In the early 1960s Milwaukee was a city divided. The largely African American population lived on the north side of the city and the predominantly white population lived on the south side of the city. Alderwoman Vel Phillips, the first African American alderwoman in Milwaukee, began working for fair housing in 1962 when she introduced the Phillips Housing Ordinance that outlawed housing discrimination. The ordinance failed four times. She did not give up. Things began to change in August of 1967.
It was 50 years ago this August when Father James Groppi’s NAACP Youth Council, Alderwoman Vel Phillips, and other supporters marched across the 16th Street Viaduct bridge to protest unfair housing in the city of Milwaukee. Thousands of angry white men and women met the peaceful protestors. They threw rocks, bricks, and bottles at the marchers. The NAACP Youth Council and their supporters marched for 200 consecutive nights. Finally, in 1968 the federal government passed an open housing law. A few days after that, the Milwaukee Common Council passed its own city-wide open housing ordinance that was stronger than the federal law.
Photos courtesy of the Milwaukee Historical Society
Crossing The Bridge: A Black Nouveau Special recounts the history, talks with some of the marchers, and looks at whether open housing is available in Milwaukee today. The special also looks at where the new generation of civil rights leaders are concentrating their energies.
Friday, August 25 at 7:30 pm, Milwaukee PBS 10
Sunday, August 27 at 1:30 pm, Milwaukee PBS 10
Sunday, August 27 at 4:00 pm on Milwaukee PBS 36.