Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch History
On These Shoulders We All Stand . . .
Rev. Thomas H. Smith (1946-unknown)
Fred Lilly (1957-1958)
Arthur Washington (1958-1962)
First Black Kalamazoo City Commissioner
Amerriel Overton (1962-1965)
Licensed Psychiatric Nurse
Duane L. Roberts (1965-1966 & 1973-1976)
Clemuel Dobbins (1966-1967)
Public School Educator
Albert Hearn (1968-1969)
Joseph W. Whitten (1970-1972)
Public School Educator
Dr. Otha Gilyard (1977-1979)
Dr. Romeo Phillips (1980-1987)
Rev. Asa Dawson (1987-1989)
Dr. Tilman C. Cothran (1989-1990)
Malcolm Earhart (1990-1992)
Viola Gains McMillon (1993-1997)
Honorable Alexander Lipsey (1998-2001)
Rev. Jerry McNeely (2004-2006)
Lola Clark Atkinson (2006)
Dr. Zawdie Abiade (2007)
Michael O. Wilson (2007-2008)
Civil Rights Activist
Dr. Charles C. Warfield (2008-2016)
Civil Rights Activist, Educator, Philanthropist
Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson (2016)
Dr. Strick Strickland (2016-2018)
Wendy Y. Fields (2018-Present)
Since the inception of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch in 1946, the Branch has been at the forefront of the fight against discrimination in the workplace, education and housing while laying the foundation for building a congenial relationship between the police and the Black community.
Over the years, the leadership of the Branch heeded the call and rallied the community in the fight for justice in Kalamazoo as the fight for justice on the national scene grew. In June 1963, the first woman to lead the Branch, Amerrial Overton (1966-67), organized the city’s first protest for equal employment and picketed Van Avery’s Drug Store in response to its unfair hiring practices of Blacks. And as a result of the protest, the Branch was able to work with the store to create a plan that would include giving Black residents a chance at mainstream jobs in Kalamazoo.
Although many more opportunities were available to Blacks in Kalamazoo after the civil rights era, the struggle for adequate housing and access to equitable education was still a major concern for Branch leaders. In response, Joseph Whitten (1970-72) led the Branch and supported the plaintiff in the case that would desegregate the city’s public schools. Subsequently, the Board of Education rescinded the desegregation plan. As a result, the Branch reorganized in1971 and worked with the community for the next two years to finalize a desegregation plan that would give all children an opportunity at the same education.
In the years to come, the Branch would increase its focus on poor people and the homeless in Kalamazoo. Reverend Dr. Otha Gilyard (1977-79) galvanized the membership around these very important issues and spearheaded the creation of many programs that tackled the issue of homelessness in Kalamazoo alongside other social issues, including teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Many of the programs like the Safe House still exist and continue to impact people’s lives today.
Strengthening the organization and its impact on the community became the Branch’s focus over the next couple of decades. The Branch ensured the execution of the public school desegregation order (Dr. Tilman Cothran – 1989-90), reestablished the youth chapter (Malcolm Earhart – 1990-92), established a Jobs and Training and Business Plan (Viola Gains McMillian – 1993-97) and strengthened the legal redress and inter- community cooperation (Honorable Alexander Lipsey – 1998-2001).
As a lifelong educator and the State’s Education Coordinator, Dr. Charles C. Warfield (2008-2016) charged our delegation to be more actively engaged in the education and encouragement of our children and youth. Dr. Warfield was quite active in the community and continued to infuse his commitment to education with similar organizations in the greater Kalamazoo area. This strategy was essential to ensuring that children of color in Michigan were challenged to be the best and the brightest!
As advocates for underrepresented people in the greater Kalamazoo area, the men and women of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch continue to support equality, civil rights, voter mobilization and monitor equal opportunities for all people in the public and private sector in the greater Kalamazoo area.
We serve to honor those who came before, those struggling through life today and for the future generations we will never meet.