Monday, August 16, 2010

Double Dutch

If I go down Indian Lake Road, cross the bridge, and turn left onto Creek Road, it feels like I am in the Netherlands of my imagination --- although without the spare, flat vistas. These two barns are tucked deep in the dense Michigan woods that hug the edges of farmland, but they seem to have been constructed by the Dutch settlers of this region with a mind's eye looking to the old country.

The Dutch presence is pervasive here, particularly at election time, when the roads are peppered with signs for the Hoogendyks, VanderBurgs, Bowkers, and Behnkes.

In addition to the Dutch in this part of southwest Michigan, there was a 19th century African-American population second only to that of the Detroit area in its size. According to one historian, the experiences of our county's African-Americans were unlike those of northern urban African-Americans. The economic balance and dependency that developed between Cass County's white and black populations helped to minimize racism, promote cooperation between the races, and create an African-American community of prosperity and confidence unique in the North.

The fate of the indigenous population, the Potawatomis, is a sad and sorry story of injustice to be told another time.

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