Margaret Minott (1925-1999)
A Champion for Educational Equality and Justice
The Kalamazoo Gazette called her “(a)n entrepreneur with a deep sense of commitment to the community.” One could argue that few individuals had a greater impact on Kalamazoo’s social landscape during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s than Margaret Minott. She was a business owner and mother of six, who engaged in a lifelong pursuit for equity within the local school system. She was the first African American to be elected to the Kalamazoo Board of Education and was instrumental in the effort to desegregate Kalamazoo Public Schools. And it was largely through her efforts that the Oshtemo Branch Library came to be.
Education and Background
Margaret Mae (Threet) Minott was born in Toledo, Ohio, in April 1925. She earned a BA degree in Christian Education from the Baptist Missionary Training School (later affiliated with the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School) in Rochester, New York. In July 1948, she married Donald Rudolph Minott, a recent graduate of the Chicago Baptist Institute and a Chicago area minister. Soon after their marriage, the Minotts moved to Mattawan, Michigan, where they formed a vitamin and food supplement business called Minott’s Nutritional Food Company.
Donald was a bricklayer and painter by trade, in addition to his theological background. By 1952, the couple was operating a decorating service, which specialized in stucco plastering and painting. In 1954, the Minotts opened the D&M Wrecking Company, a demolition and salvage company, selling lumber, doors, windows, bricks, bathroom fixtures, and other salvage materials. Margaret played an active role in the company’s sales, bookkeeping, contract, tax, and personnel matters. Along with their business dealings, the Minotts organized church programs, served on church committees, and facilitated Sunday school leadership training, all while raising their six children plus a nephew.
Oshtemo Township Library
In 1964, a group of interested citizens spearheaded by Margaret Minott began meeting to discuss the formation of a community library in Oshtemo Township. The group’s initial discussions focused on ways to finance the project, possible locations for such a library, and what kind of library would be most suited to the community. Others soon joined the effort and formed a subcommittee called Friends of the Oshtemo Library, of which Minott served as chair.
After some two-and-a-half years of planning, Oshtemo Township approved $3,000 to establish a community library on a trial basis. In June 1966, Minott became chair of the Oshtemo Township Library Advisory Committee, which was appointed by the township board to further study the community’s library needs. Under a cooperative arrangement with the Kalamazoo Public Schools (which then operated the Kalamazoo Public Library) and the Oshtemo Township Board, the Oshtemo Station (later Oshtemo Branch Library) became a reality when it opened in November. Clearly, the Oshtemo Branch Library would not have been possible without her determination and foresight.
“She was a patron as well as someone who helped get a library started in Oshtemo… (Margaret) was always in the library, along with her kids, one who eventually worked here. She was a true supporter of the library.”
— Fran Junker, Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 January 2005
Meanwhile, Minott was making her voice heard in other ways throughout the Oshtemo community, and especially within the public school system. In May 1965 she was elected president of the Oshtemo Parent-Teacher Association, where she served as historian and editor of the PTA News. She became a notary public, served on the advisory board and planning committee of Christian Enrichment Schools in Kalamazoo, and later became corresponding secretary for the Hillside Junior High PTA.
As an active member of the community, Minott was an outspoken advocate of a proposal to annex the Oshtemo Schools to the Kalamazoo Public School system and drew “the loudest applause of the evening” during one public meeting for her support of post-merger student transportation. Voters approved annexation in December 1965, which Minott called a “tremendous step forward.”
Kalamazoo Public School Board
In April 1966, Minott announced her candidacy for the Kalamazoo Public School Board. She cited student transportation (busing) as one of the “greatest problems” faced by the school board, and emphasized the need for high quality education. Her platform advocated “the education of every child, the ideals of every parent, and the welfare of every taxpayer.”
Minott’s campaign secured a long list of supporters, but she did not receive an endorsement from the Community Caucus of Kalamazoo, a highly influential group of “qualified persons” chosen to screen potential candidates. (Seven out of the previous eleven caucus-backed candidates had been elected.) While its screening process was unclear, the stated purpose of the caucus was “exclusively to pick good candidates for the school board without having any axes to grind.” Still, the caucus plan was criticized for being a select group of like-minded individuals who sought to influence voters and “control” school board elections. Minott did, however, top the Kalamazoo Gazette’s list of endorsements and enjoyed strong support among voters. In June 1966, Margaret “Peggy” Minott became the first African American elected to the Kalamazoo Public School Board.
During her four-year term as a board member, Minott advocated strongly for measures to desegregate Kalamazoo’s schools. She expressed concern over what she saw as a pattern in Kalamazoo toward “a ghetto type housing situation” and noted the “definite pushes of segregated housing” on the city’s south and east sides. According to a 1964 study done by the League of Women Voters, over 90% of elementary aged African American children were going to school on the Northside, and Kalamazoo ranked #1 in the state for non-white people living in dilapidated housing. “We could come up with another Detroit Northern,” she warned.
School Board Secretary
In 1967 Minott was appointed Kalamazoo Public School Board secretary. Perhaps a bit ahead of her time, Minott’s vision for Kalamazoo schools was to keep pace with the world’s educational needs. The Kalamazoo school system “doesn’t train youngsters for just city, county or country,” she told members of the Northside Development Association, “but for the whole world.”
Amid growing racial tension within the Kalamazoo schools, she solidly backed a $15.3 million bond issue that would replace Kalamazoo Central High School with a new building on Drake Road and upgrade several existing school buildings. “It is important that we keep our school system progressively healthy,” she said. Voters initially turned down the issue, although a revised $12.3 million issue was given the go-ahead two years later.
“We cannot teach tolerance if we are intolerant. We cannot teach knowledge if we are not informed. We cannot teach equality if we practice inequality. We cannot teach pride in our heritage if we soil and sully the present.”
— Margaret Minott, Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 February 1971
Fight for Racial Equality
Her stance on segregation issues within the Kalamazoo community remained unwavering. In 1968 she led an equal education conference in Battle Creek sponsored by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. She opposed and successfully blocked the adaptation of a tenth-grade textbook about American literature due to its underrepresentation of Black authors. And Minott cast the single dissenting vote for a summer school tuition increase over concerns that it would disproportionately impact low-income families “who are often the ones most in need of the special classes.”
During the second half of her term, Minott and others questioned a school-run apprenticeship training program on the grounds that it was discriminatory. According to Minott, “many of the trades represented in the apprenticeship program were not fully open to persons in minority groups and she could not see putting taxpayer’s money into a program that perpetuates segregation.” In line with other local Black leaders and Northside residents at the time, Minott expressed concern as well that a proposed swimming facility on Kalamazoo’s north side would perpetuate racial segregation in that area. “We should not do anything to perpetuate the ghetto,” she said.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that I was not alone: there were a number of people on the school board who worked together on this (desegregation issue). I guess if I were to give credit to any one person, it would have to be to Margaret Minot[sic], who overlapped me on the school board. Margaret is a very intelligent woman… She graduatied from American Baptist College in Chicago but found that her education didn’t do her much good because she was black.”
— Edward P. Thompson, Kalamazoo Board of Education president 1967-1970 (1986 interview)
School Board Vice President
The school board at the time was not without its enemies. A group called the Citizen’s Recall Committee (described as “a well-organized arch-conservative minority group in the community”) sought to oust seven Board of Education members, including Minott, over the board’s efforts to desegregate and otherwise “eliminate racial, social and economically imbalanced student bodies” in the city schools. The group’s effort ultimately failed. After serving as a board member and secretary, Minott was elected board vice president in 1969.
Minott’s bid for reelection in 1970 failed by a slim 725 vote margin. Undaunted, she ran again for an open board seat in 1971 while serving as chair of the affairs committee for the Kalamazoo Central High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association. Despite solid endorsements by the UAW Community Action Program Council and the Kalamazoo City Education Association, Minott’s second bid for re-election was soundly defeated by a 2:1 margin. Her efforts to desegregate Kalamazoo Public Schools cost Minott her job, but her commitment to community remained strong.
“…in the turbulent years between 1966 and 1970… the board adopted a plan to radically desegregate the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Although that decision led to her defeat at the polls in 1970, it did not end her dedication to the schools and to the young people of the community.”
— Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 June 1991
Continued Community Service
Resolute in serving her community, Minott ran unsuccessfully for county commission in 1978. Still, she served as a member of the Kalamazoo Parent Teacher Association Council and was a member of the Oshtemo Township Zoning Board of Appeals. In October 1979, Minott was named a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business, which was created by then President Jimmy Carter. She spent four days in Washington D.C. advocating for Kalamazoo small-business interests.
Among Margaret Minott’s many accomplishments and aspirations, the integration of our neighborhoods and schools never fully materialized in Kalamazoo. After Minott was defeated in the 1971 school board election, the city of Kalamazoo continued to experience white flight. In the 1970s alone, more than 4,500 white people left the city, some of which no doubt had to do with refusing to integrate the schools via busing. Today, over half of Black Kalamazooans live in just four neighborhoods (Kalamazoo has 22 neighborhoods). And today the Kalamazoo School District has three elementary schools that are segregated based on race and class: Lincoln, Woodward, and Washington Writers.
NAACP Humanitarian Award
In 1991, the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP honored Minott with its annual Humanitarian Award, noting that “(i)t is important to honor those people who have made massive contributions even when they are no longer in the spotlight. There is a tendency for people to forget the period when she was a steadfast soldier. But Margaret Minott is one of those giant characters whose values will stand the test of time.” Margaret Minott passed away in February 1999 at the age of 73, but her accomplishments did not go unrecognized and her legacy lives on within the communities she so faithfully served.
Written by Keith Howard*, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, July 2023.
*with special thanks to Catherine Larson and Matt Smith for their contributions and critical input.
Norrix, Loy: Accolade, 1967
Call Number: H 371.8976 A172 (CEN), p.12
Social changes in Western Michigan, 1930 to 1990
Davis, Henry Vance, ed. 1997.
Call Number: H 921 A3754.3 (CEN), p.245-246
“Donald Minott, Route 1”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 November 1948, p.45.
“Bible training classes planned”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 April 1951, p.34.
“Kendall Bible School to open next Monday”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 June 1951, p.18.
“UCW to hold ‘World Community Day’ meet”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 November 1959, p.33.
“United Church Women observe ‘Community Day’”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 November 1959, p.12.
“Plan caucus to pick candidates”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 March 1961, p.1, column 1.
“Caucus plan at Evanston examined”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 March 1961, p.13, column 1.
“Caucus system organized here”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 March 1961, p.1 (Section 1), column 3.
“No ‘rubber stamp’”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 March 1961, p.12 (Section 2), column 4.
“Caucus to pick board candidate”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 April 1961, p.1 (Section 1).
“Library drive set in Oshtemo”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 August 1964, p.5.
“Oshtemo school merger discussed”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 April 1965, p.1.
“Bus, tax, zoning problems cited at Oshtemo school merger hearing”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 April 1965, p.33.
“PTA at Oshtemo elects officers”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 May 1965, p.22.
“Merger expected to mean tax break for Oshtemo school district residents”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 December 1965, p.11.
“Two announce for city school board”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 April 1966, p.17, column 7.
“Mrs. Minott remains in school race”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 May 1966, p.11, column 2.
“School candidate active this week”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 May 1966, p.17.
“BPW club hears Oshtemo woman”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 May 1966, p.20.
“6 school candidates to speak”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 May 1966, p.24.
“Appearances set by Mrs. Minott”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 June 1966, p.44.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 June 1966, p.5.
“For the board of education: Mrs. Minott and Mr. Sandelin”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 June 1966, p.6, column 1.
“Six candidates vie for 2 seats”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 June 1966, p.7, column 1
“Karl Sandelin, Mrs. Minott win”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 June 1966, p.1, column 1.
“Millage approvals significant”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 June 1966, p.6.
“Caucus’s record to date: seven out of 11 elected”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 June 1966, p.9, column 1.
“New trustee tells of help”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 June 1966, p.6.
“Milroy reelected president of board”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 July 1966, p.4.
“Oshtemo to get library services under new city school programs”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 August 1966, p.5.
“Board facing big decisions”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 October 1966, p.29.
“High school site report tabled”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 8 November 1966, p.2.
“Getting ready for Tuesday opening”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 November 1966, p.18.
“Margaret Minott, secretary”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 23 October 1967, p.3.
“Equal education meet held in Battle Creek; Mrs. Minott leads session”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 January 1968, p.27, column 2
“Board to send Edison School 10th graders to Loy Norrix”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 February 1968, p.21, column 1
“Proposed housing project defended”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 February 1968, p.21 (Section 2), column 1
“Swim pool issue aired at hearing”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 May 1968, p.13 (Section 2), column 1
“Board reorganizes; two new members take seats”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 July 1968, p.3, column 1
“Dual set of standards has developed, says Mrs. Minott”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 February 1971, p.41 (C7), column 1
“Mrs. Minott seeking old board seat”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 April 1971, p.41.
“Kalamazooan named to White House panel”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 October 1979, p.32 (C6), column 5.
“Minott, Mr. Donald Sr.” (obituary)
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 November 1990, p.40 (E6), column 4.
“NAACP honors Minott for work in education”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 June 1991, p.1 (A1), column 5.
“Margaret Minott richly deserves NAACP honor”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 5 June 1991, p.10 (A10), column 1.
“Woman broke racial barriers, was local leader”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 February 1999, p.19 (C1), column 4.
“Margaret Minott led at a difficult time”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 3 March 1999, p.A8, column 1.
“Area ‘firsts’ persevered in the face of racism”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 January 2005, p.1 (A1), column 5.