Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BESIDES MARGARET ROZGA’S POEM – OTHER COMMENTS AND MEMORIES OF THE 1967 MILWAUKEE RACIAL CONFLICTS

Photo by Catherine Lange


“I had African American friends not knowing where they were going to move, so this wasn’t a question of why would I get involved (in the marches).  It was a question of why I would not get involved.”  
Margaret Rozga, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7-30-17

“I marched with Groppi during the Eagles Club protests the year before, but I didn’t join the 1967 demonstrations, for reasons that remain obscure to me.  The counterculture was fast developing two equal and somewhat complimentary dimensions: an inward side focused on questions of personal meaning and an outward side galvanized in opposition the Vietnam War, racial prejudice and a generic bogeyman called the Establishment.  I was already taking the inward path.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 8-6-17



16th Street Viaduct looking north from W. Pierce Street. Photo by Catherine Lange.

In response to this reflection someone said that those “baby boomers” who were concerned with personal meaning to the point of not getting involved are the ones who do not get involved today and probably don’t vote.

A friend and social activist recalled the “riot” of August 2, 1967.  He related that he had graduated from Marquette that spring and was working at a factory the summer before graduate school.  He said he couldn’t go home because travel in the city was restricted.  Suburbanites were terrified.  When the restrictions were lifted He bought a shotgun to protect his Wauwatosa home.

I also talked to a man who was 12 years old at the time of the August 2, ’67 blow up in Milwaukee.  He and his family lived in West Allis and his father worked at Allis Chalmers manufacturing.  His Dad got the hunting rifle out to protect family and property.


Plaque at the end of the 16th Street Viaduct commemorating the 1986 renovations of the bridge by Mayor Henry Maier, an opponent Father Groppi. Photo by Catherine Lange


Bob Graf recalled:
I can remember crossing the 16th street Bridge with the Open Housing marches in 1967 and being met by angry people on the south side of the bridge.  Besides shouting they were throwing rocks and bottles at us. We were flanked on both sides by African-American males, Commandos, and thus felt protected.  We had been warned to not react to the hatred and just keep on marching, chanting and singing.

Now when I cross the 16th street Bridge, now named the Father Groppi Memorial Bridge, I am met by a racially mixed neighborhood of Hispanic, Whites and African American.  There are no more signs of overt racism and a Milwaukee open housing city ordinance has long been passed.

Now when I cross North Ave, I feel a wall dividing black and white.  It is not a feeling of overt racism but it is still one of racism.  North of North Ave. the community is overwhelming black and poor.  Housing and education have deteriorated and crime has increased.  Milwaukee’s racial barrier, in my mind, has moved from the 16th bridge to the wall on North Ave.  We need an Equal Housing March from North Ave. to the predominately white and well off downtown. 

Joan Bleidorn remembered: 

At the time of the civil rights marches in Milwaukee, I was studying for a Masters at Marquette and working at St. Boniface school several mornings a week, as an Elementary School Guidance Counselor.  I saw firsthand the excitement of the school and parish under the prophetic leadership of Father Jim Groppi.  I witnessed firsthand the clashes between Fr. Groppi and school principal Sister Kathleen over the role to be played by the school kids.  He thought they should be out in the streets marching for open housing legislation, while Kathleen vociferously demanded that they stay in school where she felt they belonged.

I  was on the earliest marches, beginning in August of 1967, which often included a tasty meal served at the back of the parish hall fostering a strong sense of community.  When the marches increased to large numbers, it became impossible to continue the meals.

I marched over the 16th Street Viaduct, along with huge numbers of marchers, 
when an angry south side woman hurled a glass bottle at me which struck me on the shoulder.

History was made when the open housing laws were passed,  thanks to the determination of  the thousands of marchers who stood up for justice and an end to racism. 

Scroll down for Margaret Rozga's poem,Peggy:  "Crossing the 16th Street Viaduct"



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SELMA OF THE NORTH



Margaret Rozga grew up on the south side of Milwaukee.  She is a poet, social justice activist and the widow of Fr. James Groppi who brought attention to the racial discrimination of northern cities in the U.S.  Peg is the mother of three children.

The following is a poem she wrote about her experience marching with open housing protesters across the 16th street viaduct which spans the Menomonee Valley to Milwaukee’s south side. The Valley divided Milwaukee’s North Side African American neighborhoods from the mostly white south side.  We celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this pivotal event In American history in the struggle for freedom. The poem is from a book of poems entitled 200 Nights and one day, published by Benu Press, Hopkins, MN, p. 35-36.

“Peggy:  Crossing the 16th Street Viaduct”                                            August 28th, 1967

16th Street?  No big deal.
In high school after football
or basketball games, we'd go to Pepi's.
Great pizza.  We'd always find friends there.


Yet I couldn't be sure.
This was not high school, and I had new friends.
We marched past Pepi's.

I looked at the expanse of window.
I touched the glass.  It was cool and smooth.
No one stood in this doorway.
No one glared at us through their windows.

I thought, it's okay.  I know this place.
I'll be all right.  We'll be all right.

I didn't look at the Crazy Jim's crowd.  Too scary.
Up ahead was a stretch with fewer people.
When we get there.  I thought, we'll be okay.

But something changed.
I felt like I had been in a tunnel
and was emerging into noise
like the crowd at a football game,
the noise of the home team's fans and you're the visitor.

No.  Listen.  That's not it, not even close.
It's something deeper--
a wave of hate,
the sound of hate, blurring  individual words.

We turned onto Lincoln Avenue,
the crowds thickening again.  I couldn't ignore it anymore-- 
the blunt force of hate finding a rhyme and a rhythm:
I don't want a ...jig... next door.  Keep them in the inner core. 

At Kosciusko Park, we huddled around picnic tables,
keeping very close, to be able to hear.
Some man, called himself district park supervisor.
said we couldn't give speeches.
A picnic permit, he shouted, 
a picnic permit does not permit speeches.
We prayed, for peace, for justice, Father Groppi leading us.
Then back up Lincoln Avenue,
sometimes almost running.
police, night sticks angled up across their chests,
sometimes pushed back on people,
people trying to get at us.

The crowd noise was like a dome 
enclosing us,  the whole dome was moving 
rapidly down the street.  My face was wet.
With sweat.  I was not crying.

How had I walked these streets for years 

and never seen the ugly?     


Comments?  Send your comments and experiences of the '67 protests and they will be posted. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Working Catholic: Garbage Justice by Bill Droel


Rev. Martin Luther King (1929-1968), one of our country’s foremost leaders in race relations, is less remembered for his advocacy of the dignity of work.

            The City of Memphis is sending a tax-free grant of $50,000 each to 13 retired sanitation workers, plus one more still on the job. This gesture, N.Y. Times (7/26/17) reports, is “an improvised fix to one of the most bitter legacies of Memphis’s labor history.”

            In February 1968 two Memphis garbage workers died, crushed in a compactor. Their fellow workers caucused; lamented their low pay; detailed their unsafe work conditions; discussed joining AFSCME, a union; and called for a strike.

As the days passed, threats and confusion dominated the Memphis scene. King went there on March 18th to support the workers. He returned on March 28th for the same purpose. This time violent young adults roamed the streets. A curfew was imposed. King retreated to Atlanta and then to Washington.

King’s advisors discouraged further involvement in the Memphis situation, but he returned there. It is the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable, he said. “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers,” I am like those who passed by. Aware of threats against him, he preached: “But it doesn’t matter to me now… I may not get there with you… [But] we as a people will get to the promised land.” On April 4, 1968 King was murdered in Memphis.

 The city reached a settlement with the workers on April 16th. Some details were hastily left incomplete, specifically about retirement. Thus, the 14 living workers who participated in the 1968 strike get $50,000 toward retirement.

Back during the 2001 New York City mayoral campaign, candidate Michael Bloomberg made what the press treated as a major gaffe: “Being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or fireman.” His point could have been better made, but Bloomberg was correct—more injuries, more deaths. Garbage collectors fall from trucks, get hit by traffic, get cut by objects in bags, get injured or killed as they repair or clean equipment.

Robin Nagle was a driver for a 35-ton New York City garbage truck that she nicknamed Mona. Pedestrians obliviously walk in front of and behind Mona, she writes in Picking Up (Farrar, Straus, 2013). Residents think nothing of throwing out all manner of hazardous material. Plus the complaints.

In December 2010 New York City was paralyzed by snow. Sanitation workers were on the front line of storm clearance. Frustrated residents said that workers intentionally went slow during the recovery, as a passive-aggressive protest about work conditions. Nonsense, Nagle details. “Sanitation pride wraps around many things, but snow fighting is one of the biggest.” To punctuate her retort, Nagle tells about Mona in a five-truck caravan clearing an expressway. After an arduous push down a lane, the foreman led the trucks off a ramp. He gathered the drivers for a very profane pep talk—maybe unaware that one was a woman. The determined convoy quickly went up the opposite ramp and, says Nagle, “we did indeed bust the [vulgar noun that the foreman used for highway], just as we had on the northbound.”

These days health care delivery is a major topic. What two occupations most contribute to the delivery of our health? Plumber and garbage collector.


Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.