Milwaukee Open Housing Marches: 50th Anniversary

July 17, 2017

Open housing marcher says ‘state of the city has gotten worse’

By Alex Groth
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Editor’s note: This is one in a series of 15 pieces about the Milwaukee Open Housing marches, which took place 50 years ago beginning on Aug. 28, 1967. Watch for the stories every Monday and Thursday.

Earl Bracy didn’t notice his picture being taken, but 47 years later, it would be on a pamphlet about segregation in Milwaukee.

In the iconic photo, Bracy, 68, is gripping the American flag, participating in the 1967 open housing marches alongside the Rev. James Groppi and hundreds of black Milwaukee residents.

The pamphlet, titled “Fulfill The Promise,” was created by Greater Together, a nonprofit organization that promotes racial and economic equity.

According to data compiled by Greater Together, Milwaukee is the number one city for black and white residential segregation among the 102 largest metro areas. Milwaukee is also the worst metropolitan area for residential segregation based on poverty.

In Bracy’s view, “The state of the city has gotten worse, which is alarming because as we progress things should be getting better.”

Bracy decided to participate in the marches as a young man because he felt what he called “the sting of racism”: discrimination because of the color of his skin.

He and fellow marchers demanded open housing and better treatment by the police department. Bracy recalled that the police repeatedly followed him home for no reason from the Freedom House, the meeting place of the NAACP Youth Council.

“[At] 27th and Wisconsin you’d see a police officer pulling a black man over,” Bracy said. “A few blocks further and you’d see the same thing.”

Earl Bracy (right, holding flag) walks with the Rev. James Groppi during an open housing march.

He often felt weighed down by the racism he encountered. Referring to the white counter-demonstrators, Bracy said, “It was kind of an invasion of their territory — that’s the way I saw it.”

For Bracy, understanding the past is key to establishing a platform for change. “They always say ‘if you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you’re going.’”

A psychologist who works with youth and families, Bracy said he thinks the younger generations are not as invested in social change as people were during the marches. “I don’t see the same zeal in a lot of the young people,” he added. “Sometimes they don’t really buy into what’s happened in the past.”

According to Bracy, the younger generation doesn’t appreciate or strive to learn about the sacrifices made during the marches, contributing to the lack of progress.

“A lot of them are just clueless,” Bracy said. “They can walk through doors and the doors are wide open, but they don’t know why.”

About the project

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reporters Andrea Waxman, Edgar Mendez, Naomi Waxman and Jabril Faraj, and web/social media directors Dwayne Burtin and Adam Carr, contributed to this series. In addition, journalism students at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication participated in the project in the spring 2017 semester. Videos and text stories were produced by LaToya Dennis’s digital journalism class; text stories and graphics were provided by students in Herbert Lowe’s journalism capstone class.

For the maps, census data was drawn from National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS), Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and the U.S. Census Bureau. The American Communities Project at Brown University created the variables and harmonized the data.

Milwaukee NNS

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) is an award-winning online source for objective, professional multimedia reporting on urban issues in 18 Milwaukee communities.

NNS covers stories that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.

In 2017, NNS won a regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence from RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association). NNS also won a regional Murrow award in 2012, as well as journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. In 2015, NNS won the gold award for “Best Local News or Feature Website.”

A project of the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, NNS traces its origins to the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative and United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee (UNCOM).

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