The March On Milwaukee 50th Coordinating Committee hosted the “200 Nights of Freedom Kickoff” in the City Hall Rotunda on August 28, commemorating the anniversary of Milwaukee’s Fair Housing Marches.
A crowd of hundreds attended the event, including more than a dozen original 1967 marchers. In memorial, a role call of names was read for those who had participated in Milwaukee’s contribution to the Civil Rights movement. It was also a chance to publicly pass the torch to a new generation to continue the struggle for justice.
“I was 16 at the time, and of course marching in these marches was not something that was sanctioned or supported by my dear mother,” said keynote speaker U.S. Representative Gwen Moore. “Back in the day, Milwaukee was considered to be the Selma of the north. And how have we fared since then? We are still that 9th in the nation for the most segregated community in the United States of America.”
The gathering launched the 200 Nights of Freedom initiative, which took its inspiration from the original timeline and spirit of Milwaukee’s Open Housing Marches. During the 200-day period, the Coordinating Committee plans to focus recognition on local civil rights heroes. The effort is designed to re-ignition Milwaukee’s simmering activist spirit through public events, policy initiatives, digital dialogue, and other programming.
Beginning on August 28, 1967, the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council/Commandos, Father James Groppi, Alderwoman Vel Phillips, and a host of activists and community members marched for over 200 consecutive nights to demand an end to housing segregation. The marches helped inspire Federal Fair Housing legislation.
“Housing was the social issue of that time. Literally right after that 200 days of marching is when the Federal Fair Housing Law was finally put in place,” added Representative Moore. “But Milwaukee’s version was more strident than the one passed by Congress, because of all the work that had been done on the ground here.”
The March on Milwaukee 50th Coordinating Committee is an intergenerational group of organizers, artists, professionals, academics, and elders who participated in the original marches. Their first meeting took place in February 2016, and since then over 100 community individuals, organizations, and institutions have participated in the planning process.