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.