Post Number: 1950
|Posted on Saturday, July 09, 2005 - 04:23 pm: |
Milwaukee's black leaders say the enemy is within
By John Rondy, Reuters
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Two days before the oldest and best-known U.S. civil rights group holds its yearly convention in Milwaukee, black leaders in the city say their community is being torn apart from the inside.
Civil rights leaders like 57-year-old Prentice McKinney, who fought to free Milwaukee's blacks from the ghetto, say gangs, drugs and violence have left those who still live in the nation's urban cores in fear of the next generation.
"Back then, the enemy was clear, it was white racists, and racist police officers," said McKinney, who was a black teen-age "commando" in the 1960s and now runs a tavern once frequented by fellow activists.
"It was a legalized system of segregation. And so, the challenge was between the white establishment and the African-American population. Today, the African-American population is being destroyed by its own youth ... an enemy from within."
He and others interviewed before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's six-day meeting beginning Saturday see a changed city where a generation of blacks freed from the shackles of yesterday's legalized discrimination are held hostage by today's crime and poverty.
"You have a population of older African-Americans ... who are now afraid of the children in their neighborhoods," McKinney said.
Milwaukee, with 583,624 residents, 37 percent of whom are black, is the country's 22nd-largest city. It remains deeply segregated, civil rights activists say.
'A BIG JOKE'
"The image of Milwaukee is one that we are not proud of," said Jerry Ann Hamilton, president of the NAACP's Milwaukee branch.
People she encountered from outside Milwaukee considered the city "a big joke" and were surprised at the extent of segregation still existing there, she said.
In a departure from the NAACP's roots of appointing a civil rights activist as its leader, the group recently named retired telephone company marketing executive Bruce Gordon as its president. Gordon has said he will put more emphasis on winning economic equality for blacks.
Retired Gen. Robert Cocroft, chairman of the National Association for Black Veterans, said the NAACP convention could help to remind city leaders there must be greater inclusion in order for Milwaukee to thrive.
"Whatever we allow to happen to the least of us is going to affect all of us," Cocroft said.
The struggles over segregated schools and housing in Milwaukee began in 1963, when marches and civil disobedience were organized by Roman Catholic priest James Groppi.
Marchers who crossed an invisible line were met by mobs of angry whites. Three people died in the summer of 1967, 100 were injured and 1,700 arrested. Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council later began 200 consecutive days of marches aimed at breaking down the laws that forced blacks to live in ghettos.
The passage of an open housing law in 1968 broke open the boundaries of the ghetto but it also led to black flight, and those who could afford it moved to more affluent areas.
"What was left behind was the poorest of the poor -- the drug pusher, the player, the pimp, the hustler ... and moral values became very different over time," McKinney said.
Milwaukee community activist George Martin said cities across the country shared the same issues and had watched the same transition from a struggle for rights to a battle with crime.
"We marched for fair housing, and now we have homelessness," Martin said. "I remember when there was good housing stock and families thrived. Now there is empty lots. I remember business districts that were as busy as any shopping mall and now they are vacant stores."