GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When Lupe Ramos-Montigny came to Michigan as a young girl, she came with her five sisters and youngest brother, her parents and a pillow.
“My suitcase was a pillowcase,” Ramos-Montigny recalled during an interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday. “That pillowcase with my clothes in it became my bed at night, and then in the daytime it was my seat, my chair. And so you know we traveled like that for a few years.”
Ramos-Montigny said they traveled from southern Texas to Michigan every summer and worked on farms, picking beets and cherries throughout Michigan and tomatoes in Indiana.
One person who made an impact on her life as a kid was fellow farm worker, and civil rights icon, César Chávez.
“He used to come here a lot to Grand Rapids and he has a following,” Ramos-Montigny said. “So, I was a migrant farm worker when I came to this state. Of course, I have a special interest and a special love for the work that he did and the people that he helped.”
“They made a big impact on the lives of people forever” says co-chair of MARCH@CityGrandRapids votes to rename Grandville Ave. & Franklin St. after civil rights legends Cesar Chavez and Dr. King. The ppl behind the effort say they began working on this 20+ years ago. // @FOX17 pic.twitter.com/9WYxFMh6op— Lauren Edwards (@LaurenEdwardsTV) October 13, 2021
So did many others. Tuesday, city commissioners voted to rename Grandville Avenue after him and Franklin Street after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ramos-Montigny was thrilled.
“These two individuals, everything that they did was nonviolent. No violence. They believe in ‘[if] they attack me, I don’t attack back,’” Ramos-Montigny said. “They were very powerful in their message. They marched. They did strikes, just numerous things, boycotted. The Cesar Chavez movement, we boycotted grapes and lettuce throughout the United States and throughout the world.”
She said they did that to bring awareness to the treatment of farm workers who picked the food and who were largely Latino.
Dr. King used boycotts to call attention to the discrimination Black people faced both on and off metro buses.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, he means education. He means excellence. He’s also the coolest leader we’ve had in the history of the United States of America,” said Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack. “To go through that type of violence, disrespect and still honor his own integrity and never fall to the level of those throwing stones at him, we couldn’t find a finer example for leaders of the day.”
Commissioner Womack and Ramos-Montigny have been working alongside each other for two years to get the streets renamed. However, they both said they actually began their efforts 20 years ago.
“I was out petitioning before in these streets, and it would usually be about 80 percent of the people wanted to see the renaming and we would still be denied. But now times have changed and we’ve got 98–99 percent of the people wanting on each street supporting this,” Womack said. “When the city of Grand Rapids was drafted, the streets were named after rich white property owners, and nothing was named after the minority stakeholders in this community.”
Ramos-Montigny, who worked for public schools for over three decades, recognized this as well. She remembers going to the city 21 years ago in an attempt to get Grandville renamed. However, they were given a commemorative designation instead.
“We were thrilled because at least we had gotten something,” she said. “So in 2019, October of 2019, we worked together, the Brown and Black communities, we joined together and I think for the first time in the history in this city that the two communities joined hands to do something together.”
Ramos-Montigny said they created the group MARCH — Moving Ahead For Remarkable Civil Rights Heroes — and worked to get the residents, businesses and nonprofits involved, especially ones that lived on both streets. Many did, she said.
Soon the streets will be renamed, she said.
They don’t know the exact date of when it’ll happen, Womack said, but they’re planning a big celebration.
“They made a big impact on the lives of people forever, for eternity,” said Ramos-Montigny about Chavez and Dr. King. “So, as an individual I am very, very proud at what we’re able to accomplish through patience, perseverance and persistence because we know this is the right time, the right place and the right reason.”