The 1967 Milwaukee Riot through the words of the Milwaukee Star

The Milwaukee Star was one of the first all-black ran newspapers that printed weekly. Appearing in the early 1960’s the Star’s small staff was able to make the newspaper “the voice of negro Wisconsin,” with big news, such as JFK’s assassination and an in-person interview with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr himself. Through stories big and small, the Milwaukee Star was able to create an interconnectedness that once lacked for the black community. It soon became a way to spread activism and more awareness of injustice happening locally and globally. [5]

SDC to hear cop complaints

The Milwaukee Star became in integral force of the Black Power Movement in letting its readers know that they had a community and many resources available to them. This strong form of unity amongst the black community enticed a more willingness and more reason to do something about the many injustices they were faced with daily. This is seen in events of police brutality and housing discrimination leading up to the 1967 Milwaukee Riots. With recurring instances of police brutality, the Star, urged its readers to report any of their experiences of brutality and harassment under law enforcement to go to “listening posts.” There they could be properly recorded by an American Civil Liberties Attorney for the Greater Milwaukee Conference on Religion and Race. The goal of these attorneys was to obtain as many stories, witnesses, and people willing to testify in order for their voices to be heard and injustice brought to an end. With the many people in the area being silenced by their fear and lack of knowledge on resources, progress on such situations lacked. Such newspaper pieces gave the exact location for “listening posts,” helping deliver these needed resources. This call for awareness was an example of Black Power in the sense that it gave a voice and it reminded black residents of Milwaukee that they have the right to control their destiny socially and politically. [7]

peculiar choice

The Star was sure to specify the many black resources available. In a 1967 issue on police brutality, they were adamant that the local black people did not want nor need white lawyers to defend them. They went as far as to say that if they have white lawyers, to get a black one because they are available and that “they know, like no one else, what police brutality in Milwaukee is.” The article called “the choice of a white attorney… illogical and indefensible.” This served as a reminder that this retaliation was a form of black power against white oppression, and incorporating someone with no experience of such oppression will hurt their chances of succeeding in change and take away from the Black Power reformation. [1]

Fair housing demonstration, Milwaukee, 1967. Photo by Ben Fernandez. James Groppi Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society
Fair housing demonstration, Milwaukee, 1967. Photo by Ben Fernandez. James Groppi Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society [3]

[4]

In the summer of 1967, several protests and riots broke out in Milwaukee. The lack of progress being done on the housing discrimination and police brutality resulted in NAACP Youth Council of Milwaukee and Father Groppi, a white Catholic priest and civil rights activist, to join hands in igniting a change themselves. A week before the protests began, the Milwaukee Star released a column titled “Straight Facts,” basically called out black community members who had not been participating in Black Power and instead gave into the oppressors. Black ministers “trying to stay in white power’s good graces is full time job,” and “tending to the needs of the poor black majority ” had been “merely an avocation.” The star viewed this disrespect as the reason the Black Power Movement kept coming up short. This article also blamed wealthy black men and women for they rather “close their eyes to black poverty, black crime, [and] black suffering.” This ends with praising the NAACP Youth Council for being one of the only activists along with a white man constantly working for the Black Power goal. The Star seemed to compare and urge those less active to learn from the young men and women persistently doing what their older counterparts refused to do. This was a way of igniting a spark in those who had settled with such complacency in inequality rather than fight it. They go as far as to applaud the NAACP personally by saying “if we at the Star must stand alone to offer our plaudits to the group of dedicated black youngsters who absolutely refuse to knuckle under, unafraid of rocking the boat of the status quo: We do this for all of Milwaukee to know we are on the side of the right…. and say agitate.” This shows the Star’s stance on the matter that those who were not active, were on the wrong side of Black Power. This section ended with quoting Frederick Douglas saying “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” so it is the black communities responsibility to agitate the status quo, as the Milwaukee Star did to the black community. [8]

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[2]

The following year a bill was passed by President Johnson that outlawed racial discrimination in 80% of the nations housing sales. This was a huge step not just for Milwaukee’s black residents, but for all minorities in the US. It was part of the beginning of a wave for equality that still persists to this day. This success happened in part due to the many protests nation-wide. Efforts such as those by the NAACP and other organizations came together to become a greater voice of Black Power that would not stop until something was done. This agitation along with that of the Milwaukee Star is an exemplar of the communal effort for equality through Black Power. These specific articles and that of other academic journals may not be a prime spot of remembrance in the Black Power Movement. Like many  other events and actions in the movement, it was part a bigger processual wave that overall gets remembered for its push to equality, rather specifics. [6]

Final Thoughts: This post, as a site of memory, leaves out many details of both the Milwaukee Star and its involvement in the Black Power Movement as whole. This is due to the sake of the length constraint and the post’s focus on the 1967 summer riot.

[1] An Editorial. Peculiar Choice. (1967, July 29). The Milwaukee Star, p. 1. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=L5DY50ILMTQ5MjQ1NzQ0MC4xMjY1MTA6MToxMzoxNTIuMjMuMjA0LjI5&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=3&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=3&p_docnum=2&p_docref=v2:12A7AE31A7B3CA6B@EANX-12CCE7BDA11832D0@2439701-12CCE7BDA4BBE288@0-12CCE7BDD1210A50@An%20Editorial.%20Peculiar%20Choice

[2] And They Marched on and on and On. (1967, August 09). The Milwaukee Star, p. 5. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=B69B5CIXMTQ5MjQ2NzI2Ni4yMDEwMDU6MToxMzoxNTIuMjMuMjA0LjI5&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=3&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=3&p_docnum=11&p_docref=v2:12A7AE31A7B3CA6B@EANX-12CCE812326D1690@2439743-12CCE81246E5F9D8@4-12CCE8128B73BF58@And%20They%20Marched%20on%20and%20on%20and%20On

[3] Fernandez, B. J., & Neier, A. (1968). In opposition. Images of American dissent in the sixties. [Photobook]. Pref. by A. Neier. New York: Da Capo Press.

[4] [historycomestolife]. (2011. May 24). Father Groppi leads Milwaukee black 1967.

. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRBmuqy3pso

[5] M. (2014, August 01). Remember when … Milwaukee Star blazed a trail for Black weeklies in early 1960s. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from https://communityjournal.net/remember-milwaukee-star-blazed-trail-black-weeklies-early-1960s/

[6] Milwaukee’s Reaction to New Rights Bill. (1968, April 17). The Milwaukee Star, p. 17. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=B69B5CIXMTQ5MjQ2NzI2Ni4yMDEwMDU6MToxMzoxNTIuMjMuMjA0LjI5&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=6&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=6&p_docnum=12&p_docref=v2:12A7AE31A7B3CA6B@EANX-12CCE7DD2B3278C0@2439964-12CCE7DD305D2250@0-12CCE7DD65D82410@Milwaukee%27s%20Reaction%20to%20New%20Rights%20Bill

[7] S D C to Hear Cop Complaints. (1967, July 22). The Milwaukee Star, p. 2. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=L5DY50ILMTQ5MjQ1NzQ0MC4xMjY1MTA6MToxMzoxNTIuMjMuMjA0LjI5&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=3&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=3&p_docnum=1&p_docref=v2:12A7AE31A7B3CA6B@EANX-12CCE7B1D7DB0670@2439694-12CCE7B1E0130F40@0-12CCE7B215D3A968@S%20D%20C%20to%20Hear%20Cop%20Complaints
[8] Straight Facts. (1967, July 22). The Milwaukee Star, p. 4. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=L5DY50ILMTQ5MjQ1NzQ0MC4xMjY1MTA6MToxMzoxNTIuMjMuMjA0LjI5&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=16&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=16&p_docnum=1&p_docref=v2:12A7AE31A7B3CA6B@EANX-12CCE7B1D7DB0670@2439694-12CCE7B1E662F338@2-12CCE7B22FF0C808@Straight%20Facts

Raxel Leiton

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