Following the removal of ex-MSU Trustee Stephen S. Nisbet’s name from a building on campus, his family spoke during a Board of Trustees meeting and reached out to different news outlets to share their thoughts.
The name was removed from the Human Resources building after it was discovered that Nisbet was a member of the Newaygo chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Michigan during the 1920's. Craig Fox's “Everyday Klansfolk” had a member identification card featured in it, though the family says the card misspelled Nisbet's name and had the incorrect address on it.
The building is locaed at 1407 S. Harrison Road.
According to the family, when they asked MSU to share any other evidence that they had, the university refused to give it to them.
Sarah Williams, Nisbet's great-granddaughter, spoke with the clerk of the library at Central Michigan University and found that from the 1920 census, Nisbet’s address was different in the 1920's than what the family remembered.
The clerk also told Williams that the misspelling of his name on the ID card could be because somebody else filled out the card for Nisbet.
Williams said that her great-grandfather didn’t know that he was joining the KKK because the organization disguised itself as a charitable organization.
“He stood for everything that that university stands for except for six months of his life in 1924 when he didn’t even know he was joining the Ku Klux Klan,” she said.
While the chapter he joined was not as violent and brutal as organizations were in the South, they still practiced racism, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic ideals.
Nisbet’s mentee, John B. Whitlock, wrote a letter to President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. defending Nisbet.
“The ‘membership’ in the Ku Klux Klan lasted less than six months," he said in the letter. "At the time, the Klan billed itself as ‘promoting patriotism,’ and was a far cry from the hateful organization today."
Williams said that her biggest issue with MSU is the way that they handled the situation. She said that MSU never contacted her family properly. MSU only contacted a distant family member and told them to share the information with the rest of the family.
“My dad also graduated from MSU in 1988, and he’s part of the alumni program, so there were other people they could have reached out to,” she said.
She also didn’t like how this got national attention. MSU contacted the family one day before they announced that Nisbet’s name is going to be removed from the building. Williams feels that this situation should have been handled internally and that the community should’ve been more involved.
“This could have been handled so much better other than a publicity stunt for the MSU who has obviously had a lot of bad publicity,” Williams said.
Williams thinks that MSU should have had a deconstruction meeting to explain why MSU removed her great-grandfather's name from the building and also talk about his accomplishments.
“My dad and I have constantly been trying to save an ounce of his name because he’s the patriarch of our family, and he has just been reduced to … a Klansman all over the internet,” she said.
Nisbet was president of the Michigan Constitutional Convention in 1963 that enacted civil rights laws in Michigan during that time. Nisbet was also head of the Gerber Fund which donated money to the United Negro College Fund.
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