Exhibit detailing the destruction of historic Black community in Lansing leads to unexpected reunion

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A once-thriving black community on Lansing’s west side was wiped away when Interstate-496 was built.

Now, It’s being remembered with a new exhibit opening at Knapp’s Center in Lansing called ‘pave the way’.

The exhibit is put on by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing. It documents the deconstruction of a historic Black neighborhood in Lansing.

The event was held today at 11:30 p.m.

“Nobody really let my family know a highway was coming. I can remember the day I went home and told my mother and father that a highway is coming and my dad said “you’re crazy.”

More than 50 years ago, 88-year-old Frank Spangolo was a young man living in a thriving neighborhood filled with minorities.

He worked at his family’s candy store.

“I was born in 1933, so when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. Everybody that walked up and down my street you knew and you talked to and everybody was Mr. And ma’am, everybody was polite.”

But that community he remembers was destroyed in 1964 during the construction of Interstate-496.

Spagnolo says he lost his friends, the store and his home when his family was forced to relocate.

“They must have cried all day because they lived in that store ever since 1927.”

Fast forward to today when Spangolo found out about the “Pave the Way Exhibit” highlighting his old neighborhood.

He knew he needed to be there on its opening day.

What he didn’t know was he’d be reunited with an old friend.

“I just met 3 or 4 people who I knew when they were little boys. I didn’t remember them, the name I did, they remembered me that’s what I like.”

“Frank’s store was right next to our house, it was an alley separating the two so that was my favorite place to go and get candy because it was just literally 30 seconds [away] and that was the store,” said Penison Adolth-Burton.

Adolth-Burton once also lived in the torn-down neighborhood. She says running into Spagnolo offered a sense of relief.

“It was lovely, because Frank as well as being a friend with myself he was a real good friend of my dad’s too and he was the sponsor of the football team I played at.

And Spagnolo remembered Adolth-Burton’s family right away.

“I remember his father. He was a superman. The whole family had a good relationship.”

They looked at the artifacts, sat together during the entire grand opening event and now they hope our generation can learn from this exhibit about the devastating reality of what happened to their people.

“I just want them to not forget that there were businesses there, there were homes there, there were churches there, people were there, and a way of life was taken away the most important thing.”

As for Spagnolo and Adolth-Burton reunited after 50 years, they plan to catch up more soon over dinner.

They also plan to bring their families to Pave the Way before it ends on November 1st

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