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Class of 1846: Ezekiel Gillespie

Today is the future from a century ago. During that bygone era, would young leaders of industry, government, health care, and education in Milwaukee been able to imagine the generational impact their lives would have on the city we live in today?

Ezekiel Gillespie

Age: 28

An African-American civil rights and community leader who won a landmark case securing voting rights in Wisconsin, Gillespie purchased his own freedom for $800. After he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he sold groceries and then worked as a railroad porter. He quickly became a leader in the African-American community. He operated a local branch of the Underground Railroad, pushed Richard Allen to open Wisconsin’s first African-American church, and also played a role in the Joshua Glover controversy.

In 1865, at the insistence of Sherman Booth, Gillespie attempted to vote. He was denied a ballot, so he sued the Board of Elections. Gillespie v. Palmer went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The justices of the court sided with Gillespie, in his argument that Wisconsin voters had voted in favor of male African American suffrage in an 1849 referendum.

He is be buried in Forest Home Cemetery alongside some of Milwaukee’s most famous residents.

1818 – March 31, 1892

About The Author

Paul Haubrich

Paul A. Haubrich, PhD is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and author of the book “A Journey through the History of St. Paul’s Church 1838 to 2013.” As chair of the Board of Directors for the Forest Home Historic Preservation Association, he has extensive knowledge of Milwaukee’s history and its founders.


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