“The greatest tragedy of segregation, not merely what it does to the individual physically, but what it does to one psychologically. It scars the soul of the segregated as well as the segregator. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority while leaving the segregated with a false sense of inferiority.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As I have explored the ways in which Milwaukee’s metropolitan area has become the most segregated in the nation, I have grown to understand segregation as something much more than what people think of it as.
Segregation is much more than just the partition that divides the physical spaces we occupy. One of the lasting legacies from decades of legally mandated segregation is a segregated mindset. We live in a time when this segregation is much more readily apparent than it was just a few short years ago.
A perfect local manifestation of this mindset was on display July 31, when the Waukesha County Republican Party (GOP) offered a screening of Dinesh D’Souza’s film “Death of A Nation” to a sold out audience at the Marcus Hillside Cinema in Delafield.
On the Eventbrite page for the film they described it as “a thought-provoking defense of conservatism and the Republican Party against the Left’s accusations of fascism and racism.”
I have not seen the film. The picture on the Eventbrite page is an American flag in the background with a blended image combining Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump’s faces. The subtitle is “Can We Save America A Second Time?”
For those unfamiliar with the film the trailer starts with a deception about the history of Republican and Democratic parties.
“Lincoln was elected to unite a country and stop slavery. Democrats smeared him, went to war against him, assassinated him. Now their target is Trump.”
To have the audacity to compare Trump to Lincoln is disingenuous and laughable. Anyone who has studied American political history knows how deceptive this is. The 1860’s Republican Party in no way, shape, or form reflects the 2016 version of the GOP. Likewise the Democrats of the eighteenth century are nearly a complete opposite of the contemporary political party.
Waukesha County is GOP and Trump-country, based on the results of the 2016 Presidential and 2014 Gubernatorial elections. Trump won over 61% of the votes to just over 33% for his opponent Hillary Clinton in 2016. He managed to win just 28.6% of the vote in neighboring Milwaukee County. Scott Walker won over 70% of the vote in Waukesha County in the 2014 gubernatorial election. He won only about 36% of the votes in Milwaukee County.
How can two communities so close together be such polar opposites electorally? The easy answer is segregation.
Milwaukee County’s largest city is Milwaukee. The city is very diverse (37% non-Hispanic white, 40% black, 17.3% Hispanic, 3.5% Asian, 0.8% Native American) according to the 2010 U.S. Census. About one half of the residents of Milwaukee County are people of color. Waukesha County is over 88% white according to 2017 Census Bureau estimates.
Milwaukee is considered the most segregated metropolitan area in the country. It did not happen by accident. Likewise it required specific mindsets to create and maintain segregation over a period of decades. Throughout the nation, all-white spaces were created with the assistance of local, state and federal government policies.
The federal government, in particular, played a major role by mandating the usage of racial restrictive covenants in communities that expected its residents to receive federally subsidized mortgages. These covenants were legally binding documents attached to properties dictating who could legally occupy properties. They were used around the country to create spaces free of what were known as “inharmonious racial groups.” The primary targets were blacks, but Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Jews were included as well.
A covenant written in South Milwaukee in 1937 used the type of language that was commonly expressed around the country including throughout the metro area.
“At no time shall any such lot or any building thereon be purchased, owned, leased, occupied or used by any person other than Citizens of the United States of America, of the White Race.”
These covenants were legally enforceable until 1948. They became completely illegal in 1968 with the passage of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act. The covenants were one of many tools that created all-white communities in Waukesha County. To this day most of those communities are still barely populated by people of color. The only exception has been some growth of Latino’s in the city of Waukesha recently who now represent over 11 percent of the residents.
The assistance of realtors who steered people of color and whites to homogeneous neighborhoods and lenders refusing to lend to non-whites in white communities, led to the current demographics of our region. Election results and demographics are indicators of the divisions we see daily. Political divisions are expressed in differences between the Republican and Democratic party nationwide as well as locally. Most Republicans are white and only a small percentage of Republican voters are black.
This has not always been the case. For many years the Party of Lincoln, the Republicans, were the party supported by blacks in most elections, once they gained the right to vote. The Republican Party was considered a friend of the black community. In 1912, former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Bull Moose Party ticket. One of the leading blacks at that time, W.E.B. DuBois, urged blacks to vote for Democrat Woodrow Wilson because Roosevelt had not supported equal rights for blacks. They would regret their support of Wilson when six months into office he segregated federal civil service workers and many blacks lost their jobs as a result.
In 1928, black voters were very unhappy with the Republican candidate Herbert Hoover. Democratic candidate Alfred Smith campaigned for black votes by stating, “I know Negroes distrust the Democratic Party, and I can’t blame them” but “I want to show them that the old Democratic Party, ruled entirely by the South is out, and that we northern Democrats have a totally different approach to the Negro.”
To compound the frustration and distrust blacks had with the anti-black sentiments of the Democratic Party, Eleanor Roosevelt allegedly pleaded with Smith to not support black-white marriages. Hoover purged blacks from the southern branches of the Republican Party. The party refused to seat black delegates at the national convention and actively courted white southerners. Hoover won the election with seven southern states, but still receiving a majority of black northern voters.
Both parties were in many respects working against blacks.
About one-third of blacks still supported the Republican Party even as late as the 1960s. The Democratic Party at that time was very strongly segregationist even during the New Deal years. The 1948 self-proclaimed Dixiecratic presidential candidate Strom Thurman had split from the Democrats and helped form the pro-segregation Dixiecrat party. The party consisted of white southern Democrats who had become upset at the pace of civil rights victories being won by blacks. Thurman campaigned on a segregationist platform and won wide support throughout the South among white voters.
The 1964 Presidential election was the death knell for the GOP and blacks. Most black voters saw Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater as a racist. In 1968, the Republicans abandoned black voters.
They gave up the pre-text of campaigns aligned with their roots as the anti-slavery party. Nixon’s running mate Spiro T. Agnew told a pollster “Race is the dominant issue without any question.”
They squeaked by winning only 43.3% of the popular vote. In 1972 they campaigned on the strength of a “Southern Strategy” intentionally seeking to win white southern voters by preaching “law and order” and appealing to white southern racism. Southern whites had a strong distaste for the Black Power Movement and urban civil unrest. Nixon defeated George McGovern easily. Shortly after this election former Dixiecrats switched to the Republican Party.
Even Democrat President Jimmy Carter made dubious remarks during his 1976 campaign. He spoke of “alien groups,” “ethnic purity,” and “black intrusion.” While campaigning in Indiana he said “I’m not going to use the Federal Government’s authority deliberately to circumvent the natural inclination of people to live in ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods. I think it’s good to maintain the homogeneity of neighborhoods if they’ve been established that way.”
Despite this, blacks voted heavily for Carter. The trend has continued through all presidential elections since then. Over 90% of black voters have voted Democratic for decades.
Despite D’Souza’s attempts to trick people into believing that Republicans, including Trump, have been friends of blacks, they have little chance of convincing black voters. The recent shameful display of black clergy who appeared with Trump will not win over the minds of many black voters in my opinion.
The Waukesha GOP is obviously pandering to a constituency that they believe will fall for these tricks. A film that equates Democrats with Nazis is the type of nonsense D’Souza has made a career of creating. I am neither surprised that they used this film or the fact that the event was sold out. The film was only shown at the Marcus Hillside Cinema in Delafield. Apparently, they do not feel any audiences in Milwaukee County want to see it.
This type of divisiveness is what makes it so hard to convince blacks to move to the suburbs. According to 2010 data, only 6.4% of black Milwaukee County residents live outside the city of Milwaukee. This includes many high income blacks. Less than 9% of blacks in the four county metropolitan area lived outside the city of Milwaukee in 2010.
Political divisions, stoked by individuals like D’Souza and those who support his work, only make it more difficult to end the entrenched segregation in the Milwaukee region. The GOP would be better off reaching out to have an open and honest dialogue with people of color. Trying to use a film such as “Death of A Nation” does the opposite. The black community and elected leaders will not allow their constituents to be swayed by such deceitful tricks.