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Milwaukee students walk along 16th Street Viaduct with a message

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A group of high school students made a statement as they walked across Milwaukee’s 16th Street Bridge Sunday afternoon, bringing awareness to racial injustices in the city's past and present. 

The 16th street viaduct connects Milwaukee’s north and south side. Students from Messmer High School, Marquette University High School and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, along with staff and friends took the journey across the bridge Sunday. For them it was more than just a walk.

“You're just walking across a bridge and there are cars going by,” Campus Minister Laura Hancock said. “But at the same time there's a huge symbolic significance to that. That we're walking in the path of our forbearers that they have marched this way before us.”

In August 1967, a group of African Americans led by Father James E. Groppi, crossed the bridge beginning on the North side, which was predominantly black at the time and ended on the South side, which was a white neighborhood. The marchers were faced by white counter-protestors and the crowd was violent, throwing eggs, rocks and bottles and the marchers. The group marched for 200 consecutive days as they called for open housing legislation. Those marches eventually led to an open housing ordinance in the city and the bridge was renamed, the James E. Groppi Unity Bridge. Student Trevion Rimmer said walking across it Sunday was inspirational.

“Makes me want to do more for my community," Rimmer said. "Realizing that we're still the most segregated community and there's more I can do." 

Hancock said right now, students are louder than ever and are always looking to find solutions to issues they see before them.

“I just really see them stepping up and engaging and not just taking things at surface value, but really digging down and looking at why the things are the way they are,” Hancock said.

This is the first stop for the student’s pilgrimage. They’ll be heading to Memphis, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, and St. Louis next month to continue learning about Civil Rights history. On this first journey, step-by-step young students walked in the footprints of past civil rights activists and look forward to what they can do next.

“They are really being called forth," Hancock said. "It's your turn now. We've taken you this far, and now you need to continue the race forward.”

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