The Michigan State University (MSU) board of trustees voted to change the name of a building that was named after Stephen S. Nisbet, who was allegedly a member of the Ku Klux Klan, on Friday.
According to The Detroit News, Nisbet was an MSU trustee from 1964 to 1970. The building was named after him in 1974.
On September 4, MSU President Samuel Stanley said that he had recommended the name change to the board after learning about Nisbet’s alleged KKK connection.
“It was recently brought to my attention that Mr. Nisbet was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the early parts of the last century,” Stanley said in a statement received by Newsweek. “After verifying the information, I have made a recommendation to our board to remove his name from a building on our campus. 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. This commitment must be manifested in ways that extend well beyond words.”
In the memorandum from Stanley, he recommended that the building be renamed to 1407 S. Harrison, which the board approved on Friday.
The memorandum explained Nisbet’s “commitments to education, business,government and the general welfare of the people of Michigan,” citing that he had been a school principal, superintendent, board of trustees members at both MSU and Alma College. Despite these being the reasons the building was named after him, the memorandum said that his KKK involvement was inexcusable.
“While Mr. Nisbet’s dedication and contributions to the State of Michigan are significant, his involvement with the KKK cannot be ignored, and these activities directly conflict with the values and mission of Michigan State University,” the memorandum said.
The decision to change the name was opposed by Nisbet’s grandson (also named Stephen Nisbet), who referenced a 2011 book published by the Michigan State University Press called Everyday Klansfolk: White Protestant Life and the KKK in 1920s Michigan by Craig Fox, which was also referenced in Stanley’s memorandum. He said the book “described the Michigan KKK of nearly 100 years ago akin to a benign civic organization similar to the Masons, Moose or Lions clubs in their communities,” according to The Detroit News. Nisbet also said that the KKK in Michigan didn’t have the same “violence perpetrated by the KKK later in the South.”
Nisbet said that he’d never heard his grandfather speak about the organization, but he did concede that he’d found a membership card for the organization that allegedly belonged to his grandfather. Despite the card belonging to his grandfather, Nisbet suggested that someone else may have signed him up, because he said the address was wrong, and his first name was spelled incorrectly. He also said that the signature wasn’t his grandfather’s. Nisbet said that some people were signed up unknowingly.
A membership card that supposedly belonged to Nisbet found in the Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library was included in materials for the board, but its unclear if this is the same one that his grandson was referring to.
The excerpts from Everyday Klansfolk included in the memorandum do list Nisbet as a Klan member, but don’t divulge many details regarding his involvement.
Despite Nisbet’s protests, Stanley said that the change had nothing to do with disparaging the family. “It’s about acknowledging that the KKK has been engaged in extreme racism and horrific violence toward Black Americans from the end of the Civil War until today,” Stanley said, The Detroit News reported.
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