1950s Milwaukee: Race, Class, and a City Divided

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Overwhelmingly white and middle class, Milwaukee in the 1950s stood at the brink of rapid demographic change as thousands of African Americans from the U.S. South migrated to the city. From 1950 to 1960, Milwaukee’s black population grew from 21,772 to 62,458, a 187 percent increase that alarmed many white residents and provided fuel for a race-baiting mayoral campaign against the city’s liberal mayor in 1956. But even as the new residents challenged long-held notions of white privilege, their arrival also was not uniformly welcomed by the city’s longtime middle- and upper middle-class African American residents, whose classist perspective often aligned with white municipal lawmakers and community and labor leaders. The increased number of low-income African American migrants living in Milwaukee brought into sharp relief the inability of all black Milwaukeeans to secure jobs and decent housing. Furthermore, African American job seekers found little recourse in the local labor movement, with union leaders and members mirroring the city’s sociocultural biases. African American migrants faced a combination of racial discrimination and class-based bias built on perceptions that all black migrants were lower skilled, low-income workers who did not fit into the city’s “culture,” a euphemism frequently employed to reference “class.” This article examines how the response of labor, lawmakers, and the community in 1950s Milwaukee, like Detroit and Chicago in earlier years, set the direction for decades to come.

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... In the 1970s alone, 76% of manufacturing firms left Milwaukee. 36,37 Some of the largest housing protests in the 1960s were in Milwaukee, with much pushback against displacement and eviction. 38 Jones referred to Milwaukee as "the Selma of the north." ...
Background: This scoping review focuses on the intersections of racism, health, and health care, as well as interventions for the African American population in Milwaukee, Wisconsin-one of the most hypersegregated regions in the country. We investigate what existing research provides about the impact of segregation and racism on health and consider how community setting informs health interventions, practice, and policy. Methods: We analyzed studies that address racism and health in Milwaukee to assess the state of the science in this area. We searched databases using the terms "African American," "racism," "segregation," and "health." A total of 296 studies resulted, and 54 met the inclusion criteria. Results: Racism is a known determinant of health. However, a lack of research investigating the impact of racism on health in Milwaukee County leaves a knowledge gap necessary for improving health among African American residents. The adverse effects of racism on health are compounded by the social, economic, and policy context of geographic and social segregation that limit access to care and resilience. Themes identified in the review include measures of physical and mental health, community factors related to health (eg, housing, environmental contamination, economic and social exclusion), intervention strategies, and theoretical gaps. Discussion: Professionals must work across disciplines and social sectors to address the effects of racism on the physical and mental health of African American individuals in urban metropolitan environments. Health research and medical interventions in hypersegregated communities must center structural racism in their analysis.
Background: Vacant lots generate the perception of neglect and are often opportunistic locations for crime. Evidence is building to suggest that greening vacant lots, especially through community engaged approaches, is associated with reductions in some types of crime. Methods: Using a retrospective quasi-experimental approach, we compared the conversion of vacant lots into community gardens (n=53) with a group of matched control lots (n=159) to examine the effect of this intervention on police reported theft, violent and nuisance crime in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Conversions often involved the addition of planter boxes to create a garden, and sometimes included benches, paths, works of art or other landscaping features. Public crime data were used to generate crime rates within 100 m and 250 m around each lot. Results: Violent and nuisance crime rates are lower near treatment lots based on an unadjusted difference-in-differences analysis of means and two Poisson regression models. While no substantial effects were observed among theft crimes, the most consistent crime rate reductions were found among violent crime within 250 m, ranging between 3.7% and 6.4% across analyses. Conclusions: Despite the small number of interventions, community-driven vacant lot to garden conversions were associated with slight reductions in crime. Urban greening initiatives may be a promising strategy to reduce urban crime and warrant further study.
America's urbanites have engaged in many tumultuous struggles for civil and worker rights since the Second World War. In Whose Detroit?, Heather Ann Thompson focuses in detail on the struggles of Motor City residents during the 1960s and early 1970s and finds that conflict continued to plague the inner city and its workplaces even after Great Society liberals committed themselves to improving conditions. Using the contested urban center of Detroit as a model, Thompson assesses the role of such upheaval in shaping the future of America's cities. She argues that the glaring persistence of injustice and inequality led directly to explosions of unrest in this period. Thompson finds that unrest as dramatic as that witnessed during Detroit's infamous riot of 1967 by no means doomed the inner city, nor in any way sealed its fate. The politics of liberalism continued to serve as a catalyst for both polarization and radical new possibilities and Detroit remained a contested, and thus politically vibrant, urban center. Thompson's account of the post-World War II fate of Detroit casts new light on contemporary urban issues, including white flight, police brutality, civic and shop floor rebellion, labor decline, and the dramatic reshaping of the American political order. Throughout, the author tells the stories of real events and individuals, including James Johnson, Jr., who, after years of suffering racial discrimination in Detroit's auto industry, went on trial in 1971 for the shooting deaths of two foremen and another worker at a Chrysler plant. Bringing the labor movement into the context of the literature of Sixties radicalism, Whose Detroit? integrates the history of the 1960s into the broader political history of the postwar period. Urban, labor, political, and African-American history are blended into Thompson's comprehensive portrayal of Detroit's reaction to pressures felt throughout the nation. With deft attention to the historical background and preoccupations of Detroit's residents, Thompson has written a biography of an entire city at a time of crisis. © 2001 by Heather Ann Thompson. 2017 by Heather Ann Thompson. All rights reserved.
Historians have devoted surprisingly little attention to African American urban history of the postwar period, especially compared with earlier decades. Correcting this imbalance, African American Urban History since World War II features an exciting mix of seasoned scholars and fresh new voices whose combined efforts provide the first comprehensive assessment of this important subject. The first of this volume’s five groundbreaking sections focuses on black migration and Latino immigration, examining tensions and alliances that emerged between African Americans and other groups. Exploring the challenges of residential segregation and deindustrialization, later sections tackle such topics as the real estate industry’s discriminatory practices, the movement of middle-class blacks to the suburbs, and the influence of black urban activists on national employment and social welfare policies. Another group of contributors examines these themes through the lens of gender, chronicling deindustrialization’s disproportionate impact on women and women’s leading roles in movements for social change. Concluding with a set of essays on black culture and consumption, this volume fully realizes its goal of linking local transformations with the national and global processes that affect urban class and race relations.
Once America's "arsenal of democracy," Detroit is now the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of America's racial and economic inequalities, Thomas Sugrue asks why Detroit and other industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty. He challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decline is the product of the social programs and racial fissures of the 1960s. Weaving together the history of workplaces, unions, civil rights groups, political organizations, and real estate agencies, Sugrue finds the roots of today's urban poverty in a hidden history of racial violence, discrimination, and deindustrialization that reshaped the American urban landscape after World War II. This Princeton Classics edition includes a new preface by Sugrue, discussing the lasting impact of the postwar transformation on urban America and the chronic issues leading to Detroit's bankruptcy. © 1996, 2005 by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved.
List of Illustrations Prologue: Jobs and Belonging Part I: African Americans Shake the Old Order 1. The Rightness of Whiteness 2. The Fight Begins 3. Civil Rights at Work Part II: Others Reposition Themselves 4. Women Challenge "Jane Crow" 5. Are Mexican Americans "Whites" or "People of Color"? 6. Jewish Americans Divide over Justice 7. Conservatives Shift from "Massive Resistance" to "Color-Blindness" Part III: The Challenge of the New Order 8. The Lonesomeness of Pioneering 9. The Struggle for Inclusion since the Reagan Era Epilogue Abbreviations in Notes Notes Acknowledgments Index
This special issue is the second in a two-part series devoted to the new African American urban history. The focus of this issue is the scholarly assessment of the changing historiography of African American urban history, which is analysed by the guest editors. Specialist contributors present studies on: African Americans in the industrial city: 1900-1950, and a detailed assessment of the knowledge about African Americans in the City since WWII - a period shaped by the economic and social transition from an industrial to a post-industrial nation. These articles are backed by five review essays which collectively reveal the diversity of recent work in the field. The articles touch directly and reinforce many of the interpretive themes of the new African American history. Specific topics include studies on race, class and politics in post-reconstruction New Orleans; black migration and urbanisation in the 20th century, and an exploration of the urban underclass. -I.C.White
Wilmington, Delaware, a medium-sized industrial center in the eastern United States, was the site for this study of migration. The report presents some of the major ideas, hypotheses, and findings of a study on recruitment, movement, and assimilation of migrants into Wilmington. Data for the study were obtained from the 1960 census figures and from responses to a questionnaire administered to 311 heads of households with children in 1 of 5 public elementary schools in the city. The specific purposes of this report were (1) to discuss some theoretical problems in the analysis of migration, (2) to describe the course of migration to Wilmington in recent years, (3) to present the rationale and methods of the study, and (4) to offer a reasoned commentary of some of the study's findings. The most persistent finding of the study was the importance of work as a reason for mobility or stability. (DK)
“The Political Scene.”
  • Cecil Brown
“Designed for Export?”
  • Murray Kempton
Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia
  • Matthew Countryman
“African Americans, Civil Rights, and Race-making in Milwaukee.”
  • Dougherty Jack
  • Anderson Margo
  • Green Victor
Images of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville, 1900-1950
  • Paul Geenen
“The Second Great Migration: A Historical Overview.”
  • Gregory James N.
  • Trotter Joe W.
  • Kusmer Kenneth L.
“Fair Employment Practice Committee.”
  • Andrew Kersten
Making Milwaukee Mightier: Planning and the Politics of Growth
  • John Mccarthy
Negro Business Directory of the State of Wisconsin
  • Mary Ellen Shadd
“Together We Stick, Divided We’re Stuck.”
  • Isaac Coggs
“The Need in Milwaukee for Extending Employment of Negroes
  • William Rasche
“Shifting Perspectives on Segregation in the Emerging Postindustrial Age.”
  • Trotter Joe W. Jr
“From Walnut Street to No Street: Milwaukee’s Afro-American Businesses, 1945-1967.”
  • William Vick
“Milwaukee’s Racial Tension: The Problem of the New Negro Migration.”
  • Frank Zeidler
“African Americans, Civil Rights, and Race-making in Milwaukee.”
  • Jack Dougherty
“A Liberal in City Government: My Experiences as Mayor of Milwaukee.”
  • Frank Zeidler
“The Struggle for Public Housing and Redevelopment.”
  • Frank Zeidler
“The Second Great Migration: A Historical Overview.”
  • James N Gregory
From Walnut Street to No Street: Milwaukee’s Afro-American Businesses
  • Vick William
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism
  • James Loewen