The Roots of Racist Violence in Milwaukee

Editor’s note: Milwaukee is the latest city to erupt as a result of the police shooting of a Black man. As in Ferguson and Baltimore, the outrage in Milwaukee last weekend was rooted in long-standing anger toward the city’s multi-faceted racism. Milwaukee has been home to Rethinking Schools since our founding in 1986. Its schools cannot be separated from the city’s history of racism and racial violence.  At her blog, “View from the Heartland,” Barbara Miner notes that “Milwaukee has a well-deserved reputation as perhaps the worst city in the country to raise an African American child. The city’s intense segregation and disparity did not happen overnight, but are the result of decades of practices and policies.” Miner is the former managing editor of Rethinking Schools and author of Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.

Following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Lessons from the Heartland. The chapter details the tumultuous events of the summer of 1967—both the city’s long-standing practice of valuing law and order over social justice, and the power of sustained grass-roots organizing.

Also see Miner’s 2012-2013 Rethinking Schools article on the origins of the school voucher movement in Milwaukee.
. . .

Chapter 7

1967–68: OPEN HOUSING MOVES TO CENTER STAGE

A Good Groppi Is a Dead Groppi.
—White supremacist sign during Milwaukee’s open housing marches

lessons2bfrom2bheartland2bphotoExcept for Alderman Vel Phillips, who had been raising the issue for five years, no alderman would even consider the topic [of Open Housing]. “Seventeen white Milwaukee aldermen listened silently for 30 minutes Tuesday while their lone Negro colleague urged them to consider the adoption of a city fair housing ordinance,” the Milwaukee Sentinel wrote of the day’s events. “Then, without a word of comment or criticism, they voted to reject the proposal.”

That summer, Phillips got support from outside the council. Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council launched their Open Housing campaign, demanding the city pass legislation prohibiting discrimination in the sale, lease, and rental of housing property in Milwaukee. The campaign began with picketing outside the homes of prominent aldermen. On July 30, however, the marches were interrupted by what in Milwaukee are known as the 1967 Riots, part of a national explosion of pent-up Black rage.

In Milwaukee, as in other cities, anger in the Black community had long simmered over police brutality, unemployment, housing discrimination, school segregation, political and economic disenfranchisement, and the refusal of the white power structure to acknowledge the pressing need for change. On July 12, 1967, disturbances broke out in Newark, New Jersey, sparked when two white policemen arrested a black cabdriver for improperly passing them. Rumors that the cabbie had been killed led to six days of rage, leaving 26 people dead. Less than a week after the end of Newark’s riots, Detroit was in flames. Police action—this time against an after- hours bar—once again lit the fire. Disturbances grew so intense that not only did the governor call out the Michigan National Guard, but President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in army troops equipped with machine guns and tanks. The riots lasted five days, leaving 43 people dead and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.

Milwaukee’s two-day upheaval began the night of July 30. By national standards, it was a relatively small disturbance. But it left whites in Milwaukee absolutely terrified, and it had a lasting impact on the city’s psyche.

The outbreak was fueled by rumors that a white policeman had killed an African American boy. Before long, the central city was beset with arson, gunshots, and looting. At around 3:00 a.m., Mayor Henry Maier instituted a 24-hour curfew and asked that the National Guard be called out. Only emergency and medical personnel were to leave their homes. Mail delivery and bus service were suspended. Those who violated the curfew were subject to immediate arrest.

The following morning, the city’s freeways and streets were empty and still. Six armored personnel carriers, each mounted with a .50 caliber machine gun, were ordered into the Milwaukee area. In the central city, the Milwaukee Journal reported, “every pedestrian and civilian vehicle was challenged by troops armed with bayonet-tipped rifles.” The riots left four people dead, almost a hundred injured, and 1,740 arrested.

Maier’s show of force was widely praised as saving the city from even more devastating consequences. At the same time, nothing of substance was done to alleviate the conditions leading to the unrest and anger in the African American community. [emphasis added.]

Shortly after the riots, Father Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council again took up their demands for open housing. And, just as they had crossed into the suburb of Wauwatosa, the civil rights demonstrators were not afraid to venture into white supremacist strongholds of Milwaukee. The decision led to the now legendary marches across the Sixteenth Street Viaduct separating the city’s downtown and Inner Core from the South Side.

On Monday, August 28, 1967, protesters gathered at St. Boniface in the central city. For the first time, they set out for the South Side, infamous as a stronghold of ethnic whites opposed to civil rights.

In a tribute to Father Groppi’s reputation among his former South Side parishioners, a small group of supportive whites from St. Veronica’s met the demonstrators at the beginning of their march across the bridge.1 By the time the protesters walked the half mile across the bridge, however, matters had changed. Most of the 3,000 whites on the other side were hostile, with signs that read “A Good Groppi Is a Dead Groppi.” Some yelled “Sieg heil,” others “Go back to Africa.” The marchers continued. Before long, counterdemonstrators along the march route were throwing bottles, stones, and chunks of wood at them. Another 5,000 white counterdemonstrators were waiting when the civil rights protesters arrived at their destination, Kosciuszko Park in the heart of the South Side.

The next night, Groppi and the Youth Council once again headed to the South Side. This time, an estimated 13,000 counterdemonstrators challenged them. Once again, Groppi and the marchers continued. After their march, they returned to their Freedom House in the Inner Core. At about 9:30 p.m., the house was on fire. Groppi said the police started the fire with tear gas; the police said a firebomb had been tossed into the house by an unknown person. When fire trucks arrived, the police would not let them near, citing reports of gunshots and fears of a sniper. “Youth council members said the gunshots came from police weapons,” writes journalist Frank Aukofer in his civil rights history of Milwaukee. “No arsonist or sniper ever was found.”2

After the day’s events, Mayor Maier banned nighttime demonstrations. On the night of August 30, however, Groppi held a rally at the burned-out Freedom House and led a march down city streets. Police ultimately arrested 58 people.3 The next night, declaring that Maier’s ban violated their First Amendment rights of assembly, marchers headed toward city hall. Some 137 people were arrested, including Alderman Phillips and Father Groppi.

Within days, the mayor was forced to lift his ban. Keeping their promise to continue marching every day, Father Groppi and the Youth Council didn’t stop even during the cold winter months, when temperatures sometimes dipped below zero.

On the South Side, white racists organized Milwaukee Citizens for Closed Housing, led by a white priest, Father Russell Witon. Decrying  “forced open housing,” Father Witon and his supporters organized counterdemonstrations at the Milwaukee archdiocesan chancery office and in the central city. The group, however, had more fury than staying power. Their efforts dwindled.

Open housing supporters, meanwhile, refused to give up. Beginning with the walk across the Sixteenth Street Viaduct on August 28, 1967, they continued with marches and protests for 200 consecutive days.4 Finally, propelled by national events, Milwaukee’s power brokers realized they could no longer hold onto the past. On April 30, 1968, Milwaukee’s Common Council finally passed the open housing bill. The vote occurred two weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated during his campaign in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Riots of rage broke out across the country. In Milwaukee, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people marched somberly but peacefully through downtown.

The open housing legislation ended a long chapter in Milwaukee’s civil rights struggles, spanning almost a decade and involving the city’s seminal civil rights leaders and organizations. As early as 1961, [Desegregation activist Lloyd] Barbee helped organize a 13-day sit-in at the state capitol to ban discrimination in housing. In 1965, by that time a legislator, Barbee successfully co-sponsored statewide open housing legislation, but even supporters acknowledged it was a weak bill. In Milwaukee, meanwhile, Phillips and Groppi were pushing the more comprehensive local ordinance.

Barbee, Phillips, Groppi, and countless other activists easily moved between housing, school, and employment issues. They believed not only that the issues were inherently intertwined but also that they all had deep roots in overarching problems of racism and discrimination. …

Inside our Summer 2016 Issue

cover_200Articles in this summer issue are glimpses into the classrooms of educators who are teaching for social justice, defying the notion that schooling should be reduced to test preparation and the training of “successful” workers.

Our cover article, “The Problem with Story Problems,” is from teacher educator Anita Bright, who uncovers troubling biases embedded in story problems in math textbooks—from elementary through high school levels. Bright shows how seemingly neutral math problems are anything but. Instead, they often reinforce racial and gender stereotypes, encourage students to imagine themselves as bosses, reduce workers to sources of profit, and promote consumerism and the acquisition of “stuff.” But Bright also describes how teachers are helping their students think critically about these word problems and repurpose them with more humane and ecological values. Math teachers, she writes, can “create a classroom climate where challenging the status quo is accepted, normal, and encouraged.”

Subscribe Today! Save 20% with code: SubsD16

And that’s just the start. Here’s the full table of contents:
Problem with Story Problems
By Anita Bright
A teacher educator critiques the biases of story problems in math textbooks. Teachers around the country offer creative alternatives.
By Michelle Kenney
The tale of a high school English teacher’s journey into—and out of—formulaic writing programs as her school struggles with high-stakes exams.
By Wendy Harris
Parallels in the oppressive history of residential schools for Native American and Deaf children help Deaf students better understand their history and culture.
By Greg Huntington
A teacher writes about his hopes for the person his child will become—and some of the dangers along the way.

 

Politics of Paragraph photo

By Michelle Nicola
Latina/o students explore the impact of African roots on Mexican culture and history.

DEPARTMENTS

LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Classrooms of Hope and Critique

By the editors of Rethinking Schools
LETTERS
Letters to the Editor
ON THE ROAD
Schools, Land, and Peace in Colombia

By Bob Peterson
SHORT STUFF
FBI Tells Schools to Spy on Students
Election Rhetoric Harms Students
RESOURCES
Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.

Two Rethinking Schools Books Earn Awards

We have wonderful news. Two of our recent books earned Honor Awards from Skipping Stones magazine–a journal that has been celebrating exceptional multicultural children’s literature and professional education resources for over 26 years.

REEcoverRethinking Elementary Education and Teaching About the Wars earned the awards. Luckily, we have a special promotion going on right now so you can get these books and any others from our collection now with our 20% end-of-school-year discount.  Use code GRADE14 at checkout.

Also a winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association Ben Franklin Gold Award, Rethinking Elementary Education is a collection of articles by teachers, parents, and activists about elementary school life and learning. The book covers classroom community, media literacy, language arts, science, social studies and other topics through a social justice lens.

Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities, described Rethinking Elementary Education this way: “Another glorious package of encouragement and challenge from the most enlightened and most fervent group of teachers and their allies in our nation. Indispensable for elementary teachers–and a feisty provocation to all educators to stand up and fight for our beliefs.”

Teaching About the WarTeaching About the Wars, edited by Jody Sokolower, focuses on U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Although the United States has been at war continuously since just after 9/11, the role of the U.S. military around the world is rarely discussed in classrooms. This collection provides lessons and activities for teachers to engage students in critical thinking about this critical issue.

We’re so grateful for everyone who contributed to both of these books and to Skipping Stones for recognizing our work and passion for multicultural social justice education.

And we’re grateful to you for your continued support of our work.

If you want to see for yourself why these books earned accolades, use code GRADE14 for a 20% discount off these or any of the books in our collection.

Links we liked this week: May 4, 2014

Oops!  We scheduled this to post on Saturday, but something went awry. Now we’re a few days late, but we think these links are still worth a look. 

We like sharing interesting news, insightful opinions, activist victories, and actionable curriculum via Facebook, Twitter, and of course through our magazine and books.

We thought why not collect some of our favorites ideas, opinions, and stories in one place each week. It gives you a peek at what piques our interest, and gives us the opportunity to revisit the news that’s shaping our profession and the public debate about education.

Let us know what you think of this idea in the comments, and feel free to add to our list there as well.

Speaking “Mexican” and the use of “Mock Spanish” in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones) by Dolores Inés Casillas via Sounding Out! Librarian and Rethinking Schools contributor Rachel Cloues alerted us to this thoughtful critique of the Skippyjon Jones series.

Post-patriarchy? We Still Have Much to Learn (and Teach) by Jody Sokolower  via Common Dreams. What started as a post here on our blog ended up at one of our favorite news and opinion sites.

Charter Schools Fail: New Report Calls Their ‘Magic’ Into Question, by Jeff Bryant, via Common Dreams. Bryant writes “In even the most casual treatments of education, charter schools are now regarded by many as a given “improvement.” (For those of you who watch NBC’s “Parenthood,” you saw that in this season’s episodes.) Bryant calls this glib pro-charter propaganda into question.

Teaching Untold Stories About Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by Moé Yonamine via Zinn Education Project. By now, many of us have heard of the Japanese American internment in the US during World War II. But very few of us know anything about the U.S.-ordered internment of Japanese Latin Americans — 2,300 individuals from 13 Latin American countries who were forcibly brought to the US and imprisoned during the war.

Pearson Wins Major Contract From Common Core Testing Consortium by Sean Cavanaugh via Education Week. We want to make clear that we don’t really “like” this link, but include it because it unfortunately confirmed our beliefs about the CCSS. For those who think the CCSS is an earnest and sincere attempt to improve schools, think again.

Rethinking Cinco de Mayo, by Sudie Hofmann via Zinn Education Project. As one person commented on our Facebook page after seeing this article, “Less beer. More truth.”  Need we say more? Read it.

Louis C.K. Takes Aim at Common Core… And We’re All Smarter for It, by Diane Ravitch via Common Dreams. Even we can’t resist pop culture sometimes. “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!”

Whitewash: How ‘The New York Times’ Just Rewrote the History of Sports, by Dave Zirin via The Nation. “From boxer Muhammad Ali to the Donald Sterling saga, Timothy Egan’s recent New York Times op-ed is a whitewash of the progressive history of sports.” 

Last year, 25 hedge fund managers earned more than double every kindergarten teacher combined by Matthew Yglesias, via Vox. Who doesn’t love an occasional interesting factoid? Can you say ‘Capitalism run amok?’

Chicago Teachers Union votes to oppose Common Core Standards by Becky Schlikerman via Chicago Sun-Times. New York teachers have taken this bold step as well (and need our support, by the way). Who’s next?

Rethinking Schools on Facebook: 10 Most Popular Stories of 2013

Those of you who follow us on Facebook know that we regularly post articles, stories, and resources that we think would be of interest to Rethinking Schools readers. At the risk of jumping on the top-10 bandwagon, we decided to review our posts for the year and to highlight the ones that were the most popular, judged by total reach. Some are funny, some are moving, some are outrageous—all are provocative and worth reviewing.

1. Dec. 15: “Wrong” answers on tests from brilliant kids.

2. April 18: Today’s Democracy Now! had an excellent segment — “A Rush to Misjudgment” — about some of the hurried and racist mainstream media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. This would be an excellent segment to use with students.

3. Nov. 2: Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au was the scariest thing ever for Halloween this year: a high-stakes, standardized test!

WayneHighStakes

4. Oct. 5: History matters. Today’s patterns of wealth and power have their roots in slavery. “Top 6 Countries That Grew Filthy Rich From Enslaving Black People

5. April 2:  Our friend and colleague, Bill Ayers, has written a fabulous letter to the New York Times about the Atlanta cheating scandal. Read it here.

6. Oct. 17: The brilliant and magnificent Cornel West. Please watch and share. “Cornel West on the ‘shameless silence’ of progressives about Obama and education reform

7. Aug. 22: This is a fascinating expose at Daily Kos of how Time Magazine covers in the United States differ from Time covers throughout the world. Great questions to raise about this with students. Shared by Rethinking Schools author Özlem Sensoy.

8. May 3: Have you followed the story of the 16-year-old girl in Florida who was arrested and expelled for her science experiment gone awry? An example of the school-to-prison pipeline in action.

9. April 15: Rethinking Schools friend Dave Zirin reflects on the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, and offers some moving people’s history in the process.

10. September 7: Betsy Toll of the organization Living Earth, wrote this wonderful letter to The Oregonian, in Portland, saying we’re not weary of war, we’re sick of it. War is an “educational issue.” Read Betsy’s letter.

“What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?” and other resources for multicultural teaching

Earlier this month, we set up shop at the annual meeting of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). It’s always a joy to see old friends and meet folks who are new but no less passionate about multicultural education.

If you follow our blog, you likely share this passion, and know that Rethinking Schools has offered insights and resources on critical, multicultural teaching since our inception in 1986.

carberry-1

Here are a few examples, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education,
by Wayne Au
Multicultural education has to be based on dialogue, both among students and between students and teachers.

“If There Is No Struggle…” Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow
Students “become” members of an abolitionist organization and grapple with the strategic dilemmas faced by one of the most significant U.S. social movements.

Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice, by the editors of Rethinking Schools
The introduction to a special report on multicultural education.

Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucsonby Devin Carberry
A high school history teacher centers a study of social movements on the fight over the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. His students spread the knowledge.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access! (All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-660-4192.)

What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?: Speaking honestly about race and students, by Dyan Watson
“Urban” has become one of a series of euphemisms for African American and Latina/o students. What preconceptions hide behind the language?

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII, by Moé Yonamine
A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps.

Diversity vs. White Privilege: An Interview with Christine Sleeterby Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Christine Sleeter explains why multiculturalism, at its core, is a struggle against racism, and must go beyond an appreciation of diversity.

Putting Out the Linguistic Welcome Mat, by Linda Christensen
Honoring students’ home languages builds an inclusive classroom.

Get to know your history

If you’re not yet familiar with the Zinn Education Project–a collaboration of Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change in Washington, D.C.–and the “If We Knew Our History” column–today is a great day to get acquainted with it.

Rethinking Schools curriculum editor and co-director of the Zinn Education Project Bill Bigelow wrote the most recent article on the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Here’s an excerpt.  Read the rest of the column here.  (Thanks to Common Dreams for also posting it.)

Grenada: ‘A Lovely Little War’

by Bill Bigelow

Anti-bullying curricula are the rage these days. But as teachers endeavor to build a culture of civility among young people in school, the official history curriculum they are provided often celebrates, or at least excuses, bullying among nations. Well, at least when the United States is the bully. A good example is the U.S. invasion of Grenada—Operation Urgent Fury, as it was called by the Reagan administration—launched exactly 30 years ago this week, on Oct. 25, 1983. Grenada made an unlikely target of U.S. military might. Its main product was not oil but nutmeg. Its naval fleet consisted of about 10 fishing trawlers. Grenada’s population of 110,000 was smaller than Peoria, Illinois. At the time of the invasion, there was not a single stoplight in the entire country. So what put Grenada in the crosshairs of the Reagan administration?

grenadaposter

In 1979, the socialist New Jewel Movement had overthrown the corrupt and unpopular dictator Eric Gairy in an almost bloodless coup. For years, Gairy ruled through fear. His secret police, the “Mongoose Gang,” had been supplied by the U.S.-backed Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The revolution launched by the New Jewel Movement—the “Revo,” as it was affectionately dubbed—was immensely popular. By 1982, when I first visited the island, a literacy campaign was under way, new schools had been built, and unemployed youth in the countryside benefited from new agricultural cooperatives. Grenada welcomed Cuban aid: teachers, health professionals, and construction workers on the new international airport who aimed to replace the antiquated and dangerous airstrip up in the mountains. In just four years, unemployment was cut from 49 percent to 14 percent. Instead of advertising cigarettes and booze, colorful billboards throughout the island promoted education: “Each One Teach One,” “If You Know, Teach; If You Don’t, Learn,” and “Education Is Production, Too.”

Grenada’s ‘threat’

On a steamy August night, with hundreds of other Grenadians I squeezed into a high school auditorium in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, to watch musical and theater performances from throughout the Caribbean—Dominica, Barbados, and St. Vincent. Each group closed its act with a short speech on how inspiring they found the changes in Grenada. With shouts and smiles they pledged to return to their islands and spread the word about the Grenadian Revo. This West Indian cultural evening exemplified Grenada’s real “threat”—not a launchpad for invasion, but a socialist-inspired revolution with a reggae beat that sparked imaginations throughout the Caribbean. To use Noam Chomsky’s expression, Grenada was the threat of a good example.

Grenada map / A small island with a population less than 110,000, Grenada was, as Noam Chomsky said, a threat of a good example.The United States responded to developments in Grenada with hostility. In August 1981, more than two years before the actual U.S. invasion—in naval maneuvers called “Ocean Venture 81”—the United States staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Code-named “Amber and the Amberdines,” the supposedly fictitious eastern Caribbean country of Amber was accused of being a pawn of Country Red to “export terrorism to a number of Caribbean countries.” A Ranger battalion based in Fort Lewis, Washington, was airlifted to Vieques. Paratroopers landed in mountainous areas of the island and were backed by air attacks and the amphibious landing of thousands of marines. The obvious similarity between “Amber and the Amberdines” and Grenada and the Grenadines was a not-so-veiled threat. President Reagan claimed that Grenada’s construction of the international airport was a ruse for “Soviet-Cuban militarization”—this despite enthusiastic support for the airport from such un-radical entities as Grenada’s Chamber of Commerce, the Grenada Hotel Association, and the Employers’ Federation.

Then came October 1983. In the space of a few days, the leadership of the New Jewel Movement imploded. Grenada’s hugely popular prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was arrested by a faction of his own government and then executed along with many of his close associates. In massive demonstrations following Bishop’s arrest, the Grenadian army fired into the crowds. Shortly after, a military government was formed and announced a 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfew. This violence was the culmination of sectarian infighting whose origins are still murky—a flammable concoction of ambition, ideological rigidity, and leadership isolation, made more volatile by the ever-present threat of U.S. intervention.

In the midst of these traumatic events the United States launched its invasion—sending 7,600 troops into the tiny island—mostly from the United States, but with some from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations. An equivalent force invading the United States would total more than 20 million soldiers. Ronald Reagan defended the invasion, saying Grenada “was a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy. We got there just in time.”

Read the rest of “Grenada: ‘A Lovely Little War.'” 

Photo credit:  Forward ever, backward never! poster. North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).