OPEN HOUSING IN MILWAUKEE
1956: Vel Phillips, first African American and first woman elected to the Milwaukee Common Council
1960: Vel Phillips reelected
March 1962: Vel Phillips introduces fair housing bill which is defeated with only her vote in favor.
1963–1967: Vel Phillips introduces fair housing bill three more times. Each time it is defeated with only her vote in favor.
1965: Father James Groppi appointed advisor to the Milwaukee Youth Council of the NAACP
1966: Milwaukee begins the Kilbourntown 3 redevelopment project, tearing down properties on the near north side, increasing the housing crunch for African American families.
Fall 1966: St.Boniface elementary school students attend trial of Milwaukee property owner Joseph Brown for building code violations on his inner city properties.
November 1966: Vietnam veteran, his wife, and infant son try to rent a flat near 29th and Capitol. The owner refuses to rent to them. When they ask her if it’s because they are African American, she says, “I can’t rent to you. What would my neighbors think?”
The family denied housing bring their complaint to Fr. Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with the owner, the Youth Council members go to the house and sing Christmas carols to the owner.
Spring 1967: The Youth Council pickets at the homes of alderman who have African American constituencies but who are voting against the fair housing bill. These aldermen include Martin Schreiber, Sr., president of the Common Council and Eugene Woehrer. The Youth Council also pickets at the law office of Alderman James Maslowski. These alderman once again vote against the fair housing ordinance on June 14, 1967.
August 24, 1967: Youth Council members Prentice McKinney and Dwight Benning announce that the Youth Council has decided to march across the 16th Street Viaduct from Milwaukee’s north side to Kosciuszko Park on Milwaukee’s south side.
Monday, August 28, 1967: Youth Council members and supporters march through hostile crowds to Kosciuszko Park.
Tuesday, August 29, 1967: Police estimate that 13,000 counter-demonstrators gather on the route of the march. 250 Youth council members and supporters march to the Park. Police stay between the marchers and the hostile crowds and finally use tear gas to disperse the unruly white counter-demonstrators. The march ends at 8:30 p.m.at the north end of the Viaduct. Youth Council members return to their headquarters, the Freedom House at 1316 North 15th Street in the Kilbourntown 3 redevelopment area. At 9:30 p.m., police say they heard there’s a sniper in the Youth Council Freedom House. The police fire tear gas canisters into the house; a blaze erupts and the house is burned beyond repair.
Wednesday, August 30, 1967: Mayor Maier issues a proclamation banning all marches between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. for the next 30 days. In an effort to comply with the proclamation, the Youth Council cancels the scheduled march for that evening, deciding to have a rally at the burned out Freedom House, but no march. 300 people show up for the rally. The police declare the assembly unlawful and begin arresting people. 58 persons including Fr. Groppi and Vel Phillips were arrested.
Thursday, August 31, 1967: Youth Council holds a rally at St. Boniface Church, 2609 North 11th Street, Milwaukee, WI. The church is filled. The decision is made to march despite the mayor’s proclamation. When the march reaches 9th Street and North Avenue, less than a mile from the Church, the police move in to arrest the marchers. At least 140 adults and an unspecified number of juveniles are arrested and taken to the Police Safety Building in downtown Milwaukee. There they are finger-printed and photographed. Bond for each person charged with violating the Mayor’s proclamation is set at $25.00.
Friday, September 1, 1967: Youth Council holds an outdoor rally on the St. Boniface playground. For four and a half hours, they await word from a legal team in Madison trying to get an injunction against the mayor’s proclamation. When Atty. Bill Coffey telephones to report they have been unsuccessful, the Youth council once again decides to march anyway. Syd Finley, NAACP Region 3 Field Director, and Father Groppi led the march. Police begin arresting marchers as soon as they move onto 12th Street. Then the police tear gas those still on the playground, lobbing the tear gas canisters over the heads of the crowd so that as they try to return to the church, they run into the tear gas. On the other hand if they run away from the tear gas, they run onto 12th Street and are arrested by the police.
Monday, September 4, 1967: Father Groppi and the Youth Council receive telegrams of support from national civil rights leaders including Rev. Martin Luther King.
Sunday, September 10, 1967: After the National NAACP office and various church groups put out calls for volunteers to come to Milwaukee to support the Youth Council, 5000 people march in Milwaukee in support of the fair housing ordinance.
Tuesday, September 26, 1967: Vel Phillips re-introduces the fair housing ordinance, and it is referred to the Judiciary Committee of the Milwaukee Common Council.
Monday, October 31, 1967: The Judiciary Committee refuses to recommend any fair housing legislation to the Common Council.
November 1967-March 1968: Youth Council continues to march for open housing for over 200 nights.
February 1968: Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota in a speech to the Congress in support of an open housing amendment specifically mentions Father Groppi and the Milwaukee marches.
April 4, 1968: Rev. Martin Luther King shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.
April 11, 1968: Federal open housing law passed.
April 30, 1968: After defeating it six times, the Milwaukee Common Council finally passes an open housing ordinance that is the equivalent of the federal law.