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Fair Housing Law at 50: Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty

The Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors (GMAR) held a news conference on April 11 to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, and honor the brave young men and women who protested housing discrimination in Milwaukee.

On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status and national origin.

In Milwaukee, marches to demand an open housing ordinance started on August 28, 1967, and ending on March 14, 1968 after 200 consecutive days. The marchers were led by Milwaukee’s NAACP Youth Council and Commandos. Father James E. Groppi, a Roman Catholic priest and adviser to the NAACP Youth Council, played a critical leadership role in the open housing marches.

Alderwoman Vel Phillips, the first woman and first African-American elected to Milwaukee’s Common Council, supported and participated in the marches. In 1962, she introduced an open housing ordinance but her vote was the only one in support of it. She introduced the ordinance three more times during the next five years but the result was always the same – a single vote from Phillips.

Speakers at the press conference included Tom Barrett, Mayor of the City of Milwaukee; Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, President of the Milwaukee Common Council; Margaret “Peggy” Rozga, Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council Member; Fred Reed, Former NAACP Youth Council Commando; Dr. Eve Hall, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League; Bill Tisdale, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council; Vickie Kelsall, Chairwoman of the GMAR Board of Directors; and Mike Ruzicka, President of the GMAR.

Mayor Barrett proclaimed April 11, 2018 to be Fair Housing Act Day, and celebrated with students from the Anna F. Doerfler School and Milwaukee High School of the Arts who attended as future home owners. Included with the celebration of sacrifice for the original marchers was a stern reminder from Tisdale, about the obstacles to Fair Housing that have remained over the past five decades.

The Stanisław Jerzy Lec quote “each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty” refers to the problem that results when many people individually only do something slightly wrong. It is easy for each individual person to see themselves as having no part in the cause of the problem or take responsibility for result. The reference is significant when considering that the Fair Housing Law is a half century old, yet white society has continued to resist adopting it.

These photos document the multigenerational participation at the ceremony, remembering the sacrifices made to secure equality and the institutional inequities that have remained over the past half century.

“In our society, individual acts of intentional discrimination function in concert with historically created vulnerabilities. Although anyone can be a victim of housing discrimination, people of color suffer distinct collateral injuries from barriers to housing that are collective and cumulative in nature.

The national failure to enforce fair housing laws, by the concentration of poverty in neighborhoods inhabited largely by blacks, by the criminalization of poverty, by the proliferation of punishments inside the criminal justice system, and by the expansion of the collateral consequences of arrests and criminal convictions in society at large.

Produced by public policies and private actions, these injuries entail more than denials of rights and resources to individuals. The evidence shows it is a concentrated political attack on communities of color.”

– George Lipsitz

About The Author

Lee Matz

Former Creative Director and Photojournalist for the Milwaukee Business Journal, Lee brings his years of international experience as an award-winning foreign correspondent in Asia and Europe. Lee proudly uses MCTS as the exclusive mode of transportation for covering all his news reports.

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