Michigan State University Renames Building That Bears Name of Alleged Ku Klux Klan Member

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. He died in 1986

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 Stephen S. 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, Stephen P. 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 mentioned in Stanley's memorandum.

Nisbet's grandson 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. He also said that the KKK in Michigan didn't have the same "violence perpetrated by the KKK later in the South."

Stephen P. Nisbet said that he'd never heard his grandfather speak about the organization.

A membership card that allegedly belonged to Stephen S. Nisbet found in the Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library was included in materials for the board. In an email to Newsweek, Stephen P. Nisbet said he didn't learn about the card until recently and said that the handwriting, name spelling, and incorrect address indicate that the card was not his grandfather's.

"I never knew that card existed," he wrote. "The card is clearly fraudulent as it not my grandfather's writing, his first name is misspelled & the residence address is incorrect."

The excerpts from Everyday Klansfolk included in the memorandum do list Stephen S. Nisbet as a Klan member, but don't divulge many details regarding his involvement.

Stephen P. Nisbet said that he felt the board's decision was rushed and not vetted properly. "I asked the Bd. to delay their vote for a month to allow our family to investigate these allegations, which will include a professional academic historian (Univ. of South Carolina) with knowledge of the KKK. It is clear to us the Bd. gave us inadequate notice of their proposed action to deny us the opportunity to investigate & used a fraudulent membership card & some remarks in a 2011 book that was unknown to us as their proof," he wrote in his email.

Despite Nisbet's grandson'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.

Correction 1:44 PM ET: to clarify that the membership card is allegedly linked to Stephen S. Nisbet, and was not in the possession of his grandson Stephen P. Nisbet, as an earlier version of this story may have unintentionally implied.

Update 2:45 PM ET: This story has been updated to include comment from Stephen P. Nisbet, which was obtained after the story originally published.

MSU
The Michigan State Spartans logo on pair of shorts during a women's college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at the Xfinity Center on February 03, 2020 in College Park, Maryland. The MSU board of trustees voted to change a building on campus' name after it was discovered that the man it was named after was allegedly a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mitchell Layton/Getty