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28 Days of Black History

February is Black History Month, and in many ways, that history is still being written today. This year, in an effort to honor those notable individuals who have played a role in Black History that has touched Milwaukee, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis and Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs are leading a first-of-its-kind Common Council informational campaign. Throughout this month as part of that campaign, several key Milwaukee Black History makers will be profiled on the City of Milwaukee website’s main page. The prominent online spot will give students and Milwaukeeans across the city a chance to learn about – and to honor – some of the city’s notable and unsung heroes.

Isaac Coggs

Served in the Wisconsin State Assembly (1953-1964); elected to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in 1964; Isaac and Calvin Moody were the first African-American County Supervisors, and due to redistricting had to run against each other in 1968, a race Moody won; the Isaac Coggs Heritage Health Center is named for him.

Gwen T. Jackson

Chair Emeritus of the American Red Cross, Southeast Wisconsin; active with the YWCA and Milwaukee Urban League; Milwaukee Public Schools school namesake; chairperson of Child Care Advisory Committee; lead formation of the Early Childhood Council of Milwaukee; appointed to the State Child Care Council; a prominent voice for almost 50 years in support of young children.

Ulice Payne

Member of Marquette University 1977 championship basketball team; first African-American managing partner at Foley and Lardner law firm; first African-American to be president of a Major League Baseball franchise (Milwaukee Brewers).

Ben Johnson

First African-American Common Council President; served on the City's Labor Policy Board, the Board of Estimates, the Central Board of Purchases, the Economic Development Committee, and the MECCA board; member of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee; vice-president of the Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation; president of the Milwaukee Inner City Arts Council; board chairman of the Social Development Commission.

Valerie Daniels-Carter

Founder and president of V&J Holdings Co., Inc., a family-run business that owns over 130 Burger King, Pizza Hut and other restaurant franchises, making it the nation's largest female-owned restaurant chain; has served as the president of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.; first African-American woman elected to the board of the Green Bay Packers; recognized by Essence Magazine as one of the 50 most admired African-Americans in the United States.

Douglas Holton

First African-American Chief of Milwaukee Fire Department; former fire chief of St. Paul, MN (first African-American chief there also); previously a firefighter and officer in Milwaukee for 25 years; retired to become Associate Dean of Human and Protective Services at MATC.

Ester Lovelace

First female African-American deputy court clerk for Milwaukee County; Elder Emerita at Christian Faith Fellowship Church; director and CEO of The Buck Stops Here Ministry, Inc., an organization helping individuals to become self-sufficient, self-supporting and productive.

Louis B. Butler

First African-American on the Wisconsin Supreme Court; first Wisconsin public defender to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (1988).

Early City Hall Workers

A photo from 1896 shows that several African-Americans worked on building Milwaukee's City Hall, at a time when African-Americans comprised only about 0.3% of the City's population.


A neighborhood bounded by North Ave., State St., 3rd St. and 12th St. that became densely populated by African-Americans in the early 20th century, particularly with the migration of laborers from the South seeking factory jobs; by the 1930s, the number of African American-owned businesses in this area exceeded all other areas of the City; the North-South freeway, I-43, was constructed directly through Bronzeville in the 1960s, eliminating more than 8,000 homes and scattering the community;  redevelopment efforts in the area seek to recapture the enthusiasm and reverence of the original Bronzeville District.

America's Black Holocaust Museum

Founded by James Cameron in 1984 to build public awareness of the harmful legacies of slavery in America; moved from a storefront to a free-standing building in 1988; closed in 2008, but a successor online virtual museum was launched in 2012; a new physical museum space will be constructed as part of a redevelopment project with the Garfield School Building at 2215 N. 4th St.

Marvin Pratt

Member of the Common Council (1986-2004) and Common Council President; in 2004, became the first African-American to serve as Milwaukee Mayor; only person to serve as both Mayor and Milwaukee County Executive; the namesake for Milwaukee Public Schools Marvin E. Pratt Elementary School.

Darienne Driver

First female superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools; previously a high-level administrator in the School District of Philadelphia, overseeing improvement efforts in that district's most troubled schools; earned a master's degree in curriculum development from the University of Michigan, a master's degree from Harvard's Graduate School of Education, and a doctorate in education from Harvard's Urban Superintendency program.

Richard Artison

First African-American appointed and elected Milwaukee County Sheriff; re-elected to serve 12 years as Milwaukee County Sheriff; former Secret Service agent.

Bernice and Clinton Rose

Clinton served on the Milwaukee County Board from 1968 until his death in 1977 and was the first African-American supervisor to represent a portion of the suburbs; Bernice became the first African-American woman elected to same, in a 1977 special election after Clinton died, and was a supporter of housing programs and aid for the elderly; a County park and senior center are named in their honor.

Vernice Gallimore

In 1946, became the first African-American Milwaukee Police Department policewoman; later became a probation officer with the Children's Court; earned a master's degree in social work from Atlanta University; chairwoman of the County's Human Rights Commission.

Arthur Jones

First African-American Chief of the Milwaukee Police Department (1996-2003); first president of the League of Martin, an organization of African-American police officers founded in 1974 that successfully challenged discriminatory practices in the Milwaukee Police Department.

Ardie and Wilbur Halyard

Co-founded Columbia Savings & Loan to help African-Americans purchase homes; Columbia S&L was also Milwaukee's first black-owned financial institution; Halyard St. and Halyard Park neighborhood namesakes; leaders in the local chapter of the NAACP.

Orville Pitts

First African-American man elected to the Common Council; champion amateur boxer turned lawyer and civil rights activist; founded Pitts Funeral Home with father and brother.

Gwen Moore

Wisconsin's first African-American member of the U.S. Congress; the first African-American woman elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in 1992, having previously served in the State Assembly.

Calvin Moody

Over a 25 year career with the Milwaukee Police Department, in 1949 became one of the two first African-American detectives in the department; elected to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in 1964; he and Isaac Coggs were the first African-American Milwaukee County Supervisors, and due to redistricting had to run against each other in 1968, a race which Moody won; Moody Park is named in his honor.

Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker

Founder, Ko-Thi Dance Company; Professor Emerita of Dance, UWM; created University courses on African dance and history; founded and heads the University Dance Department's BFA Degree in Choreography and Performance/African dance, the first of its kind in the U.S.; native of Sierra Leone, West Africa; Fulbright Scholar; former board member of the Wisconsin Arts Board.

James Cameron

Only known survivor of an attempted lynching; imprisoned for five years following his lynching, but eventually officially pardoned by the State of Indiana; founder of America's Black Holocaust Museum; author of his autobiography, "A Time of Terror".

Marlene Johnson-Odom

Common Council member from 1980-2004, making her the longest-serving female Council member to date; sponsored re-naming of N. 3rd St. to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and the creation of the City's Minority Business Enterprise Program; championed developments throughout her district, particularly in Brewers Hill.

Lloyd Barbee

Civil rights activist, lawyer and Wisconsin State Assembly member; led efforts to desegregate Milwaukee Public Schools; elected president of the Madison branch of the NAACP in 1955 and Wisconsin NAACP in 1961; as an assembly member, introduced legislation concerning open housing, fair employment practices, promoting gay rights, women's rights and prison reform.

Vel Phillips

First woman and first African-American elected to the Common Council; first African-American judge in Wisconsin and first to win statewide office as Secretary of State; main sponsor of the City's open housing ordinance; active in civil rights marches.

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