GR’s Auburn Hills neighborhood rich with history, diversity

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Grand Rapids northeast side, there’s a neighborhood with residents ready to tell a story. One of of breaking barriers, tolerance and diversity.

The people who live in the Auburn Hills neighborhood near the corner of Fuller and Knapp NE are anxious to tell how four African American men decided they wanted something different in the tumultuous 1960s.

“These men were determined and all the odds were against them. But they were determined they were going to make a difference,” said Ellen James.

In the age of redlining defined as “the practice of refusing to offer credit or insurance in a particular community on a discriminatory basis,” African Americans were confined to Grand Rapids inner city and the southeast side.

Four men, Samuel Triplett, Joseph Lee, J.E. Adams and Dr. Julius Franks bought the first properties outside the red lines, but not without road blocks, protest and paying much more for the plots than the original price.

“My father and mom wanted to come to this area because it was the first area in Grand Rapids that African Americans could build homes from the ground up,” said James.

James’ family was one of the first families to move into the Auburn Hills neighborhood and she still calls it home.

“My mom and my dad realized they wanted….there’s no difference in what parents want for their families,” she said.

At the same time, a white Jewish couple fought beside the original four families and bought one of the first plots where they built this home. A house fondly referred to as the “original white house” still today, it remains the only home in the neighborhood that has continuously been in the hands of white owners.

“The big picture here is it’s not about the color of your skin, it’s not about where you work. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to get to heaven and be as one,” said Katrina Springer.

Springer, a neighborhood association member, says it’s time to get the word out about Auburn Hills and what happened here in the past

“I am very proud. I stick my chest out with so much pride. I tell people I am from Grand Rapids and I live in Auburn Hills. This is my home.”

Saturday, May 28 at 1 p.m. there will be a celebration and proclamation ceremony for J.E. Adams, one of the founders of the Auburn Hills neighborhood, at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

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