A key factor that gave rise to the construction of Riddle Elementary School was the poor and nearly dilapidated quality of the Logan and Michigan Avenue School on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Logan Street (currently referred to as Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive) in Lansing, Michigan. Barbara Roberts Mason was a Speech Therapist with the Lansing School District at the time and recalls how she and staff person Gwen Macintosh encouraged parents to sign a petition to “fix IT UP, build A NEW SCHOOL and CLOSE IT DOWN”. The school was in such inferior quality that a few students, Roberts’ son being one of them, was bussed to a neighboring white school.
Her young nephew, Steve Roberts was already a product of Lansing’s one-way bussing and would “hide behind the school when the bus dropped him off in the morning at Wexford Elementary and until the bus picked them up, because the white students were so mean, and fights often ensued.” This reflected the life and times of early integration not only in Lansing, Michigan, but across the nation. Many whites were deeply opposed to social change at this level.
Meanwhile, Nellie Nusdorf, an ardent white advocate for education and a Lansing School Board member, was dying of cancer but remained vehemently opposed to white students being bused into Michigan Avenue School. She contended that “white parents will NEVER let their kids be bused to THAT school!” Roberts was determined, however and retorted, “If the school is not good enough for white children, it is not good enough for black students! The District should build a new, quality school in the neighborhood. But in the meantime, children attending Michigan Avenue should receive a quality education. FIX IT UP! BUILD A NEW SCHOOL! THEN TEAR MICHIGAN AVENUE SCHOOL DOWN!” Although Roberts was allowed by principal Semrau to select the paint for the school’s facelift, the bright yellow color did not bring the school up to par nor prevent the shuttering of its doors.
At the same time, Dr. Eva Evans, Director of Elementary Education for the Lansing School District helped write the desegregation plan that was modeled after the progressive Kalamazoo School District’s plan. Mason authored the plan from the LSEA/MEA Executive staff perspective in 1971. Together, from different vantage points but united in purpose, they fought a