A Covert Example of Racial Harmony

Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, no summer vacation was complete without a family trip to Michigan. Usually those trips were to one of the small towns which dot Michigan’s western shore.

In the southwestern part of Michigan is a small town with an interesting history. As early as the 1860s, this frontier town had black residents. Ironically named, Covert, it was a place where without much fanfare or interest in what was taking place in other parts of the country, the early black and white settlers decided that they were going to live in peace with each other.

According to historian, Anna-Lisa Cox, author of A Stronger Kinship (2006) the foundation for racial harmony was laid when one white town official purposefully decided to leave out racial designations next to the names of the children who needed to attend school. Across the country, segregated schools were the order of the day but the one room Covert school was integrated without any problems.

Following this remarkable decision, in 1868 one of the black residents decided to run for public office. It was illegal for a black man to vote in Michigan during this time period, let alone seek a publicly held position. However, once again Covert residents made history when they elected Dawson Pompey as the overseer supervising white workers. By 1875, white residents had elected African American men to numerous public positions, including Michigan’s first black justice of the peace (Cox, 2006).

African Americans were never more than 10% of Covert’s population in the 19th century. Despite racism blacks endured in other Midwestern states, friendships between blacks and whites in Covert were common. Cox noted in a 2006 NPR (National Public Radio) interview that the Covert cemetery tells in part the town’s history of racial harmony. Referring to the town’s early citizens, she stated …”they're actually about as close in the graveyard as they were in life." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6670689

By the 1950s, Covert’s population had declined as younger generations left to find work in Chicago and Detroit. For many blacks, leaving Covert meant they experienced segregation for the first time in their lives. In the midst of rising racial tensions across the country, Covert’s high school yearbooks from this time depict photos of blacks and whites dancing together (Cox, 2006).

According to the 2000 census, Covert has a population of approximately 3100 residents; 51% white and 35% African American. While its history may not be well known, nonetheless it demonstrates that long before Civil Rights laws were passed that there were some isolated places where decent people chose to get along with their neighbors regardless of what was happening in other parts of America. Undoubtedly, Covert officials demonstrated that by acting in the best interest of all citizens, racial harmony was the result…a covert example of an obvious truth.

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