‘Tosa resolution ‘eliminating’ racial housing covenants weak symbolism, does little to eliminate pain of MKE’s racist past or present!

I took last week’s Wauwatosa Common Council’s resolution on ‘eliminating’ racial housing covenants with a grain of salt. Or, maybe cayenne pepper is a more appropriate spice. That’s not solely […]

‘Tosa resolution ‘eliminating’ racial housing covenants weak symbolism, does little to eliminate pain of MKE’s racist past or present!

Father James Groppi leading marchers toward the 16th Street Viaduct during one of 200 Open Housing Marches that lasted from August 1967 to March 1968. Milwaukee became known as the ‘Selma of the North.’

I took last week’s Wauwatosa Common Council’s resolution on ‘eliminating’ racial housing covenants with a grain of salt. Or, maybe cayenne pepper is a more appropriate spice.

That’s not solely because the gesture is symbolic–at best–but more so in announcing the resolution, Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride used a pejorative term that is itself seeped in a racist innuendo. 

Following the suburban council’s unanimous resolution to advise the state legislature to ‘proscribe’ a previously outlawed ‘redlining scheme,’ McBride lamented, ‘this is a vestige of a very bad and ‘dark’ time in this city’s (history).’ 

‘Dark’ time? As in the ‘darker the berry, the sweeter the juice?’ Or ‘dark’ as in being synonymous with evil, an anti-Black code. 

Was Mayor Mickey B pouring gasoline on a racist prejudice that has been smoldering since they took our ancestors out of the ‘dark hold’ of the slave ships and into the ‘light’ of apartheid? 

Then again, am I being overly sensitive? 

Given my well-oiled sardonic and paranoid persona, am I being prickly, sticky, or ticky? 

After all, I am among that ever-dwindling contingency of Black victims of oppression who still believes ‘nigger’ (n-word) and bitch (b-word) are negative epithets. 

Obviously, I haven’t kept up with the changing norms. So, excuse me if I can’t form my lips to spit out those denigrating terms of endearment. 

Yep, I admit to being ‘old-fashioned.’ 

I also continue to read my holy books right side up, put my people before partisan politics, and have yet to buy into the new norm that posits you can exorcise the cancer of racism by wishing it away or electing a Democrat who questions your ‘hue-manity.’ 

Even with my reading glasses, I still can’t focus on the missionary belief that taking down a statue of a Confederate State’s hero will eliminate racism and dismantle systemic bias. Or you can use a political enema to flush out America’s evil past by tying it to ‘Critical Race Theory,’ which is the new catch-all phrase for racists and bigoted wannabes. 

Yeah, add some ‘cayenne’ or Jamaican ‘Slap Yo Mama’ hot sauce to the council’s fruit salad resolution, because their resolution is akin to the Milwaukee Common Council passing a resolution to approve the late Vel Phillip’s 1967 Open Housing ordinance after the fact. 

Speaking of Vel, it was her repeatedly rejected Milwaukee Open Housing ordinance that provided my entry into the civil rights battleground. 

In fact, it was while marching across the 16th Street (now James Groppi bridge) viaduct that I lost my (civil rights) virginity. 

Indeed, images of that defining page of my life journey came to mind as I read about the Wauwatosa feel-good resolution. 

The racist housing covenants maintained by most suburban communities paled in comparison to the legal barriers maintained by the Milwaukee Common Council. 

Sandwiched between the fight to ‘desegregate’ the Milwaukee Public Schools and police and fire departments, the Open Housing Marches—200 days between August 1967 to March 1968—put our city on the same map as Selma, Montgomery, and Chicago. 

And even though my parents, relatives, and neighbors earned their purple heart medals fighting to remove other bricks from the apartheid wall, the Open Housing Marches opened my eyes to the insidious and un-Christian nature of the cancer ladened beasts. 

I’ve since earned a busload of purple hearts from hundreds of battles, witnessing up close and personal the drool-coated rants of racist roaches too young to spell hatred that is permanently etched on my soul. 

Not by coincidence, we never won that local battle, settling instead to avail ourselves of a national victory with the Civil Rights legislation of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. John F. Kennedy gets the credit, but it was actually the foul-mouthed Johnson—noted for holding interviews while sitting on the toilet and frequently using the n-word (nigger). The marches ended not because the council members had a change of heart or finally read the New Testament’s advocacy of loving your fellow man (and woman). 

Since this is Negro History Month (what Black History Month was once called), allow me a minute or two to reveal a tainted chapter of history (or His-story) they don’t teach in public/government schools. 

While many of today’s youth find it hard to believe, Negroes were not allowed to live north of Keefe Avenue or south of Vliet until I was called upon to defend other people’s freedom 10,000 miles away. 

My first foray into the ‘people’s army’ occurred by accident (or fate). 

My grandmother lived across the Street from St. Boniface’s Catholic Church on 11th and Clarke. From her porch, I observed hundreds of brothers and sisters entering the church on a weekday afternoon, sparking curiosity and hunger (Kohl’s foods donated fruit to the marchers). 

Only minutes later, I learned the church was the replacement headquarters for the Open Housing marches, organized by the NAACP Youth Council and its Commandoes, in support of Phillip’s ordinance. 

The church was used because months earlier, the local branch of the KKK supposedly bombed our Freedom House HQ (although some believe the firebombing was orchestrated by police). 

The marchers would typically travel from that northside location to the southside, despite orders from the mayor to discontinue the protests. The marches were side-tracked on several occasions because police would break up the demonstrators. Several times, they pelted us with tear gas and clubs to facilitate Democrat Mayor Henry Maier’s order for the field slaves to stay on the plantation. 

Unlike today’s confused and disorganized community, Negroes and Coloreds of that era eagerly walked into the dragon’s mouth of ourown initiative. While Father Groppi gets the credit, he was just a figurehead and prop for the cameras, as it was assumed having an ordained White cleric getting bet down would propel our quest to the national court of public opinion. 

Even though it’s been a lifetime, I still vividly recall the \day I received my first purple heart. 

We had just crossed the Mason-Dixon line (the viaduct) when we were confronted by an army of racist roaches, many of whom were bigots in training of my age or younger. 

Until then, our greatest fear was being caught by the bigots in blue who threatened to arrest (if we were lucky) any of us who ventured off the sidewalk. 

Before leaving the church, we were advised not to stray, as the penalty would be akin to being caught by slave catchers who would treat us like they would a run-away with a white woman in Georgia before–or after–the unCivil war. 

Fortunately, the Commandoes were successful in keeping us on track. 

Though it was a half-century ago, I still vividly recall the look of hatred on the faces of the Southsiders, including children who hurled racist epithets and cowardly profanities along with bottles and stones, one of which left a permanent scar on my head. 

But that wound did not cut as deep as the permanent scars inflicted by their hatred of me just because God has graced me with melanin and a place in heaven—which my late mother once explained will not be a crowded destination. 

Interestingly, the events of that day, along with the visible and invisible scars, were recorded 30 years later by WTMJ reporter Sherie Preston, who wrote her master’s thesis in the blood of the victims. 

Sherie interviewed me and a Southsider who was among the adolescent roaches who blocked our path. 

I have a copy of her thesis in my safe, next to my guns—just in case. 

It is prized not only because it is an essential page of history, but it also reveals the mindset of juveniles who today be clothed in a police uniform or a priest’s robes. 

Asked if he continued to harbor prejudices and would block our paths today, his response shocked Sheree: yes, he is still a racist, and if need be, would do whatever necessary to keep the ‘darkies’ contained in our northside jungle. 

That makes sense if, for no other reason than a half-century after Johnson’s landmark civil rights legislation, Milwaukee is still among the most segregated cities in North America. 

We have yet to make progress. 

Today, it is not unusual to see a Black face leaving a suburban home without cleaning supplies. 

According to the 2020 U.S. census, we are no longer America’s most segregated city. We are now second to last. 

Wow! Another century or two, and who knows… 

This takes me to my second thought after reading the ‘His-storic’ resolution by the Wauwatosa (un)Common Council. 

Instead of a symbolic resolution, Wauwatosa and Milwaukee would benefit if they put up a marker at 60th and North Avenue declaring: ‘racist roaches’ no longer wanted.’ 

And holding up the sign, Mayor McBride could place giant cans of Raid, sitting on a platform of cayenne pepper.