28 Days of
February is Black History Month, and in many ways, that history is still being written today. Throughout this month, 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.
Terri Lynn Wigley
Terri Lynn’s Soul Food is a family-owned business that offers southern recipes and warm hospitality. Owner Terri Lynn Wigley has been feeding the Milwaukee area for more than 30 years. She prides herself on quality service and that is why Terri Lynn’s Soul Food restaurant has become such a staple. Loyal customers are proof of the impact this local restaurant has had on its community.
Lena's Food Market
Lena's Food Market is an African American owned grocery store chain, employs more than 300 people across the Milwaukee area. The owner of Lena’s, Bezelee Martin, started his first business at the age of 14 and in 1950, became the first Black licensed car dealer in Wisconsin. Mr. Martin was recognized for his accomplishments in 2013, when he was inducted into the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame. Family owned, Lena’s Food Market, continues to serve its community as it has for more than 51 years.
Stanley Herbert is the First African-American to attend Marquette University High School (class of 1940), US Navy deputy general counsel, member of Kerner Commission.
Dr. Lester Carter
Carter Drug Store, is recognized as Milwaukee's only black-owned drug store for more than four decades. Long-time local pharmacist and owner of Carter Drug Store (now a Hayat Pharmacy), "Dr. Carter" was recognized for his service to the community with an honorary street sign at his pharmacy's location on N. 24th St. and W. Burleigh St. in 2018.
Bruce Martin helped bring King's Fresh Market, a full-service grocery store with fresh produce and hot food at 2730 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr., to the Harambee neighborhood. This store allowed for fresh, whole food access in what was previously a food dessert. In addition, Bruce and his wife Tami aim to provide food education and improve wellness within the community.
Chytania Brown is President and CEO of Employ Milwaukee, the first African-American female to hold that post.
Vic and Dawn Barnett
Victor Barnett was 19 when he founded Running Rebels to help mentor young people (mostly African Americans) who were in danger of being pulled into the street life of gangs, crime, and violence. He used basketball as the tool to engage, mentor and guide youth toward an alternative path that would ensure their future success. From this vision and action, Running Rebels Community Organization was born, and today Victor and his wife, Dawn, have turned Running Rebels into a history-making mentoring organization that serves 2,500 youth annually.
Nathan Conyers was a journalist and co-founder of The Milwaukee Times weekly newspaper along with Louvenia Johnson and Luther Golden. The publishing team launched the newspaper’s Black Excellence awards program and a scholarship fund for students pursuing journalism degrees. With a lifelong interest in politics and community affairs, Conyers served on boards of many community organizations including Pastor United, Discovery World, Independence First, the Milwaukee Urban League, and the Ride for the Arts.
Mother Kathryn Daniels, a charter member of Holy Redeemer Church of God in Christ (founded by her son, Bishop Sedgwick Daniels), was a historic social justice advocate who championed outreach activities that brought food pantries, elderly centers and other important services to the community. She exuded excellence, positivity, strong leadership, and limitless compassion and humanity.
Thelma Sias retired in January 2017 after 32 years of employment at WE Energies, where her title was vice president of local affairs; served or is serving on the boards of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Foundation, the Sojourner Family Peace Center, Cardinal Stritch University, and was appointed in 2019 by Governor Tony Evers to the WEDC Board. She mentors young professionals and started making investments in central city redevelopment projects.
Dasha Kelly Hamilton
Dasha Kelly Hamilton was named poet laureate of Wisconsin in January 2021. She currently serves as poet laureate of Milwaukee and is only the second person to hold both positions. She is also a performer, novelist and has appeared on HBO's "Def Poetry Jam". In addition to her poetry honors, Kelly Hamilton has served as an arts envoy for the U.S. Embassy, assigned to cultural exchange programs in several countries around the globe.
A Milwaukee native, was an accomplished soccer player who graduated from Custer High School and went on to play at UW-Milwaukee. He made history as one of the first African Americans to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team and played a pivotal role during the USA’s 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. As the head coach of the Milwaukee School of Engineering men’s team, Mr. Banks won 198 career games and appeared in two NCAA Division III Tournaments. Jimmy Banks was a cherished family member, friend, coach and mentor who will be remembered for his lasting impact on the community and U.S. Soccer.
LaNelle Ramey worked for years for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and was the director of the Milwaukee Public Schools Office of Black and Latino Male Achievement (BLMA). Mr. Ramey now serves as the executive director of MENTOR Greater Milwaukee (MGM), and for more than 26 years he has been a mentor to hundreds of kids formally and thousands informally, and he sees his role as pushing the importance of being a mentor to a larger platform and with greater visibility.
Reginald Reed is a Milwaukee native and entrepreneur; founder of training and staffing firm Mindful Staffing Solutions and software company Mindful Measures.
Kane was a renowned writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His column, “Raising Kane” consistently challenged readers to confront racial issues throughout Milwaukee’s politics, culture, business, and media. Unafraid of challenges, Kane also made a committed effort to engage with those whose opinions differed from his. He won many national awards for his work and in 2014 was inducted into both the Wisconsin Media Hall of Fame and the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame. In 2017 he was honored by the Wisconsin Black Media Association.
William Kelly led the Milwaukee Urban League for 31 years, from 1928-1959 & was devoted to fighting discrimination in employment.
African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee
Local network of African American community leaders and partners founded in 2017 to encourage the development and retention of Milwaukee's African American professionals, and to promote Milwaukee as a top-ranking city for African American to live and work in.
William T. Green
Born in Canada, Green came to Wisconsin in 1887, attended UW Law School, and became Milwaukee's first African American lawyer. He worked to enact the WI Civil Rights Act of 1893, which prohibited racial discrimination in public facilities.
Scales, "Milwaukee's Godfather of Soul," was a prolific entertainer and songwriter, and played with his band the Seven Sounds well into his 70s. Early in his career he was a popular opening act for many big-name artists, including Chubby Checker, Stevie Wonder, and The Commodores. Scales co-wrote the 1976 hit song "Disco Lady" for Johnnie Taylor, the first song to be certified platinum.
Dr. Terence N. Thomas
Milwaukee-born doctor for whom the "Dr. Terence N. Thomas Scholarship Fund" is named. The fund was established in 1992 to provide financial assistance to low-income and students of color in Milwaukee. Common Council President Cavalier Johnson is a scholarship alumnus.
As the first African American registered architect in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, Alonzo Robinson was a trailblazer in his field as he overcame adversity to open doors for future architects and engineers of color in the city and state. Mr. Robinson designed many buildings in downtown Milwaukee including the Milwaukee Fire Department headquarters at N. 7th and W. Wells Streets (poised to be renamed in his honor by the Common Council), central-city churches, the former YMCA (now a Marquette University facility) at N. 10th and W. Wisconsin Ave., the Doyne Park shelter house and the Vel Phillips YWCA.
Makda Fessahaye is making history as the first African American Director of Employee Relations for the City of Milwaukee. She previously served as an appointed member of Governor Tony Evers’ administration as the Administrator for the Division of Adult Institutions for the State of Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Ms. Fessahaye received her Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from Northwestern University and went on to earn her Juris Doctor from the Marquette University Law School. She also currently serves as a board member of Women in Focus, Inc. and a member of the Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals.
Bradley Thurman, who was born and raised in the Brewers Hill neighborhood, is a local entrepreneur most well-known for founding the Coffee Makes You Black coffee shop with his wife in 2001. Thurman has used Coffee Makes You Black as a gathering hub and community resource for two decades, and also uses the space to showcase African-inspired art and images of Black musicians and sports heroes. Thurman previously served as a firefighter in Milwaukee for 16 years, and has a long history of being a community leader and activist.
Sharon Purifoy was promoted to Deputy Chief of the Milwaukee Fire Department in December, 2020. She is the first African American woman to hold that position. Prior experiences with the MFD include serving in its first all-female engine company.
David Crowley is the first African American elected to serve as Milwaukee County Executive, sworn into office on May 4, 2020. Crowley was born and raised in Milwaukee, worked with several local community organizations, and served two terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly before being elected County Executive.
Joan Johnson is the first African American to be named Director of the Milwaukee Public Library. She was born in Milwaukee and grew up in the Concordia neighborhood and attended West Division High School (now Milwaukee High School of the Arts). She worked in the Seattle Public Library System for 15 years before returning to Milwaukee in 2006 for a position in administration at MPL Central.