The Kutsche Office of Local History has awarded a mini-grant to a community and faculty research team whose project focuses on Merze Tate, an area African American woman who served in the U.S. State Department.
Director Veta Tucker said the grant is consistent with the mission of the office that was founded by Paul Kutsche, a native of Grand Rapids and retired anthropology professor from Colorado College. Kutsche established the office at Grand Valley in 2008 with the intent to giving voice to local underrepresented groups.
Sherry Johnson, assistant professor of English, received a grant to collaborate with researcher Sonya Bernard Hollins and create an exhibit on the life of Tate, a Mecosta County woman who was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from Oxford University. Tate later held a state department position. Tucker, professor of English and African/African American Studies, said the Tate exhibit will be on display at the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in Lansing. Students in one of Tucker’s classes created a passport to guide visitors through the exhibit, and art and design students will mount digital photos.
Last fall, the Kutsche Office helped fund a book project, A New Home in Michigan, which tells the story of Mexican Americans who migrated to Muskegon prior to World War II. “That project started with oral histories and we provided seed money for them to publish a book,” Tucker said. “If a community group has a project that fits with our mission, we can help them bring it to reality.”
This spring the office will host its second forum for local historians from public museums, historical and genealogical societies, local libraries and other organizations. Tucker said “Museum 101” sessions will be held in March, April and May to help volunteers understand the basics of artifact preservation and archive collection. The workshops will be open to Grand Valley students who are interested in museum careers; visit the website www.gvsu.edu/kutsche for details.
Tucker is also helping coordinate a Juneteenth celebration in Grand Rapids to coincide with the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War. “It’s important to me as the country commemorates the sesquicentennial to look at the presence of African Americans and Native Americans and their role in the Civil War,” Tucker said. Early plans for the Grand Rapids celebration include period costumes, re-enactors, food, arts and crafts, music and poetry.