Source: Sherman Publications

Statue irks but is historical

by Andrea Beaudoin

September 11, 2013

An antique statue depicting an African-American reaching out to grab the reins of a horse is an outrage for one Clarkston News reader.

A three-foot-tall statue in the garden of a private home, the figure is also called a lawn jockey. Michael Fetzer wrote a letter to the editor, page 6, saying he believes the statue is inappropriate and needs to be removed immediately.

Known as “The Miller Home,” the house has a sign in the front yard marking the historical significance of the property. Presently for sale, the home was built by Thomas A. Edison in 1924.

The original homeowner, Dr. Miller, once a Clarkston physician, cared for inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

“Miller lived on a farm that burned down, so Edison offered to build him a concrete house that would never burn,” said current homeowner James Cousens.

Cousens said the statue was given to him, along with other historical items and photographs, by Dr. Miller’s son, Ray.

Although some believe the statue represents racism, one historian said it carries quite the opposite meaning and often marked safe locations in the Underground Railroad, a network of hidden tunnels and routes to safe locations for African-Americans escaping enslavement.

The Underground Railroad was active from about 1830 to 1861, and included routes in Michigan heading towards Canada, where slavery was illegal.

Historian Charles Blockston told www.loudounhistory.org, “People who don’t know the history of the jockey have feelings of humiliation and anger when they see the statue, but this figure, which was sometimes used without the knowledge of the person who owned the statue, was a positive and supportive image to African-Americans on the road to freedom.”

Even though the Miller house was built after Underground Railroad times, Clarkston did have safe locations.

Oakland County had 25 stops in the Underground Railroad with 12 confirmed and 13 unconfirmed sites, according to an “Oakland County in the Civil War” map, which contains stories from the Underground Railroad era of history.

Cousens said he doesn’t live in the home because he refuses to live in the city of the village of Clarkston because of past troubles, which included a court battle, while he and his wife were remodeling the historic home.

He won the case over what he could and could not replace while remodeling, but the fight got nasty and he and his wife often felt personally attacked by many people in the community, he said.

“That’s why I will never live downtown,” he said. “People were rude, nasty and vicious to us.”

An Independence Township resident for many years, Cousens said he feels like he’s being attacked again now over the statue.

Cousens responsed to the letter saying this:

“Mr. Fetzer is a trouble maker in my opinion. So many people think they can dictate to others what they can and can’t do. My wife and I are by no means racist, and for that to be implied is beyond insulting. People need to mind their own business.

“I can tell you right now that statue is not going anywhere – it’s staying right where it is,” he added.