The Milwaukee Community Journal will celebrate its 35th anniversary, this year! Thirty-five years! It sounds like a lot of years, and it is.
Chronologically, that’s three and a half decades; half the life expectancy of most Americans today. From a business perspective, 35 years represents over 1,820 continuous publishing weeks–3,000 newspapers, including the Weekend Edition.
During that time we have serviced over 10,000 advertisers, sponsors and supporters, and an estimated 6 million readers. That’s ten times the population of Milwaukee!
With this numerical foundation, it is then understandable how so many people have graced the newspaper’s pages. And while many elders helped to identify the initial list of legends, we knew we had not included every newsmaker, nor many of the legends whose civic, cultural or political contributions continue to influence our lives today.
Many legends have now passed on, yet their lives are remembered. Others are alive but have relocated to other cities. Still others are continuing to grow Milwaukee’s Black community and we want to acknowledge their achievements. So we have solicited your input, your recommendations. Submit your legends. The cut-off date is January 31, 2011, and February 28, 2011 via the MCJ web site. So get your MCJ, or visit www.communityjournal.net to nominate your legend.
The Academy of Legends Gala will be Saturday, August 6, 2011 at the Italian Conference Center. One Legend, per category, will be named. However, four nominees will also be honored. Each time you vote, you increase the opportunity for your legend to be named. So, send your recommendations, and then continue to vote.
The Academy of Community-thought Leaders will reduce the group down to four per category. Dependent upon the greatest number of votes cast, the Legends will be selected.
This stellar evening of reflection, inspiration, and acknowledging achievement is the perfect setting for looking back but also moving forward. Proceeds from the Gala support our youth in the form of scholarships that enable talented young adults to reach their dreams. Forty thousand dollars will be given in academic awards that evening. We will be building new legacies, so join us on this year-long journey.
Webster’s dictionary describes a legend as: “a story of life, as to be a saint, part of a collection”. People whose life stories made a difference, in Milwaukee, are the subject of the profiles that will follow. Therein lies a rich history of people who have accomplished much during the 35 year tenure of your Milwaukee Community Journal
Some considerations for the 2011 Legends:
Milwaukee’s African American community began to really flourish in the early 1940s. Some of its earliest families included Pat and Irene Goggans; Lincoln and Marie Gaines; the Grishams; Thulbert and Helen Alexander; Attorney James and Lucille Dorsey; Atty. Clarence Parrish and his wife, Mildred, Charity Church and Clara Turner. Other pioneers included the Pitts family; Joe and Vy Harris; BeBe and Shirley Bell, Casper and Virtrue Lyday; Cal Beckett, Clinton and Bernice Rose, and Felmers and Jessie Chaney were noted in the early pages of the Negro Business Directory of the State of Wisconsin (1950-1957) by Publisher Mary Ellen Shadd, mother of Jerrel Jones, publisher of the Milwaukee Courier.
Manufacturing companies such as Harnischfeger, Allen Bradley, Evinrude, Bucyrus Erie, Caterpillar, American Motors and A.O. Smith recruited low-skilled workers to grow the Great Lakes industrial Mecca. Good wages and a zealous lifestyle lured many new residents from neighboring Chicago and townships and cities throughout the South. Breweries such as Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, and Blatz also claimed new employees as Milwaukee’s beverage industry dominated the local economy, thus the name ‘Brewtown.’ It was said that every neighborhood had a pub or tavern and churches of various denominations. Milwaukee was growing as was the Black community.
The Great Migration, documented during the ‘50s and early ‘60s, from rural, agri -communities to Midwestern cities like St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit and Gary corresponded to Milwaukee’s branding as a leader in heavy industrial equipment. Trackers, haulers, excavators and motors were being shipped stateside for massive infrastructure projects in the United States; and into developing countries, worldwide, as rebuilding after extensive battles, during the War, became a priority.
Early families settled and second generations soon multiplied as new professionals arrived to serve the burgeoning growth. More doctors, nurses, veterinarians, architects, lawyers, social workers, teachers, and realtors rapidly became the Black nouveau with middle-class status, while businesses and social clubs, churches, eateries, car repair shops and groceries were sustained by strong community support.
The hilarious entertainment at the Savoy Club with Le Crickett and Satin Doll; bowling at Thelma’s Back Door; fried chicken from Larry’s Chicken Shack or listening to the jazz-organ of Loretta White or the scat of Mary Davis; Berkeley Fudge; or the Upstairs-Downstairs with Donald Jackson provided a fun evening out. And yes, a rent party, here or there, epitomized communal support for families down on their luck.
Migrants from South were generally met with open arms by their Northern brothers and cousins, and quickly integrated into the cultural network, as a foundation of economic, religious and educational support was being cemented.
Wisconsin’s Black population–less than 3,000 in 1910 and only 7,000 in 1930–was estimated to be 74,546 in 1960. By the 1970s, Black Milwaukee was still growing and the communities’ boundaries had exploded beyond Walnut Street and North Avenue, to Holton Street on the East, Fond du Lac Avenue on the West and Silver Spring Drive to the North. Local covenants that restricted housing by race had been on the books since Wisconsin was formed. And the city of Milwaukee’s restrictive covenants made racial geography and ethnic stratification a definitive reality.
These covenants were the pre-cursors for the growth of community activism and civil rights campaigns, hard fought and hard won legal precedents!
Schools took on greater significance as families continued to settle and create their families. Housing and demographic restrictions on the basis of race became hot-bed issues, while police Chief Harold Breier became a presumed antagonist for the Black community. Allegations of police brutality regularly filled the pages of the Black Press as rioted geared police met peaceful civil rights demonstrators with angry stares and antagonistic intents.
Meanwhile the MPD Chief became more abrasive, less willing to meet and hear complaints from community-thought leaders. As a result, an internal war between the Police Department and the Black community reached angry proportions. The police cover up in the murder of Daniel Bell (the truth of his killing by a Milwaukee police officers was only revealed decades later) gave way to an equally sinister killing of another unarmed Black man, Ernest Lacy, sparking demonstrations and lawsuits that captured national attention.
Civic and political response to growing tensions between the Black community and police was mute, even as complaints were met with overt retributions.
Taverns owners were pressured about non-compliance issues when they had done nothing wrong; and youngsters feared the police rather than respected them. Sergeant Felmers Chaney, MPD, Bill Gore of the Fire and Police Commission, Reverend Lucious Walker; Thomas Wynn of the M-Vets and O.C. White of WAWA radio were major players in bridging the chasms and changing the image of the community while fostering increased understanding within the police department.
The Open Housing marches, under the leadership of Commando Project I and Father James Groppi, made international news as they sought to change Milwaukee’s housing patterns. In the hot of summer and the cold of winter, the year-long marches across the 16th Street Viaduct in support of an open housing ordinance embarrassed city officials and cast a cloud over Milwaukee as a progressive city. The viaduct was considered Milwaukee’s Mason Dixon line and even though Black and White marchers endured taunts and rocks as they marched across it on a daily basis, they were not deterred.
The Groppi/Commando led marches finally broke the color lines when a City Ordinance introduced by Milwaukee’s first-Black Alderwoman Vel Phillips was passed, and open housing became the law.
Also, the Department of City Development, led by Richard Perrin, Director, finally relinquished control of city housing projects that had exempted residents on the basis of race. Another bastion hit the dust.
Parks, social centers, Y’s, and Boys and Girls Clubs became institutions that supported young families. Fledgling entrepreneurs opened photography shops, furniture stores, groceries, cleaners, shoe repair shops and night spots. Women were active business owners such as Beatrice Childs, owner of the Blue Spruce Hotel, and Vy Harris, who operated a strong vending machine business that covered the city.
Multiple beauty shops like Ruby Jones’ Trendsetters and Hattie Coleman’s Hattie’s were the prelude to Iola Harris’ Hat shop, where couture hats and chapeaux’s reigned for church goers. O’Bee Funeral Home; Williamson Funeral Home; Moore’s Barbershop; Torans’; and Thomas’ Billiards were among the many businesses advertising in the Soul City Shopper in 1965. Johnny Sharp’s Club; Fowlkes Furniture; LeRoy’s Jewelers, Johnny’s Teletronics TV Repair; Moore’s Barber Shop, Reed’s Grocery, Odell’s Liquors and Lena’s Grocery were established businesses thriving and employing before the riots. Milwaukee was in full adolescence, albeit not growing to its full potential.
Change was a natural recourse. The Milwaukee Community Journal was on the vanguard.
Tumultuous educational wars earmarked the 1970s and 1980s. Integration, equal access, busing and defacto segregation were pioneering stories for months in the MCJ. Cecil Brown, Attorney Lloyd Barbee, Marilyn Morhauser, Lauri Wynn, among others, were educational warriors insisting that children had a right to attend the schools that improved their educational opportunities. The community was divided over the merits of court ordered school desegregation and a methodology that was deemed to be ‘one way busing.’ Milwaukee’s school desegregation program expanded to a suburban transfer program, Chapter 220, but the clamour for educational equality continued. In the mid 1980s, State Representative Annette Polly Williams and Howard Fullers’ campaign to maintain North Division as a community school morphed into legislation for an independent Black school district, and ultimately the nation’s largest voucher program.
In fact, MCJ Editor, Mikel Holt, now emeritous, was so immersed in the chronicles of education in Milwaukee that he wrote his book “Not Free At Last” that details the players, the policies and the fallacies of educational reform during this important period of history. Often, politics regrettably weighed more heavily than the interest of the children, he feels. The children are the losers at a time when most countries are winning the education-advancement wars. China, Japan, South Korea are our competitive examples. Our country loses when our children lose.
The eighties and nineties have brought new newsmakers responding with new accomplishments and meeting new challenges. They will be reviewed in later segments.
In the meantime, recommendations are coming from many readers, community-thought leaders and historians. They include Dr. Lester Carter, Richard Carter, Sanford Carter, Thomas Shropshire; Jackie Shropshire; Monroe Swan; Marcia Coggs; Larry Waters, Jackie Patterson, Willie Wilson; Jay Gilmer; Ed Blackmon; Ed Clark; Derrick Williams; Maureen Bunyan; William Taylor; Claybourn Benson; Dan Travis; Maurice Brazil; Mahalia Brazil; John Givens; Kenny Bedford; Mattiebelle Woods; Charles Holley; Bernice Lindsay; Beaulah Howard; Ben Johnson; Elige Johnson; Tom and Dianne Cheeks; Carl and Barbara Birks; Grant and Lucinda Gordon; Fran and Donald Jefferson; Dan Travis; Robert Teague; Robert Washington; David Bender; Ruth Varnardo; Joe Winston; Mac Weddle; Reverend Grace Bell; State Senator Lena Taylor; Reverend Grace Belin; Dr. Lester Carter; Vickie Singh; Sherry Hill; Supervisor Johnny Thomas; O.C White; Judge Derek Mosley; LeRoy Simmons; Lenore M. Mathews; Wilbur and Ardie Halyard; Shirley Butler-Derge; Pastor Brenda Lesa Kearney; Elmer ValenFine; Bishop Nate Stampley; Ester Lovelace; Avis Wright; Richard Carter; and Saleem El-Amin Enries via the newspaper closed on Monday, January 31st The MCJ web-site is open until February 15, 2011. Check next week for new names and Legends’ suggestions.
Remember you determine who the Legends will be, so vote!
Then prepare to follow along weekly as Kathy Gaillard begins to highlight some of the names you’ve nominated. As the four nominees, for each category, are determined, you will vote again.
By April 1, 2011, the list of the highest vote-getting nominees, in each category, will permit you to vote for the ultimate winners. The final winner will be named the Legend of their respective category on the evening of the Gala.
Thirty five years! You have made that number possible and we sincerely thank you! Travel along, each week as we highlight the legends who are making strides today. Share their accomplishments, your reasons for noting them and how they are making a difference. And, also remember, for almost 20 years, your MCJ has been supporting students who excel, who achieve, and need financial support.
Over $440,000 has been given to the brightest of the bright as a result of your support. They continue to be the direct beneficiaries of this financial support. And they are now returning to make their mark on Milwaukee.
While most are still forging their portfolios, they have been groomed to see the community as an integral part of their development and their responsibility. They are taking their rightful places. Thank you: You are building new legends!
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