By George F. Sanders, Community Activist and Historian
“I had to prove I was worth it… and took the initiative myself to be as good as I could be.”
Clayborn Benson’s own history reflects the sampling of what many young Black men and women face — that of dealing with a strange world of vast challenging experiences, often isolated in unfamiliar environments, yet are expected to make what appears to be life-long decisions about what one wants to be in life.
With family support, Benson, like other minorities, faced the tough road of opportunity presented by the controversial affirmative action programs that helped thrust many Blacks into middle-class status. Convinced he was worth it, Benson set out to prove it.
After photography training at Milwaukee Area Technical Collage, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Benson’s determination not only helped create the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, he serves on UWM’s Emeritus Board and was elected as African American Alumni Association president from 2000 to 2009. And, he was inducted into the Silver Circle by the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Benson’s vast photojournalism record covered the Dahmer murders, the crane collapse at Miller Park, the death of Ernest Lacy while in police custody, in addition to his travel to Somalia in 1992 to cover the war.
Benson has covered just about every existing story related to African Americans in Wisconsin. Before the nation’s attention to immigration, and the plight of migrant workers, Benson, on his own, created a revealing video that covered the plight of Wisconsin’s migrant workers.
This brought attention from then-Governor Lucy about Wisconsin’s migrant workers and resulted in the construction of a Walworth County subdivision for these migrant workers.
Benson was one of the prime cameramen behind the WTMJ-TV series, “Black Scene.” The television station was the first in Milwaukee to heed the federal government’s urging that local media outlets begin featuring stories about African American lives.
Benson continues to mentor young students interested in photography. His story is a prime lesson for the Black community. us all. His record, his initiatives, creativity, accomplishments and open willingness to share and pass on to others proves it, in addition, sets a prime example of genuine concern about Milwaukee and its people.
One cannot pay tribute more deserving than that due Charles M. Hill. Hill, a well-known and favorite Wisconsinite.
Hill retired in Chicago on February 1, 2000, as Executive Vice President with the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB). For twenty-two years, he directed the FHLB’s community investment and affordable housing efforts.
Chuck grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from UW Madison with a master’s of science in urban affairs. He also completed the University of Michigan’s graduate school of bank management in 1982.
Before that, in the 1970s, he served as Secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Development where he became the youngest cabinet member and the first African American cabinet member. As Secretary, he created a Division of Housing and was instrumental in the creation of the State Housing Finance Authority, predecessor of the highly successful Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).
Hill helped improve urban development and revitalization for thousands of families, enabling home purchases which he says are the “…lynchpins for stability in our society. If you have good housing, you have the basis for a good environment.”
As Wisconsin’s Secretary of the Department of Local Affairs and Development, Hill’s preaching was his practice as he was also instrumental in the creation of a local subdivision for migrant workers in Wisconsin’s Walworth County. In that way, Hill was one of the first in the country to create unique, improved paths to citizenship for immigrants.
Chuck has pioneered many affordable housing innovations and serves as advisor to many groups and institutions on community lending and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) policy. He was appointed to the board of the Guaranty Bank in Milwaukee.
Among the many awards he has received, one was from the Board of the Illinois Service Federal, the oldest Black Savings and Loan in Illinois. In 1999, Hill was honored by the Mayor of Chicago and the Chicago City Council for his contributions toward the improvement of the city.
His board memberships include the Illinois Fair Plan Association, the Illinois Mine Subsistence Fund and the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders. He is chairman of the Board for the Illinois Facilities Fund and chairman of the Woodstock Institute and treasurer of the national Housing Conference. After retirement, Chuck continues to work on boards of directors he is involved with. He and Anita, his wife of more than 40 years continue to reside in downtown Chicago.
“The Truth Will Out”
From Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, 1596; (Or what goes around….)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s former African American Police Chief Arthur Jones manipulated conditions to advance his position. Then, later, from his own cheating and ignorance, found himself in an identical position, thus the public that he served was cheated.
In 1968, a local citizen’s group called RILE (Residents Integrating Law Enforcement), filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Justice about white-run racist Milwaukee Police Department discrimination, documenting several specific incidents in police department administration, rules and practices.
This was in spite of African American Common Council members Ben Johnson and Roy Nabors, both denying that there was police discrimination and refusing to become part of the complaint.
The complaint was reviewed by the Office of Revenue Sharing and the Department of Treasury, which monitors how federal funds are distributed in cities throughout the country.
The Justice Department found the complaint valid and notified Milwaukee that it would lose massive amounts of funds from all levels of the government, which would include over $22 billion in federal block grant dollars.
RILE shared both the complaint and investigation results with various organizations, churches and local grass roots agencies – as advised by the federal government on monitoring local police activity. This included then police officer Arthur Jones, president of the League of Martin, a local Black police organization. It was thought that sharing the information would better effect ways to work with the federal government to improve the police department.
Instead, Jones, without anyone’s knowledge, privately worked out a “consent decree” money deal with then Milwaukee mayor, Henry Maier, that would allow cash awards, in the millions, to go to several Black police officers – some of whom had no idea why – in addition to a position for himself at Milwaukee City Hall. Later, he was appointed police chief by the next mayor, where his performance was considered commendable.
Yet, this move resorted in nullifying any and all reforms recommended by federal government, plus any regular monitoring by RILE or any other local organization.
Ironically, Jones, as police chief, eventually ended up in a similar situation to that which helped launch him to police chief, by being charged with “reverse discrimination” cases against two white officers, which resulted in a settlement of millions for the officers.
Marilyn Morheuser was a former Catholic nun who quit the Catholic Sisters of Loretto Order in 1963 to become a central figure in Milwaukee’s civil rights history. As editor of the Milwaukee Star, a small Black weekly, she also worked closely with attorney Lloyd Barbee, who filed a lawsuit against Milwaukee’s segregated schools.
Her activism and organization skills helped develop and generate public support throughout the state for the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC).
MUSIC sponsored the Freedom Schools, a twice held boycott of segregated Milwaukee Public Schools, held at local community churches, which generated participation throughout the state of Wisconsin.
Morheuser also was mostly responsible for the Star winning national weekly newspaper awards in editorials, graphics and layout.
Morheuser later relocated to New Jersey, where she received a law degree from Rutgers University in 1970 and continued to advocate on behalf of civil rights issues, and continued her life of commitment to children and civil rights as a lawyer.
As an attorney, she represented ACLU of New Jersey, the Urban League, the NAACP, and was director and leading attorney of the Education Law Center in Newark, filed the landmark lawsuit Abbott v. Burke that challenged discrepancies between wealthy and poor districts in public education funding described under the Public School Education Act.
In 1990, when the case was decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, it was mandated that the state provide funding for poor urban school districts equal to the funding provided to the wealthiest districts. This was the first time in national history that a court had ruled to equalize state funding.