies which demonstrated
that the vast majority of people would react in the exact same way as her
When I read of the Milan controversy, my reaction was a similar brand
of disgust. How could any be so blatantly racist in this day an age? I had
thought we'd outlived the age of "whites only" signs. How could anyone
live next door to people spewing this kind of crap and do nothing?
But the more I contemplate the incident, the more I can't help
wondering whether I'm in the psych class all over again; whether I, raised
in the same environment, wouldn't be out there manufacturing reasons to
oppose the church with the best of them, arguing that my motives were
color-blind - maybe even actually believing it on the surface - but
thinking in the back of my mind, what if one moves in?
So I, along with the Wells Temple Church of God, look for the
township board's final decision. No matter what happens, I'll still look at
the arguments advanced by some of the schoolhouse's neighbors with
suspicion, disgust, and anger. But I'll also be sure to save some for
Preparing for takeoff ELLEN LEVY/Daily
Members of the "Radio Control Falcons" Jake Busch and Chet Rutledge take advantage
of the Independence Day holiday to go model airplane flying.
- - - - - - - - - - -*
BY ADAM SCHRAGER
Michigan football coach and
newly-appointed Athletic Director Bo
Schembechler revealed a plan
Wednesday for a $12 million football
training center and athletic adminis-
In his first meeting as athletic di-
rector, Schembechler described the
"Center of Champions" before the
University's Board of Intercollegiate
The center will contain a new
locker room and weight training
rooms for the football team, as well
as athletic department offices, a 150-
seat dining room, a museum o f
Michigan sports, and an "M Go
Blue" gift shop, Schembechler said.
The two-story building will be
located west of South State Street
near the Michigan Track and Tennis
Building, where the current Michigan
football building lies.
The new facility was unanimously
approved by the 19-member board,
composed of administrators, students,
and faculty. The center, which will
be privately funded, already has raised
$165,000 for its construction.
Schembechler, who made the an-
nouncement with Associate Athletic
Director Jack Weidenbach, is entering
his 20th season as football coach.
This meeting was his first as athletic
director since replacing Don Canham,
who retired on July 1.
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