• LaShawndra Vernon

Bronzeville Week: #BronzevillePROUD History


It's no secret I am a third generation Milwaukee native. My great grandmother Ruth Lacey, my great grandfather Charles Warren, My grandparents Lawerence and Barbara Herbert and my mother Laura Vernon, all civically engaged activists in this community. My mother marched across the 16th street bridge for equal rights in housing. My grandfather was a leader in UAW labor union, and an accomplished pianist. He told me stories of playing with Little Jimmy Scott right here in Milwaukee's Bronzeville district. I heard amazing stories of my great grandfather, a photographer and entrepreneur who loved cars. My great uncles were attorneys, one of which was one of Milwaukee's first black Aldermen. My family story taught me about a time when the African American business community in Milwaukee thrived.

Understanding Bronzeville as an overall concept that characterizes thriving African American business and commerce is important. The goal of the Bronzeville Arts and Cultural Districts is to accelerate cooperative economics amongst African Americans. Chicago is credited with one of the most successful Bronzeville Districts, but Milwaukee has a rich Bronzeville history of its own. Our history includes a thriving arts scene, successful businesses and well networked resource sharing.

Although the history of African Americans is rooted in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the resilience of Africans in America has been remarkable. Nearly a quarter of the Africans brought to North America came from Angola, while an equal percentage, arriving later, originated in Senegambia. Over 40 percent of Africans entered the U.S. through the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, the center of the U.S. slave trade. Spain welcomed slaves from the British territory, declared them free and set up the first free, all black settlement, Fort Mose, north of St. Augustine in 1738.

When slavery was abolished at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the greatest increases in the black population of northern cities were in Cleveland, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

The Great Migration was one of the largest migrations ever of the African American population. Many scholars consider it as two waves, between 1916 and 1930, and from 1940 to 1970. The Great Migration saw a total of six million African Americans leave the South.

The growing population of African Americans in more northern urban areas created strong and distinct communities that supported everything from black-owned businesses, hospitals, and institutions to major cultural developments.

Milwaukee’s Bronzeville District was the business, economic and cultural center of the African American community. By the 1930s, the number of African American-owned businesses in this area exceeded all other areas of the city - with the highest concentration between 6th and 9th Streets. In the late 1960s Walnut Street was demolished, and along with it the Bronzeville neighborhood was severely impacted. Families moved throughout the city and beyond. Some families returned to the southern states to reclaim the land and history of their families.

Another important feature of the Bronzeville District is Halyard Park. In 1976, the City of Milwaukee's Redevelopment Authority approved the United Realty Group's request to develop a subdivision of single-family, suburban-style homes. The homes, mostly ranch-style with attached garages and large yards, were built in the '80s. Halyard Park is named after Ardie and Wilbur Halyard, the husband and wife who founded Columbia Savings and Loan in 1924. Halyard Park continues to be a feature of the community that speaks to the history of successful African American professionals living, working and playing in Bronzeville.

Time went on, and several committed members of this community continued to beat the drum to bring back the culture. In 2007 the Black Holocaust Museum hosted a Bronzeville Visioning Session, a series of workshops designed to involve local artists and community members in the planning of the Bronzeville District’s streetscape. Conversations continued, and the city of Milwaukee under the leadership of Alderwoman Milele Coggs continued to work on the vision for Bronzeville.

Today, the Bronzeville District is located at the southernmost end of the Harambee neighborhood, and the northernmost end of Halyard Park. Adjacent neighborhoods include Riverwest, Brewers Hill, Williamsburg Heights, and North Division. From a residential perspective, many of the homes in Bronzeville were built prior to the turn of the century.

After an identified location for a fresh food market was being developed as a Dollar Tree in 2012 concerned residents and families of Bronzeville neighborhood organized Bronzeville Week, a week-long series of events designed to return the Bronzeville Arts & Cultural District to its thriving state. This is the fifth year, and since its inception the Bronzville Arts and Cultural District has seen an increase in business, and will welcome Pete's Fruit Market on the corner of North Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.

The week is full of activities, listed here in the schedule.

Be sure to join us for these amazing activities. We look forward to seeing you for Bronzeville Week 2017. When you join us please use the following hashtags when you share your experience on social media:

#BronzevillePROUD

#BronzevilleWeekMKE2017

#BronzevilleHISTORY

#BronzevilleART

#BronzevilleCULTURE

#BronzevilleCOMMERCE

#ArtCultureCommerce

#WeAreBronzevillePROUD

**Historical information in this post from The African American Migration Story, PBS and the City of Milwaukee Bronzeville page.


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