MILWAUKEE (SPECTRUM NEWS) -- Protestors in Milwaukee say they plan to March for over 200 days. They say if they don’t see police reform, they plan to suppress the 200-day fair housing marches that happened in the city in 1967.
Until the late 1960s, black people living in Milwaukee were only allowed to live in one neighborhood.
“It was referred to as the inter-core and this is a portion of the city where large numbers of African-Americans were essentially locked into, as a function of racists residential practices, practices that went as far as landlords denying folks access to banks, insurance companies practicing redlining,” says Robert Smith, Director at Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach.
Smith says it was a national process by which urban spaces became defined by its black residents and they got locked into that area. Residential segregation was happening nationwide, even outside of the south.
During the second wave of the Great Migration, Milwaukee’s black population went from 22,000 in 1950 to 109,000 in 1970.
Adam Carr with ‘March on Milwaukee 50th’ says, “We had one of the most prosperous communities in the entire country in the ’60s and '70s driven by the number of industrial jobs that were available here.”
The stance against unfair housing regulations was ignited by Vel Phillips, the first woman and black person on Milwaukee’s Common Council. Carr says, “She brought before her colleagues a bill for fair housing a number of times and it was rejected unanimously. Here’s an important point, black folks in Milwaukee could afford to buy homes, there were plenty of them that had the money but were systematically denied the opportunity through redlining. Banks simply wouldn’t give them loans, you could give a contractor a briefcase of cash and you couldn’t find one to build you a house, to build you one if you were black outside of the inter-core.”
Carr says during that time, frustrations continued to grow in the black community, essentially leading to the fair housing marches of 1967.
“The youth council, the commandos and their advisor father Groppi joined forces with Vel Phillips in summer of 1967 and then had the idea of saying we’re going to take those marches directly to those people who said we don’t want you in our neighborhoods. They went down to the Southside which at the time was predominately white, marches wouldn’t have happened especially for 200 nights if the white folks on the Southside that came from all over the region…had not such a violent response of racism. When the marches got to the south end of the 16th street viaduct, they had no idea that on the first day there would be 8,000 white folks yelling at them, and the second day there would be 12,000 white folks yelling to get out of our neighborhood forever.”
Because of the racist backlash they encountered, Carr says they felt they were seeking justice in the right place.
“They kept going, they kept going, they encountered resistance from the police, from elected officials,” says Carr, “They were not breaking any laws, the white folks were rowdy, they were the ones that were out of hand, they were the ones rioting…yet they kept going back day today.. risking their lives going to the Southside, risking their wellbeing. These are kids, these are young people that were marching and they demanded justice.”
Demanding justice… is something the BLM movement is also calling for in the present day.
“So much about history tells us about our present and helps us with a window into the future,” says Smith, “And so knowing this story, and the notion that people are using this as a beacon, that's exactly what history is about. Taking these remarkable stories, that almost become folkloric, like man they marched for 200 nights. You do anything for 200 days in a row that's remarkable. Especially something that's so deeply woven in the fabric of humanity and sacrificing for a greater good.”
It’s a story that he says is now connecting generations through history.
The Wisconsin Historical Society’s traveling display ‘Crossing the Line; The Milwaukee Fair Housing Marches of 1967-1968’ display tells the story of Milwaukee's Civil Right marches with reproductions of over 30 historic photographs and documents. They can be found here.
All information gathered for this story can be attributed to the Wisconsin Historical Society.