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Posted on: September 4, 2019

Downtown alley renamed for woman who found freedom in Jackson on Underground Railroad

Emma Nichols Garden 1

A revitalized alley in Downtown Jackson has been named for a woman who came to Jackson seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. At their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, the Jackson City Council approved the renaming of Victory Lane on W. Michigan Avenue for Emma Nichols. The alley will now be known as Emma Nichols Garden.

The alley between 159 W. Michigan Ave. and 151 W. Michigan Ave. was named Victory Lane in 2004 in honor of Jackson’s connections to the Michigan International Speedway. In recent years, Victory Lane underwent several structural changes due to building improvements to the two neighboring buildings, along with infrastructure changes because of a collapsed sewer underneath the pavement. Signage in the alley also had to be removed due to vandalism.

Once just a concrete alley, Victory Lane has undergone major changes this year. A new walking path has been added that connects W. Michigan Avenue to an improved parking lot behind Jackson City Hall. This path is surrounded by trees and other landscaping. A patio has been added to the alley that can be utilized by the building on the east side of the alley, which will soon feature a new restaurant. A new mural from the Bright Walls Mural Festival is also planned on the side of the restaurant building. An effort to rename the area was launched by City Manager’s Office staff to better reflect the new and improved area. Naming the alley for Emma Nichols was determined after discussions with other City staff.

Emma Nichols, an African-American woman, was born a slave in Virginia in 1830. Historic research indicates she escaped slavery in Virginia, and came to the City of Jackson on the Underground Railroad seeking freedom. Jackson has since been identified as an active stop on the Underground Railroad, with white residents aiding escaped slaves. Nichols and her husband Richard made Jackson their home, living in a house on Biddle Street for their remaining years. Emma Nichols died in 1916, and is buried in Mt. Evergreen Cemetery. Her descendants are still living in the Jackson community. Also buried in the cemetery are white residents who assisted in the Underground Railroad in Jackson.

City of Jackson Public Information Officer Aaron Dimick says renaming the alley for Emma Nichols reflects the diversity of the community and further promotes inclusivity in the City’s public spaces. “This renaming honors the bravery and legacy of Nichols, and other people who sought freedom in our community. It also honors Jackson residents who assisted the Underground Railroad and helped others achieve freedom,” Dimick said.

City staff are now working on getting new signage for the alley to reflect the new name. An unveiling is planned later this fall.

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