...Protesters had displayed a Confederate flag and a noose. The state representative Sarah Anthony, who is African-American and could hear the yelling demonstrators from inside the House chamber, told me, “Those symbols mean something very, very clear to a Black woman. No one can convince me that the Confederate flag or a noose means something different now. It just felt like, if they had rushed that door, I’d be one of the first to go down.”
Anthony was born and raised in Lansing. In 2000, when she was seventeen, she participated in an after-school internship program at the state capitol, “for nerdy kids who had too many credits and needed something productive to do.” After shadowing Mary Waters, a Black representative from Detroit, Anthony resolved to become a politician. “To see a woman that looked like me in a leadership position—I didn’t know we could do that,” she said. In 2012, at the age of twenty-nine, Anthony became the youngest Black woman in America to serve as a county commissioner. Six years later, a landslide victory made her the first Black woman to represent Lansing in the Michigan legislature.
In the nineteen-fifties, when Karl Manke was in high school, Owosso was a “sundown town”: African-Americans were not welcome. Today, it remains almost exclusively white, as does much of rural Michigan. For as long as Sarah Anthony has had a license, her parents have told her, “If you are driving from Detroit, and it’s too late, you stay in Detroit.” Some white Michiganders give one another the opposite advice.
Nationwide, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African-Americans, and in Michigan nearly a quarter of coronavirus-related deaths have been in Detroit, which is eighty per cent Black. On April 30th, Anthony live-streamed a video on Facebook from her office. She was clearly upset by the presence of armed protesters—but it was their dismissiveness about covid-19 that most offended her. “It’s infuriating to me because I feel as though they aren’t taking this seriously,” she said, wiping a tear away. She was similarly frustrated with the legislature, which that day voted against extending Whitmer’s emergency powers.