CBS 58 Investigates: History of Milwaukee unrest

CBS 58 Investigates: History of Milwaukee unrest

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Protests and violence have long been a part of Milwaukee history.

Milwaukee County’s first jail in Cathedral Square suffered a famous riot. In 1854, runaway slave Joshua Glover was held there after being captured in Racine. Wisconsin Black Historical Society Founder and Executive Director Clayborn Benson recalled what happened next.

“(Abolitionist) Sherman Booth rode through the county, going door-to-door, going from farm-to-farm, community-to-community, raising attention that Joshua Glover, a runaway slave, is being held in jail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” said Benson.

Booth led a mob of 5,000 people to break Glover out.

“Set him free going through Waukesha, through Burlington, and catching a boat after three weeks of hiding out, to Canada,” said Benson.

Milwaukee saw a massive labor strike in 1886 in Bay View. Workers organized from St. Stanislaus Church demanding an eight-hour workday. They marched on the Milwaukee Iron Company and the Wisconsin National Guard opened fire, killing seven people.

“The end result of that became a national -- we now in this entire nation celebrate 40 hours in a work week,” said Benson.

Large numbers of African Americans began moving to Milwaukee between 1910 and 1950. However, good housing became scarcer in the 60’s and when African Americans tried to move out of traditionally black neighborhoods, they were turned away. Benson said tensions flared here as they did across the country.

“Milwaukee’s community just simply exploded in 1967 with a race riot,” said Benson.

Benson said the riot and separate peace marches for fair housing led to a national fair housing law, but other reforms and investment did not hold. The failure underpinned the protests and outrage in 2016 in Sherman Park, and again now.

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