Greetings Neighbors,

It is my pleasure to send a special e-newsletter celebrating Black History Month! For this special month, I want to uplift Black lawmakers, past and present, as a way to share the rich political legacy of Black policymakers from Michigan as we look to the future.

For many Black Michiganders, Detroit is the bedrock of our political foundation, from being a safe passage through the Underground Railroad to being an economic leader for jobs and housing throughout the Civil Rights era. Black Detroit has a significant place in history.

I am proud to serve in Lansing, working to amplify historically disenfranchised voices in our state, and I’m pleased to recognize the incredible strides we’ve made for equality and for representation.

Feel free to contact me at (517) 373-0852, by email at or on Facebook or Instagram. Thank you for your commitment to our community. I look forward to hearing from you!


Rep. Kimberly L. Edwards

House District 12

The First Black Legislators in the Michigan House: Charline White and William Ferguson

Black and white photo of William Webb Ferguson

William Webb Ferguson was the first Black person to be elected into the Michigan House of Representatives in 1892 at the age of 35. Ferguson, who graduated with honors from Detroit High School in 1876, was the first Black child to attend Detroit High. A businessman and entrepreneur, Ferguson founded the Ferguson Printing Company in Detroit in 1883. He served two terms in the House.

William Ferguson is also noted as a party in Michigan’s first case of racial discrimination in 1890. The claim stemmed from him being refused service because of his race. Ferguson won on appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. The discrimination that led to the case of Ferguson vs. Gies was emblematic of the times, but Ferguson broke the status quo with his victory.

Black and white photo of Charline White.

Charline White was the first Black woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. She was sworn into office Jan. 3, 1951, representing the 11th House District, at the age of 30. White was a noted businesswoman and entrepreneur in the Detroit area as an owner of a floral business. White, who was born in Atlanta on Sept. 1, 1920, moved to Detroit in 1923 and was a graduate of Cass Technical High School. She later studied at Wayne State University.

Throughout her time in the Michigan House of Representatives, White served on several committees, including the committees on Juvenile Corrections, Metropolitan Affairs, and Retirement. White, popular among her colleagues, died just six days after her birthday on Sept. 7, 1959, while holding office.

Continuing Representation: The Firsts of the 102nd Session

This legislative term there are a number of achievements for Black legislators. For the first time, the Michigan House elected a Black speaker, Joe Tate (D-Detroit). Tate, who grew up on Detroit’s East Side, is currently serving his third term.

Representation for the first time in predominantly white voting districts has provided a few notable firsts for Black legislators this term:

  • Rep. Kimberly Edwards (D-Eastpointe) is the first Black woman elected to represent Macomb County.
  • Rep. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) is the first Black man elected to represent Macomb County.
  • Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids) is the first Black woman elected to the House to represent the West Michigan city.
  • Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) is the first Black woman to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee in either chamber.
  • The House Insurance and Financial Services Committee is led by a Black woman for the first time, Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac). Rep. Carter is also the first Black woman elected to represent Pontiac.

In addition, Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) is the first Black woman to be elected in House District 7, to represent Ferndale, Royal Oak Twp., Royal Oak and Pleasant Ridge in Oakland County.

Legislation that Uplifts the People and Communities of Color Around Our State

Democrats continue to put people first, focusing on people-driven policy that uplifts all Michiganders. For the first time in 40 years, Democrats are in control of both chambers, and Michigan has a Democratic governor. The trifecta has enabled a record-breaking legislative season of policies that address everyday life issues with practical solutions. Across both chambers and in the governor’s office, equality and inclusivity are paramount. Within this framework, Democrats have tackled tough issues with smart policy that is having a positive impact on people and communities of color across the state. There are over 1.4 million Black Michiganders, and Democratic lawmakers recognize gaps and barriers that negatively affect Black communities. This email includes some of the ways this legislative season has specifically introduced legislation that will positively impact the lives of Black folks in the Great Lakes State.

Jobs and the Economy

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ 2019 Health Equity Report, the African American population experienced poverty at 2.4 times that of the state average.

When it comes to putting people first, kitchen table issues matter — paying bills, purchasing everyday necessities and having job security are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. House Democrats have delivered on lowering costs and creating more opportunities.

Job creation, competitive wages and a strong workforce are all necessary ingredients to make a thriving economy; that’s why one of our first acts was to restore prevailing wage to attract and retain highly trained talent.

The state awarded $370 million in construction contracts to firms owned and operated by people of color and women under Michigan Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.

We secured funds in this year’s budget to expand Global Detroit’s talent acquisition and retention programs.

Health and Wellbeing

For House Democrats, nothing is more important than the health, safety and wellbeing of every Michigander — and the legislation we got across the finish line last year proves it. We have prioritized the things that Michiganders have asked for: secure reproductive rights, access to quality and affordable health insurance and safe communities.

Per Executive Order 2020-55, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer convened the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities to study the causes of racial disparities and recommend actions to address historical and systemic inequities. In August, the “Make it in Michigan” budget allocated almost $50 million to implement the recommendations of the COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force.

Wins for people and communities of color from the Racial Disparities Task Force include:

  • $17 million for the Neighborhood Health Grant Program, to transition 22 community-based COVID-19 testing sites into comprehensive community health and wellness centers offering community-driven health services, such as blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol screenings, immunizations, COVID and HIV/STI testing, social services and counseling.
  • $16 million for Local Healthy Community Zones, pilot programs designed to address leading causes of health disparities in underrepresented communities, like a lack of healthy food or fitness opportunities, by concentrating resources on boosting opportunities for healthy lifestyles.
  • Almost $3 million to support individuals with sickle cell disease and their families with counseling, support groups and other assistance.
  • $23 million to support implementation of the task force’s recommendations and address additional disparities in health care access.
  • Over $56 million for Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies, a bipartisan initiative that supports pregnant women, new mothers and infants.

Energy and the Environment

  • $20 million will establish an Environmental Justice Contaminated Site Cleanup Fund to remediate and redevelop contaminated sites in historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities.
  • Two new grants from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, totaling $33 million, were appropriated to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to replace both lead service lines and cast iron pipes in 11 neighborhoods throughout Detroit.

Matters of Justice, Restoration and Second Chances

According to the Prison Policy Initiative report on demographics of incarcerated people, every race and ethnicity is overrepresented in prisons, except for white and Asian people.

According to a Vera Institute study cited by the Black Leadership Advisory Council to Gov. Whitmer, for incarceration trends in Michigan, Blacks comprise 15% of Michigan’s population but 37% of our jail population and 53% of our prison population.

Democrats have passed legislation this session that provides more resources to reduce recidivism and to offer more community support for those Michiganders who’ve made mistakes and have paid their debt to society.

  • Over $3 million for the Diatribe community space, a local nonprofit in Grand Rapids is committed to using restorative art to disrupt historical systems of oppression by reimagining education and holistically honoring the community.
  • Passed the Hate Crimes Act and Institutional Desecration Act, which strengthens our legal framework against hate crimes and updates sentencing guidelines.
  • Introduced bills to eliminate juvenile life without parole sentences.
  • Clean Slate legislation:
    • Automatic expungement of certain convictions without an application, per the bipartisan Clean Slate legislation, directly impacting over 1 million Michiganders.
    • Amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the Landlord and Tenant Relationships Act to prohibit the disclosure of information related to expunged convictions by employers and landlords.

Education Investments that Benefit People and Communities of Color

  • Five predominantly Black school districts received debt relief this historic budget cycle: Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Inkster, Ypsilanti and Muskegon Heights will receive a combined $114 million in debt relief.
  • Invested $160 million to provide all 1.4 million public school students free breakfast and lunch every day.
  • $70 million to temporarily lower the eligibility age for Michigan Reconnect from 25 to 21, making a tuition-free associate degree or skills training available to 350,000 more Michiganders.
  • Over $204 million increase, for a total of $952 million, in funding for academically at-risk, economically disadvantaged students.
  • Over $254 million to expand free pre-K for up to 5,600 kids — more than 8,600 Black children now qualify for the program.

Affordable Housing

  • $50 million for the Housing and Community Development Program to alleviate affordable housing needs across the state and revitalize downtown areas in Michigan.
  • $10 million for Missing Middle housing programs to build on existing $50 million within the current year budget.

Community Money Back to the District Passed During the Historic Budget Season

Michigan’s two largest metropolitan areas, Detroit and Grand Rapids, by themselves, are the home of the majority of the state’s people, jobs, economic output, exports by value, highly educated workers, and scientists and engineers. Detroit is currently one of the 20 strongest-performing metro areas in the nation, due in large part to steady growth in manufacturing jobs.

Detroit Communities:

  • More than $3 million of Detroit’s additional revenue sharing will go directly toward improving public safety.
  • We secured a $3 million grant to the Police Athletic League and restored health care for retired Detroit firefighters.
  • $2.5 million will create a right to counsel for Detroiters in eviction proceedings, keeping folks in their homes means better communities.
  • $95 million will go toward implementing the Detroit literacy settlement.
  • $10 million in funds were appropriated for Detroit’s Community Violence Intervention Programs.

The Right to Wear a CROWN: Eliminating Discrimination

Passing the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act aimed at eliminating hair discrimination and expanding educational and economic opportunity. The bill, first introduced in 2019 by then-state Rep. Sarah Anthony, passed Michigan’s House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and expanded the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit race-based hair discrimination and protect Michigan residents from workplace discrimination.

Quotes about the CROWN Act:

  • “Choosing to wear your hair in braids, locs, twists or other protective styles associated with race should not mean you are sent home early or passed up on a promotion. The CROWN Act gives a voice to the often overlooked in the halls of power,” said Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing).
  • “We know that 44% of Black women under the age of 34 have felt this kind of discrimination before, and I am proud that we are taking an important step forward today to make our state more equitable and just. Let’s keep working together on our comprehensive Make it in Michigan vision to build a state where every Michigander can work, live and raise a family,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
  • “For years, I thought my natural hair was unacceptable and would potentially limit my job opportunities,” said Rep. Stephanie A. Young (D-Detroit). “I gave in to societal pressures and used chemicals to straighten my natural thick curly hair for decades only later to be diagnosed with alopecia. I am grateful this legislation is being signed into law, so that others with hair like mine will know Michigan is a safe place to express one’s natural authentic hair, without fear of discrimination.”

Did you know…

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hired a Black woman-owned firm to oversee her $3.5 billion “Rebuilding Michigan” Plan.
  • Democrats passed legislation to create a new specialty license plate to contribute to a Sickle Cell Fund for research and further awareness. Sickle Cell Anemia is known to disproportionately affect Black communities; however, it can be found in many races and ethnic groups, including those of Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian and Mediterranean descent.
  • Juneteenth, June 19, is officially designated in Michigan as a state holiday.

Resources to Learn About Black History

  • Black History in Michigan.
  • Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, including the primary exhibit of the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit, MI 48201.
  • Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48202.
  • Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48202.
  • Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum, 6559 Grand River Ave., Detroit MI 48208.
  • Michigan Legislative Black Caucus.
  • Motown Museum, 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI 48208.
  • The Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, MI 48124.