By Nyesha Stone
If you’re from Milwaukee, and you travel, and you’re black, then I’m sure you’ve heard the question, “There’s black people in Wisconsin?”
Yes, there are black people in Wisconsin, specifically in Milwaukee. Black people migrated from down south to Milwaukee for job opportunities, and have been in Milwaukee since the early 1800’s. They came in hopes of a better life and when they got here jobs were plentiful, but the treatment wasn’t the best. The black community grew tired of redlining, businesses turning them away and overall bad treatment, so they created everything they needed themselves. From North Brown St. to East Third St., and West 12th St. to South Juneau Ave., there were endless black-owned businesses in an area now known as Bronzeville. They had it all—bakeries, clothing stories, barbershops, theaters and more, said longtime resident of Halyard Park, Robert Mosley.
Bronzeville was an informal term given to areas with a high percentage of blacks. This jubilant and successful area was thriving from the early 1900’s until the 1960’s when the city decided to tear the neighborhood down with the construction of I-94- /I-43 freeway. Now over 50 years later the area is being redeveloped, and to celebrate this success, the city has officially made Bronzeville Celebration Week a city event. This is the fifth year of the celebration, but Alderwoman Milele Coggs wants this event to continue even when she’s not in office, so she fought to make it official.
Alderwoman Coggs and her office have devoted most of their time to Bronzeville because she knows what black people have accomplished and what they can accomplish once they have a set vision. It’s been a long time coming, but Alderwoman Coggs and the black community around Milwaukee are excited for the Bronzeville’s successful future.
“I think Bronzeville is and has the ability to become one of those proud things of Milwaukee,” said Alderwoman Coggs.
She believes this is the push that Milwaukee’s black community needs because “it becomes a reflection” of the community. This redevelopment will bring jobs, new scenery and a new feel into the black community.
Robert Mosley lives right outside the borders of the new Bronzeville. He’s been living in Halyard Park for 36 years. Mosley’s family arrived in Milwaukee in 1917, and he’s been able to see the Bronzeville neighborhood come and go. He still remembers the days when the thriving area had all kinds of businesses.
Mosely is like a historian— over the years he’s collected pictures, documents and anything that depicts the area he grew up in. He even has Wisconsin Negro Business Directories dating back to the 50’s that he holds on to. Mosely is living proof that black people can come from nothing and end up with everything. Mosley and many other black families built their homes from ground up starting with realtor Beechie Brooks. He built the very first home in Halyard Park and just like Bronzeville, Halyard Park is a thriving neighborhood full of black people.
Those in Halyard Park are happy to see the redevelopment of Bronzeville as long as Halyard Park stays Halyard Park and doesn’t become a part of Bronzeville. Residents in Halyard Park are worried that their neighborhood that they invested so much time and work in will be renamed Bronzeville, but other than that they’re fine with the changes to the area.
Bronzeville and Halyard Park are two neighborhoods that show what black people in Milwaukee can produce, but it takes time.
Bronzeville Celebration Week is an important week in the black community because it remembers the old times while preparing for what the future will bring. This celebration begins on August 6 at North Ave. (between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and 7th St.) with the first event of the week: Bronzeville Cultural and Arts Festival. So, yes there are black people in Wisconsin— successful ones too.