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Michigan Legal Milestones
22. Ending "Jim Crow"

Keith's Theatre in Grand Rapids discriminated against patrons on the basis of race (Jim Crow), but that practice was found to violate Michigan's Constitution by the Michigan Supreme Court in a major civil rights decision. Dedicated outside on September 8, 1995, in the Old Kent Bank Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids. Placed in the wall along the street beneath the Old Kent Bank clock tower in Grand Rapids.

Complete Text on Milestone Marker

Ending Jim Crow

Under the 1885 Michigan Civil Rights Statute, racial discrimination in public places was unlawful. The statute was not enforced, however, until African-American dentist Emmett Bolden in 1925 asked for seating on the main floor of Keith's Theatre, then standing on this site. The theatre's refusal led to a landmark 1927 decision of the Michigan Supreme Court.

A small but prominent middle class African-American community made its presence felt in Grand Rapids after World War I, but was denied equal rights of access to and use of many public places. Such discriminatory practices were known nationally as "Jim Crow."

Emmett Bolden's attorney was Oliver Meakins Green, the first African American elected to the Grand Rapids Bar Association. Green, working with the NAACP, targeted as his challenge to "Jim Crow" Keith's Theatre's practice of allowing black citizens to sit only in the balcony.

In 1927 the Michigan Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision in favor of Keith's Theatre, with Chief Justice Nelson Sharpe writing that "the public safety and general welfare of our people demand that, when the public are invited to attend places of public accommodation, amusement, and recreation, there shall be no discrimination among those permitted to enter because of race, creed, or color. (The Civil Rights Statute) is bottomed upon the broad ground of the equality of all (persons) before the law."

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Grand Rapids Bar Association, 1995.