200 Days that Changed Milwaukee

December 28, 2017

Beginning on August 28, 1967, Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council/Commandos, Father James Groppi, Alderperson Vel Phillips and a host of activists and community members marched to demand an end to housing segregation. Their march across the 16th Street Viaduct, facing hostile counterprotesters, soon captured the nation's attention. Continuing for 199 more nights, Milwaukee's fair housing marches were reported by multiple media outlets, and Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram praising the nonviolence of the marches.

The marches ended on March 14, 1968, as organizers pondered what next steps to take to achieve open housing for all. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, in Memphis, more than 100 cities suffered riots after his assassination, but not Milwaukee. On April 8th, 1968, the discipline of the fair housing marches held as 10,000-15,000 people marched peacefully in memory of King from St. Boniface Church to Downtown in the city's largest civil rights march.

Two days later, Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which included Title VIII, The Fair Housing Act, covering 80% of housing across the land. The Fair Housing Marches signified Milwaukee’s contribution to the Black Freedom Movement in America and helped inspire the federal fair housing legislation.

As a part of the city-wide commemoration of this important time in our collective history, Tapestry: Arts & Ideas is bringing three special programs to our community.

On Thursday, January 25, the photography exhibit titled “Black. Leadership. Milwaukee.” will open in the Surlow Promenade at the JCC. Milwaukee photographer, James Seder, explores the vast spectrum of Black leadership in Milwaukee with this stunning series of portraits all captured in a trademark style in which the subject is the singular focus. The exhibit will run through May 14.

Professor Tim Crain, the director of the Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University in South Western Pennsylvania, will join JCC Judaic Education Director, Jody Hirsh, for a three-part series on Mondays, January 29, February 5, and March 19, that will examine the history of Jewish and African-American alliances and tensions in the struggle for civil rights in America. The class will focus on how the civil rights movement has evolved in America, explore its legacy, and evaluate the progress made.

And finally, on Sunday, March 4, the JCC will be welcoming Susannah Heschel and Bernice King to Milwaukee to examine their fathers' legacies as well as the current state of Jewish/African-American interaction. Heschel and King were young children in the spring of 1965 when their fathers, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marched from Selma to Montgomery campaigning for voting rights The photograph of Rabbi Heschel walking arm in arm with Dr. King in the front row of marchers at Selma has become an icon of American Jewish life, and of Black/Jewish relations. This will be the first time the two women will be appearing together – continuing the conversation for a new generation.