Detroit Urban League to honor civil rights advocate Daisy Elliott

Five leaders in civil rights are being honored this week by the Detroit Urban League for their role in building a better, more inclusive community. 

We remember the life and legacy of Daisy Elliott --  the woman behind Michigan's civil rights act.

Daisy Elliott and Mel Larsen are both being honored Thursday at the Salute to Distinguished Warriors event.

The fundraiser helps support the outreach of the Detroit Urban League  (CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS).

"Daisy Elliott ... A lot of people call her quiet, and she was, but she was feisty when she needed to be," said Badriyyah Sabree, her granddaughter.

Elliott was a passionate advocate for civil rights. She was elected to the Michigan House Of Representatives in 1962 and served for nearly two decades.

She was known for her ability to work with others.

"One time she was telling a story she was talking about in Lansing how she would work people all the time, and she would even work with Republicans. She said "Even with Republicans," Sabree said.

Elliott is best known as the author and co-sponsor of the historic Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Modeled after federal law, it bans discrimination in employment and housing. She spent years trying to get the law passed, eventually teaming up with Republican Mel Larsen.

"Larsen just happened to be that person who believed in the same principals and offered his support to it," said Bob Proctor, an attorney who worked with Daisy Elliott.

Years of perseverance paid off -- the Elliott-Larsen act passed in 1976.

"Every day bear in mind that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act impacts people today - and it's because of her and Mel," Proctor said.

It was signed into law by Gov. William Milliken, and Proctor was one of the people who was there.

"She was my role model --  first professional job that I had after law school," he said.

He describes Daisy as caring, collaborative and someone who took action to ensure equal treatment for all.

"I might use Bobby Kennedy expression -- some people see the world as it is, and ask why, some see it as it should be and ask why not?" he said. "I think that would have been reflective of Daisy."

The Elliott-Larsen act was just one example of Daisy's impact in our state.

In 1961, she was a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention -- one of 11 women along with 133 men, which resulted in Michigan's Constitution of 1963.

She fought for labor issues, women's rights and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. 

"We can look at that legacy that she left behind, for fighting for what's right for all people and especially being a voice for those people who don't have a voice," Sabree said.

For her life's work, she will be honored this week by the Detroit Urban League at their annual Distinguished Warriors event.

"She left a legacy of service for her family and this community," said Charles Anderson.

And that legacy is one that her family says we can all keep alive.

"Everybody can't be a legislator but we touch peoples lives all the time you know help inspire them, help promote them, help them feel good, help them feel they can be a part of all this," Sabree said. 

Daisy Elliott died in December of 2015 at age 98.  She had an extraordinary life -- a life of service.

"I remember after her passing Gov. Snyder made a statement. He said that Daisy made Michigan a better place, and that just touched my heart because I think that she did," Sabree said.

Her granddaughter remembers her as loving, gracious but most of all -- a gift to us all.

"A gift from God because that's what she was for us  as a  family, and I think that is what she was for Michigan. She was our gift from God to make things better, that's what she was," Sabree said.