Wisconsin Historical Society To Host Program on Milwaukee’s Civil Rights Struggle

February 4, 2015
Father James Groppi speaking through  a megaphone from the hood of a bus. View the original source document:  WHI 48149
Father James Groppi speaking through
a megaphone from the hood of a bus.
View the original source document:
WHI 48149

On the evening of February 24th, the Wisconsin Historical Society will feature a program at its Madison headquarters on the civil rights movement in Milwaukee during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Dr. Patrick D. Jones, author of the award-winning book, Selma of the North:  Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee (Harvard University Press, 2010), will introduce and moderate the program. Dr. Jones, a UW-Madison PhD who now teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will offer opening remarks about the campaigns waged by Vel Phillips, Lloyd Barbee, Fr. James Groppi, and hundreds of other local activists to desegregate Milwaukee schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated schools illegal in 1954, Milwaukee schools were not integrated for another 20 years. And although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred discrimination in jobs and housing, years of demonstrations and lawsuits were required before Milwaukee employers, landlords, and realtors obeyed the law. Activists protesting segregation during the mid-sixties were often attacked by angry mobs hurling insults, bricks and bottles. Outside observers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., compared the city to bastions of Jim Crow culture in the South.

From Wisconsin Historical Society
From Wisconsin Historical Society

Dr. Jones’s introduction will be followed by excerpts from the new Wisconsin Public Television documentary about Vel Phillips, “Dream Big Dreams,” and a discussion by the filmmakers about that project to celebrate Phillips’ life. As the sole African-American (and woman) on the Milwaukee Common Council, she led the efforts to ensure fair housing and compliance with the Civil Rights Act. The new documentary honors her life and career and sheds new light on race relations in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin Historical Society archivist Emil Hoelter will then discuss the acquisition and processing of Phillips’ personal papers, a project supported by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. He will describe how her  archival records, recently acquired by the Society, document those turbulent decades. Dr. Jones will then moderate questions and answers about civil rights in Milwaukee from the audience.

The evening is co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Public Television, and the Univ. of Wisconsin Libraries. The program is free and open to the public at 816 State St., Madison (on the UW campus).

Media Contact

Michael Edmonds, deputy director of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Library-Archives Division, at michael.edmonds@wisconsinhistory.org or (608) 264-6538.