journey to state historian
During her work as the Freedom Trail coordinator for the State of Michigan, Michelle Johnson, PhD solidified her public scholarship and leadership and expanded her contribution to assist professional and lay-historians in the preservation, documentation and promotion of Underground Railroad histories. In that position, she oversaw the development of a broad-based archival based curriculum for 3rd, 4th and 8th grade students and served as a visible state and regional spokesperson. Johnson currently consults on a statewide Black history project that documents the people, stories and places of late 19th century Michigan. She researches, writes and lectures for academic and public settings on aspects of African American culture including Paradise Valley, Idlewild and Motown. Dr. Johnson’s scholarship includes an oral history project on the lives of African Americans and Latino/as in Saginaw, Michigan and a community project in Loughman, Florida researching, interpreting and performing the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Johnson served as lead historian and co-author for So This is The Fire and performs in creative interpretations of historical material. Johnson researched and compiled a curriculum series on the Underground Railroad and resistance to slavery for First Congregational Church of Detroit.
With team members across the state, Johnson establishes themes surrounding slavery and resistance, free black communities and work, place of origin and communication. From this collective understanding, Johnson makes recommendations on individuals or specific stories to include in exhibits, educational materials, on-line extensions of the experience, documents, objects, open-ended questions or other means to stimulate visitor engagement and active learning for the state of Michigan. Location and size of significant black communities in Michigan.
Dr. Johnson's 2016 interview on black communities in Niles and Southwest Michigan