Milwaukee School Desegregation in the 1960s

In 1954, America's struggle over the issue of racial equality was changed forever. The Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, that school districts could no longer segregate students according to race, overturning the precedent it set in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896. The court based this decision on social science research which showed that African American students in segregated environments did not receive equal educational opportunities because they were marked with a "badge of inferiority" which hindered their performance. "Separate, but equal" was declared inherently unequal, and with that decision southern states and schools began the arduous and reluctant task of desegregation (1).

Brown applied only to de jure segregation, that is, segregation mandated by law, but in the North, segregation was a result of residence patterns (often referred to as de facto segregation). This made segregation in northern cities like Milwaukee somewhat different than segregation in the South. It also made Northern desegregation efforts that much more difficult. It was not until the early 1960s that serious action began to take place in the forms of social protest and a law suit filed by attorney Lloyd A. Barbee on behalf of the parents of 41 Milwaukee school children. In order to win the case Barbee had to prove that the Milwaukee school board had intended to segregate its students. He did this by presenting evidence which showed that this was done in several ways (2).

I can think of nothing more exciting than a book about Lloyd Barbee's efforts to desegregate the Milwaukee Public School System, but for practical limits of time and space, this paper will focus on only the three main aspects of Milwaukee school desegregation. The first part will trace the origins of de facto segregation in Milwaukee; the second will examine the "neighborhood school" concept as it relates to school redistricting; and the third part will focus on the Milwaukee school board's use of "intact bussing." The reason I have chosen to focus on these three areas is because I believe they demonstrate the uphill battle Barbee faced in court as well as in the community. Proving the school board deliberately segregated students according to race was no easy task because there were few outward signs that the board's actions were intentional. Surprisingly, segregation is not always clear.

Under Wisconsin state law, local school boards were to divide their jurisdiction into separate school districts so students could attend schools in their own neighborhood. From the beginning, there were many conflicts over which parts of town had the better schools. In 1852 there were seven schools with most of the better ones located on the east side. This prompted numerous complaints from parents on the south and west sides of town. The school board felt the way to solve this was to redraw the district lines so they would be independent of the ward boundaries, but the Common Council had to approve this and was slow to take action (3). This is where the conflict over school boundaries and equity in education began, and it continued well into the twentieth century as immigrants began to pour into the city and settle into their own separate enclaves.

According to historian Joe Trotter, white Americans began leaving cities and moving into the suburbs in approximately 1915. This was a result of the development of the automobile as well as a more affluent economy in general (4). During World War II many African Americans moved north in search of jobs filling in the inner-city industrialized areas (5). As the 1950s progressed, more blacks came North in search of jobs because that is where the post-war economy was the strongest. This was coupled with the rapid suburbanization of white America and a general decline in immigration which left a hole in the inner-city for blacks to fill in (6).

By 1960 more than 30 percent of all African Americans were living in twenty metropolitan areas, and in Milwaukee the black population stood at 62,458 compared to 8,821 in 1940 (7). Unfortunately for them, suburbanization was not limited to housing many high paying manufacturing jobs also moved out of the central city leaving only service industry jobs behind or no jobs at all. Although detailed statistics were not available to me for 1960, according to the 1940 census only 1921 (21.8 percent) of the African Americans in Milwaukee had jobs. The rest were either unemployed, under age, or not looking for work (such as house wives). Of this 1921, only 8.9 percent were classified as professionals or business owners. 3.2 percent were employed in clerical positions, and 5.6 percent were skilled workers. The rest were semi-skilled, unskilled, or domestic/personal workers. These jobs did not pay enough to allow blacks to leave the ghetto, and even when they could leave they faced much white opposition (8).

This growth in the African American population of Milwaukee was accompanied by the post-war baby boom which necessitated the building of new schools. From 1950 until 1963, forty four new schools were built but only four of them were put in the central city an area defined by the school board as roughly between Keefe Avenue, St. Paul Avenue, Holton Street, and 31st Street (9). This means that 9 percent of the new schools were built in an area that comprised 7.3 percent of the city. This may seem equitable, yet the density of children in the central city area was five times that of other areas of the city (10). Therefore the school board clearly was not trying to relieve overcrowding as vigorously as it could have.

Lloyd Barbee believed this was intentional. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1925, Barbee joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the age of 12 and remained active in it throughout. He received a B.A. in social sciences from LeMoyne College in Memphis in 1949, and then came to the University of Wisconsin to attend law school. Barbee dropped out in his first year partly because of racism that he encountered from students and professors but returned later to earn a law degree in 1956. He passed the bar exam a short time later and became involved in state politics, working in several government agencies lobbying the state legislature on civil rights issues. In September 1962, Barbee opened up his own law firm, Barbee and Jacobson (after 1976 known as Barbee and Goldberg), in Milwaukee and quickly became involved in the school desegregation issue (11).

Barbee and his supporters believed that the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) were not only segregated by way of residential patterns but that it was a policy that was actively enforced by the school board. They also believed that board members could have taken steps to reduce segregation thereby ensuring a quality education for all students but that they had refused to. One of the primary ways of maintaining segregation was through the adjustment of school district boundaries to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods. Another method used by the school board was a practice known as "intact bussing" which bussed black students into predominantly white schools but kept them separate from the rest of the students. Barbee referred to this as "the most blatantly obvious policy of segregation implemented by the public school administration" as well as the most psychologically damaging (12). He also alleged that it created inequalities in educational outcomes, school discipline, and building facilities (13).

In 1962 Barbee began researching the extent of racial segregation in MPS. After a year and a half of study, Barbee and the NAACP requested a meeting with State Superintendent Angus P. Rothwell to present evidence that de facto segregation existed and was harmful to children. Rothwell responded that the state could not take action against Milwaukee school segregation because the school board was within the law. Rothwell said he could find no evidence that MPS intended to segregate students and proving intent was necessary in order to take action (14).

Since they could not get any help from the state, Barbee and other members of the NAACP joined with some Milwaukee parents who were concerned about racial segregation to form the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC) to which Barbee was elected chairperson. Its purpose was to organize a grass roots movement against school segregation. MUSIC was affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and several other groups giving it a tie to the larger civil rights struggle (15). It also relied heavily on black churches as places to hold meetings and recruit volunteers. Support from the African American clergy became pivotal when MUSIC started a school boycott to on May 18, 1964. An estimated 11,000-16,000 African American students staid out of class and attended forty church and community run "freedom schools" instead (16). Six days later Barbee and ten other demonstrators were arrested for trying to block an "intact bus" (17).

The school board, however, steadfastly refused to desegregate. At the time, the board was composed of fifteen members elected in nonpartisan at-large elections. This system was created in 1907 by the state legislature to prevent the corruption that was associated with single member election districts (18). However, according to the 1960 census, African Americans only made up 8.4 percent of the Milwaukee population (19) which meant that it was virtually impossible for them to elect a member of their own race to the school board, and the existing board usually interpreted civil rights demands as an attack on their power.

No one personified this attitude better than Lorraine Radtke, the school board president from 1963 until 1965 (20). Radtke did not see segregation in terms of race. She prided herself on the fact that she was "pure German [of] Prussian extraction," and said that all ethnic groups went through a period of ghettoization but were always able to overcome it. Yet she also claimed to see "paradoxes in the Negro thinking" which she expressed by stating, "He says he hates the white man yet he wants to integrate with him. He wants to copy the white people, he wants the same standard of living, yet he says white people are all wrong" (21). She also said African Americans should develop their own course in life:
I would like to see him excel in areas which have not been thoroughly developed by white people. I think that the Negro has a great deal to offer our culture in the fields of the arts music, drama, painting, and sports. He should develop his skills to the utmost. He should be original in his approach to living. He should realize that he need not imitate the white man to fulfill his culture (22).

In 1964 Radtke complied a 247-page "bibliographical digest" of newspaper and magazine articles detailing problems in the African American community with the intention that it would show why integration would not be beneficial to Milwaukee (23). This report and the comments detailed in the quote above were widely criticized by the media and civil rights advocates, but Radtke was still able to get reelected as board president later in the year (24). MUSIC continued to protest in sit-ins, demonstration, and boycotts, but it was becoming increasingly clear that legal action was necessary (25).

On June 17, 1965, Barbee filed suit against the school board and superintendent on behalf of the parents of thirty-two black and nine white students (26). Today this case is referred to as Amos et al. vs. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee. It was an uphill battle from the beginning and stretched on for fourteen years partly because of legal technicalities but also because Barbee was faced with the formidable task of proving that segregation was not just a result of residential patterns. He had to prove that the school board actively tried to keep the school system segregated. The trial did not start until 1973 and a settlement was not reached until 1979 (27).

Barbee presented evidence during the trial which showed that the school board based its districts on race and enforced segregation by not allowing black students and teachers to attend white schools and by using "intact bussing." He also alleged that some school board members were racist and that they could have taken steps to reduce segregation but had refused to (28). A thorough examination of the Amos case would include information on all these topics, but because of space limitations the remainder of this paper will focus only on the two biggest issues segregated school district boundaries and intact bussing.

As already mentioned, state law required school boards to divide their jurisdiction up into local school districts so students could attend neighborhood schools. For over 40 years, MPS had divided the city up into several elementary school districts (29). Those schools fed into specific junior high schools which in turn fed into specific senior high schools (30). Since African Americans were concentrated on the north side of Milwaukee they attended neighborhood schools that were primarily African American. Whites, on the other hand, lived in the outlying areas of the city where there were few blacks so their schools were predominantly white. The school district boundaries were based on the following criteria: distance traveled by pupils, capacity of school and available facilities, traffic routes, natural topography (rivers, bluffs, etc.), and natural and man-made hazards (31).

However, these boundaries could be changed if a new school was built or if an existing school became overcrowded. This was a common practice in the 1950s and 1960s because of the tremendous growth in the central city population which was largely African American (32). According to the school board, this method of relieving overcrowding was in the best interest the children because it allowed students to attend neighborhood schools instead of bussing them outside the central city. They considered neighborhood schools to be an essential part of a quality education because they allowed students and parents maximum access to the school and helped unify local communities (33).

The school board also stated numerous times that integration was not necessary and that most people in the Milwaukee community preferred the neighborhood system (34). Harold Story, a board member with strong ties to the business community, was chairman of the Special Committee Studying Negro Area Schools. He believed the board should take a "color-blind" approach to education and school districting. Story, an attorney, said Barbee's proposals for integration which included bussing were "in complete violation of the law" and that the only legal possibility was for African Americans to solve their social problems so that they could gain economic independence and move into better areas of the city (35). The school board formally endorsed this hands-off approach on July 1, 1964, by a vote of 9-4, ignoring the criticism of Cornelius L. Golightly, the only African American member of the school board (36).

Arthur Kastner, head of the school board's Department of School Housing Research, supported this policy and claimed in an interview that race was never a factor in determining which boundaries would be moved or where facilities would be expanded. He said he did not care if the students were "colored, white, Mexican, or polkadot." He also called integration "impossible" because it would be too costly and would break up the neighborhood school system (37). Barbee questioned how this could be true considering all the resources Kastner had available to him. Using maps, surveys, census data, and a group of demographers, Kastner's department had been able to adjust boundaries and feeder patterns to minimize overcrowding for over twenty years. This was no small task, and Barbee argued that if it was possible to maintain this delicate balance for so long, then it would not be hard to use similar measures to desegregate schools (38).

Although Kasnter publicly stated that he did not take race into account, memos from the Department of School housing Research clearly show that he did because black families had higher birth rates than white families. That is how he knew where rapid growth would occur. One of the general rules was that once a school district was 30 percent black it was within the "tipping point" and was destined for a rapid growth in the African American population which would be accompanied by a "white flight." Kastner's office would then make a recommendation to the school board to adjust the district boundaries to reduce overcrowding or potential overcrowding in schools located in these high growth areas which were almost always predominantly African American (39).

Thus, the boundaries of a central city school district would shrink so that they encompassed a smaller number of students, effectively reducing overcrowding. Students who lived in the outlying parts of the district would be reassigned to other nearby schools. Since these schools were relatively close to their homes they were also "black schools." According to Barbee and numerous statistics and maps that he used in the trial, this was a "policy of containment" which strived to keep African American students in the central city area when they could have easily been bussed to less crowded white schools (40). He presented several examples of this containment strategy during the trial, three of which stand out. They involve four existing elementary schools, three new elementary schools, and two high schools.

In the late 1950s the school board saw that the percentage of black pupils in the Center Street School district had grown dramatically and would continue to grow. At the time, the district contained twenty-seven city blocks so the board detached the 12 most eastern blocks which had mostly white students and added them to the Pierce district which was also mostly white (map 1). Thus the Center Street School went from being racially balanced to being primarily black only while the Pierce district remained primarily white (map 2). By 1964 Center was only 5 percent white while Pierce was still 87 percent white. The same thing happened to the LaFollette district when five of its thirty-five blocks were detached and given to the Keefe Avenue School district (map 1). However, Keefe did not become all white because African Americans were moving into that area at a faster rate than they were moving into the Pierce area. So the racial imbalance was less pronounced between LaFollette and Keefe than it was between Center and Pierce. Interestingly, the boundaries of the Fratney School district, a predominantly white district adjacent to the central city, were never changed to make room for African American students. Some people thought this was racist, but we will probably never know the school board's intentions for sure (41).

Simply adjusting these boundaries was not enough to meet the growing African American population in the central city. New schools had to be built. However, the term "new" is used loosely here. In 1951 Walnut Street School reopened and remodeled after being closed for several years, and two years later the Milwaukee Girls' Junior Trade School became Garfield Avenue Elementary School (42). The third school that opened in the central city was the Edward A. McDowell school in 1968. Unlike the other "new" schools, McDowell actually was new, but the problem with it was in how the school was constructed. It was three stories high and had fortress like towers with a dark colored exterior. Kindergarten classes were held in the basement on the opposite side of the building from the nurses office. Meanwhile, on the south side, the new Louisa May Alcott school was only one story surrounded by a large grassy field. The exterior was made of a soft red brick and kindergarten classes were held in a separate wing which adjoined a grassy play area and was near the school nurse (43).

The contrast between McDowell and Alcott alarmed many people in the community, but the real problem was not the inequality of the facilities. It was the changes in demography that occurred when Walnut, Garfield, and McDowell opened. While they helped relieve overcrowding, every time a new school opened in the central city the boundaries of adjacent districts would shrink further isolating African American students from the rest of the city (44). Barbee and his followers in MUSIC believed the school board did this intentionally when they could have bussed those students to less crowded white schools and integrated them there.

Finally, there was the explosive controversy surrounding Washington and Marshall high schools in 1970 which indicates how complicated redistricting could be. The root of the problem lay in overcrowding at Custer and Madison High Schools and at Peckham Junior High. The school board proposed that Peckham's ninth grade be assigned to Washington Senior High making it a four-year senior high school instead of a three-year school. This would overcrowd Washington, so some of its students would have to be assigned to Marshall Junior-Senior High (grades 7-12) which would also pick up students from Custer and Madison. But this would overcrowd Marshall. Therefore, the seventh and eighth grades would have to be assigned to nearby junior highs making Marshall a four year senior high. Several elementary schools would also have to have their feeder plans changed to accommodate this, and all total the boundaries of 40 school districts out of 156 would change (45). This would alleviate overcrowding, and the board considered it a sound educational strategy. Many school systems across the country were switching from a format of grades 7-9 junior highs and 10-12 senior highs to a system of grades 6-8 middle schools and 9-12 high schools. Junior-Senior highs such as Marshall were being eliminated all together (46).

The problem with this new plan was that many students did not want to leave their schools. The plan also created a racial imbalance. Washington was about 10 percent black. Many parents considered that to be an ideal racial balance, but by moving Peckham's ninth grade to Washington and transferring a portion of Washington's school district (a section that was mostly white) to Marshall the percentage of black students at Washington would go up significantly. One parents group at Washington termed this an extension of the ghetto (47). However, the school board did not see it that way and still clung to the neighborhood school concept.

Barbee knew that any significant kind of desegregation plan would have to include bussing to transport students out of their neighborhoods and into other areas. However, this should not be confused with the school board's practice of "intact bussing." Just like in most cities, when a school became overcrowded the least disruptive and most inexpensive solutions were sought. In some cities this meant using staggered scheduling or pressing substandard classrooms into use. The school board did not want to take these kinds of measures for fear that they would have a negative impact on students educations. Therefore the board employed intact bussing whenever school boundary changes would not be effective in reducing overcrowding. It was supposed to be a temporary measure used to preserve the neighborhood school concept until exiting schools could be expanded or new schools could be built near children's homes. It was also used as a temporary measure when a particular school was undergoing modernization (48).

Under intact bussing, students would report to their neighborhood school and would get on a bus with their teacher. They would then be taken to a less crowded school where they would be kept "intact" as a class. They would usually be bussed back to their neighborhood school for lunch and had separate recess periods so they could not mix with students at the receiving school. Superintendent Howard Vincent claimed this was necessary because intact bussing was only temporary, and it would not be fair to the bussed students to allow them to make friends with the students at the receiving school only to have those friendships broken up when space became available again in the neighborhood school. In his opinion, it also made administration of the program easier because it could be done at anytime during the semester without disrupting the daily routine at the receiving school since the students still had their own teacher and were under the jurisdiction of their original principal. It was as if the bussed students never left their original school (49). He also thought this was a notable improvement over other programs aimed at reducing overcrowding in other districts which relied on part-time or staggered scheduling and disrupted normal school operations (50).

Whatever Vincent's true intentions were, to Milwaukee's African American community intact bussing was the most evil symbol of school segregation. They began to organize in the winter of 1963-64. Their preferred methods of protest were picketing and bus boycotts. One tactic they used was to let the children get on the bus at their neighborhood school, and wait for them at the receiving school where they would picket. At one school, some white parents joined in providing coffee at first but picking up a picket soon after. This shocked some school administrators. In one case, a teacher at a white receiving school reported that her principal never realized how much parents hated intact bussing until he saw the president of his PTA leading a picket line and her mother bringing up the rear. She said "Until that day, he thought they were 'with him,' and he was crushed" (51).

The local media did not pick up on the importance of these demonstrations right away (except for African American community newspapers). So MUSIC decided to try something bolder a bus boycott. The first one occurred May 18, 1964, when an estimated 11,000-16,000 African American students stayed out of class and attended forty church and community run "freedom schools" instead (52). Six days later Barbee and ten other demonstrators were arrested for trying to block an "intact bus" (53). MUSIC also collected information on intact bussing and distributed it to parents and community members through flyers and a newsletter called Countdown. Finally, on May 24, 1965 NBC gave one of their demonstrations and two subsequent demonstrations national news coverage. Barbee commented, "In four minutes on May 24, they exposed the intact bussing story which the local press had left unreported for years" (54). Within the next few weeks, thirty-five attorneys were put on call to defend more than sixty demonstrators who formed human chains in front of school busses. CORE joined in too, picketing school board members' homes and staging a sit-in at the school administration building where five members were arrested (55).

In a response to the urgency of these demonstrations and growing public criticism of intact bussing, the school board began examining ways to preserve the essential characteristics of the neighborhood school system while also introducing desegregation. In September, 1965, three board members proposed a "pilot project" which called for a one-year test of the integration of one or more bussed classes, but the plan stalled in both the superintendent's office and school board committees. Board member Cornelious Golightly tried in vain to get the project implemented, but nothing much became of it even though it enjoyed support from the Greater Milwaukee Council of Churches, the Milwaukee County Labor Council, the Milwaukee Teachers' Union, and the Urban League (56).

Part of the problem was that some white parents did not support of desegregation. For example, when a proposal came forward in 1968 to bus some white students from Hawley school to McDowell school in the central city, more than one hundred parents signed a petition saying they would keep their children home. Many parents expressed fear for their children's safety if they were to go to McDowell and get caught in a riot. One parent said, "I am sure no one in this room wants their loved ones to become molotov cocktail fodder, and I for one will rot in jail and the busses can rot in hell before my kids will go there" (57).

It is no surprise then that when the Amos trial finally started in 1973 that emotions were running high, but Barbee had to rely on facts rather than opinions. For example, according to a report compiled by the Social Development Corporation, a private research firm in Washington, D.C., bussed students had been integrated until 1957. Prior to that, most students who were bussed were white students, but in that year the focus of the bussing switched to African American Students and was expanded significantly (58).

From the 1958-59 school year through the 1973-74 school year, there were a total of 509 instances of intact bussing (counting semesters separately). Of these 509 cases, 214 (42 percent) involved movements between schools of about the same racial compositions, the remaining majority of 289 cases (57 percent) involved movement between schools whose racial compositions were substantially different. Most intact bussing was done from black schools to white schools or from white schools to white schools. White students were rarely, if ever, bussed to black schools. Additionally, the number of black students who were bussed intact outweighed the number of white students who were bussed intact (59). This makes sense considering the facts that the central city schools were the most overcrowded and were in need of the greatest amount of modernization since they were the oldest schools in the city.

Superintendent Vincent denied this allegation and said that the white students in question had no schools in their area (60). Therefore bussing them was not a temporary measure making integration possible. This has been referred to as "mixed bussing" (61). But the Social Development Corporation's report also said that in one instance a number of black students actually lived closer to their white school receiving school than the black school they were assigned to, but they still had to participate in the intact method rather than be integrated (62). This too, seemed to violate the school board's policy on neighborhood schools, making it look like the idea only applied when it benefited white students. Of course, it could also have been simple bureaucratic oversight. Unfortunately, the Barbee Papers do not contain information on this incident and local newspapers do not seem to have pursued it.

Barbee also surveyed teachers who participated in intact bussing to see how it effected opportunity of educational equality and introduced the results as evidence at the trial. Teachers were asked to give the length of times their students were bussed intact and the method used in the bussing. They were also asked to describe the facilities they were allowed to use, the attitudes of their children towards intact bussing, and the results of the bussing. Both black and white instances of intact bussing were included in the survey. Teachers who had white classes reported either positive or mixed experiences with intact bussing. In some schools the bussed students were allowed to integrate with the other students and had full use of the facilities including the cafeteria, playground, audio/visual equipment, reading center, and library. They also got to participate in school activities, and their parents were included in the receiving school's Parent Teacher Association (63).

Teachers who had classes from black schools almost always reported negative results with few positive experiences. Many teachers reported their students felt isolated and that they were not fully accepted even when they were allowed to participate in school activities. They also said that students needed a stable environment if they were to learn, but intact bussing created instability in their lives. Students and parents were also given little input in who got bussed. Sometimes the schools just chose the oldest students, and at other times they chose them at random. Some teachers who had white students also reported negative experiences. They said students missed valuable class time because the bus ride took too long, and because they had to use substandard facilities. Some teachers reported their students did not feel like they were a part of either their sending or receiving school, and a few complained their students were bussed for longer than the one semester that was allowed (64).

Based on this evidence, Barbee concluded that intact bussing was psychologically damaging. It branded African American students as inferior since they were physically separated from white students. Barbee also said that intact bussing was not temporary. At Seifert school two classes were bussed intact while the building underwent expansion, but the African American population continued accelerating so fast that when the project was completed six classes still had to be bussed. Barbee predicted this would continue at Seifert and other schools for several more years (65) which was in violation of the school board policy that said if a group of students were to be bussed for more than one year it was not temporary and that they should be integrated (66).

The school board responded by saying that intact bussing was the only way to relieve overcrowding and modernize schools while still maintaining the neighborhood school system. But according to a report by UWM Sociologist Hugo Englemann, which Barbee used during the trial, the neighborhood school concept was basically a rural idea conceived when most of the state's population lived on farms and did not have transportation available to them to travel long distances. Most people had to rely on themselves or a few close friends to meet their daily necessities, but this did not apply to Milwaukee because the very nature of city life required people to travel great distances to obtain goods and services that they needed. This had the effect of breaking down the neighborhood way of life because most people no longer knew their neighbors and more often associated with people outside their neighborhood. Thus, modern urban dwellers could not establish the same kinds of relationships with their neighbors that rural residents could, making the idea of a neighborhood school system a thing of the past (67).

Federal Judge John W. Reynolds found intact bussing appalling. So after listening to testimony from late 1973 to early 1974 and after examining the evidence for the next two years, Reynolds issued a decision on Monday, January 19, 1976, ruling in favor of Barbee's clients. He said:
It is hard to believe that out of all the decisions made by school authorities under varying conditions over a 20 year period, mere chance resulted in there being almost no decision that resulted in the furthering of integration...Segregation was the result of the cumulative effect of the various decisions made by school officials, and segregation that results by the actions of school authorities is illegal and unconstitutional when those actions are intended and made for that purpose (68).

Reynolds never doubted that the schools were segregated. Everyone in Milwaukee new that. What was important was that the school board had taken actions intended to maintain it. Many school board members and school administrators believed that segregation was preferable to breaking up the neighborhood school system which they thought was the best way to learn. It is hard to say if they actually believed this because we cannot get into their heads 30 years later. But based on the evidence presented it this paper, it seems safe to say (at a minimum) that if the school board did not maintain the neighborhood school system for the purposes of segregation, then they probably saw it as an added bonus. After all, it was the system many of the board members grew up in, and old habits die hard.

In summary, Milwaukee had been using a neighborhood school system since the 19th century. This was acceptable in the early days because mass transportation was not possible and there was not a negative stigmatism of racial segregation attached to it. This bean to change during World War II as African Americans came north in search of jobs. In the 1950s America began a period of rapid suburbanization. As white Americans moved out of the central city, they took their high paying jobs with them leaving little for African Americans. Unfortunately, African Americans faced much more hostility than the older immigrant groups, and they could never fully assimilate even if they wanted to because of the color of their skin.

Things began to change when Lloyd Barbee stepped in. He was one of the leading organizers of the African American protest movement in Milwaukee and took his arguments to court in 1965 in Amos et al. vs. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee. He was then able to legally prove that the school board had intended to segregate violating 14th Amendment Rights as interpreted by the Supreme Court in its Brown decision. Barbee based his evidence on the selective boundary changes that the board had made in the individual school districts and by demonstrating the true intent and the results of intact bussing. Several other methods were employed including segregation of faculty and the denial of transfers to several African American students, but those are the subjects of other papers.

So, how does the story of Milwaukee school desegregation end? Although Barbee filed suit in 1965, the trial did not start until late 1973, and Judge Reynolds did not issue a decision until early 1976. Lee McMurrin, the superintendent at the time, quickly came up with a voluntary desegregation program based on the recommendations of the "Committee of 100", a group of parents and community members interested in desegregation. Under the "McMurrin Plan," students at the elementary level would be given the choice of staying in their neighborhood school, or they could attend an outlying school. High school students would have similar options with each school having its own specialty (business, computers, science, etc.); this is called the "magnet school concept" and was designed to attract white students into the central city (69). The school board accepted the plan and was ready to implement it with a few of their own modifications, but on June 27, 1977, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to Judge Reynolds' court on the grounds that Barbee did not adequately prove that the school board had intended to segregate (70).

This was 12 years into the desegregation suit, and the public was getting tired of the delays. It just did not seem relevant to most people anymore. Intact bussing stopped in 1971, and most students were attending integrated schools by this time (71). Furthermore, African American students out numbered white students by 1979 and were moving into previously "white" neighborhoods making massive bussing unnecessary (72). Judge Reynolds ordered desegregation again on February 8, 1979, at the end of the remand trial, and a settlement concerning what the actual plan would look like was hammered out on May 4 almost 14 years after Barbee filed the initial law suit (73).

Despite this triumph, a recent study has shown that segregation continues in the Milwaukee area because of "white flight" to the suburbs (74). Meanwhile, in 1992 the MPS high school grade point average was a 1.3 (D+) for African American students and a 1.6 overall. The drop out rate was 10 percent, and suspensions and truancies are on the rise (75). According to MPS officials, for every 100 ninth grade students, only 40 will graduate on time. Another 40 will drop out, 16 will transfer out of the system, and 4 will still be in school (76). These facts have made some people question what desegregation was supposed to be about. Critics have even called for the establishment of special schools for black students staffed by African American teachers. Thirty years ago this would have been called racist; now it is seriously being considered and has been implemented to a limited degree (77). Clearly, the questions surrounding desegregation and quality education for all of our children are still with us and are not likely to be answered anytime soon.

Works Cited
  1. Caroline Katie Goddard, "Lloyd A. Barbee and the Fight for Desegregation in the Milwaukee Public School System," Thesis. (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), pp. 31-36.

  2. Register, Lloyd A. Barbee Papers (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, n.d.), p. ix.

  3. William M. Lamers, Our Roots Grow Deep (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Board of School Directors, 1968), pp. 4-9.

  4. Joe W. Trotter Jr., Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915-1945 (Urbana: University of illinois Press, 1985), p. 39.

  5. Ibid., p. 178.

  6. John L. Rury, "The Changing Social Context of Urban Education: A National Perspective," in Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee Since 1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), pp. 11-14.

  7. Goddard, p. 15.

  8. Harold Rose, "The Development of an Urban Subsystem: The Case of the Negro Ghetto," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 60.1 (1970): pp. 1-4 and Trotter, pp. 258-263.

  9. Office of the Superintendent of Schools, "Report of School District Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee," in Background Papers on Equality of Educational Opportunity (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Schools, 1964), pp. 11, 17.

  10. Goddard, pp. 56-57.

  11. Register, Barbee Papers, p. vii-viii and Goddard, p. 23.

  12. "'It's Blatent Segregation': Barbee," Milwaukee Sentinel, 26 June 1965.

  13. Barbee Papers, boxes 73, 79, and 80.

  14. Michael Stolee, "The Milwaukee Desegregation Case," in Seeds of Crisis, pp. 238-239.

  15. Ibid., p. 239.

  16. Ibid; Goddard, p. 40.; Laurie Van Dyke, "City School Boycott Today; 60% Out?" Milwaukee Sentinel, 18 May 1964.

  17. Civil Rights Workers Halt Bus, 11 Seized," Chicago Tribune, 25 May 1964.

  18. James G. Cibulka and Frederick J. Olson, "the Organization of the Milwaukee Public School System," in Seeds of Crisis, p. 75.

  19. Marc. V. Levine and John F. Zipp, "A City at Risk," in Seeds of Crisis, p. 55.

  20. Lamers, p. 87.

  21. "Miss Radtke Assails Churches on Rights," Milwaukee Journal, 1 June 1964.

  22. Ibid.

  23. "Negro 'Digest' Out, Stirs Fuss," Milwaukee Sentinel, 8 May 1964.

  24. Ralph D. Olive, "Miss Radtke Wins School Board Vote," Milwaukee Journal, 8 July 1964.

  25. Ibid.; "'Stop Lorraine Radtke' Petition is Circulated," Milwaukee Star, 20 June 1964; Stolee, pp. 240-245.

  26. Register, Barbee Papers, p. ix; Stolee, p. 245.

  27. Register, Barbee Papers, pp. ix-xii.

  28. Ibid., pp. xii-xv; Stolee, p. 245.

  29. Office of the Superintendent, "Report of School District Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee, 1943-1953-1963" (Jan., 1964), p. 2.

  30. "An Analysis of the Impact of School District Boundary Changes on the Pattern of Racial Imbalance in Central Area Schools," in Barbee Papers, box 114, folder 10, pp. 18-20.

  31. Office of the Superintendent, "Report of School District Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee: 1943-1953-1963," p. 4.

  32. Barbee Papers, box 114, folder 10, p. 2.

  33. Goddard, p. 54 and Office of the Superintendent, "Report of School District Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee: 1943-1953-1963," pp. 2-5.

  34. Charles A. Friedrich, "reading, Writing, and Race," Milwaukee Journal, 16 Sept. 1965.

  35. Cibulka and Olsen, p. 92 and "Only One Negro Plan Legal on Schools, Attny. Story Says," Milwaukee Journal, 24 May 1964.

  36. "Board Shelves Plan on School Integration," Milwaukee Journal, 1 July 1964.

  37. Bernice Buresh, "Integrate Schools? He'd Give Up," Milwaukee Sentinel, 8 Feb., 1967.

  38. Barbee Papers, box 114, folder 10, pp. 10a-10b.

  39. Ibid., p. 9 and goddard, pp. 72, 74.

  40. "An Analysis of the impact of School District Boundary Changes on the Pattern of racial imbalance in Central Area Schools," p. 9.

  41. Ibid., p. 11; Office of the Superintendent, "Report of School District Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee: 1943-1953-1963," pp. 2-5 and "Report on Visual Count of Pupils by Schools," in Background Papers on Equality of Educational Opportunity.

  42. Barbee Papers, box 114, folder 10, pp. 9-10 and Office of the Superintendent, "Report of School District Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee: 1943-1953-1963," pp. 2-5.

  43. "Separate is Not Equal," Milwaukee Courier, 22 June 1968.

  44. Barbee Papers, box 114, folder 10, pp. 9-10 and office of the Superintendent "Report of School District Boundary Changes in Central Area of Milwaukee: 1943-1953-1963," pp. 2-5.

  45. David I. Bednarek, "Boundary Shift at Washington Termed Extention of the Ghetto" and "Boundary Rift: School Board Can't Win," Milwaukee Journal, 14 and 28 Apr. 1970.

  46. William M. Alexander and Paul S. George, The Exemplary Middle School (New York: CBS College Publishing, 1981), pp. 11-12.

  47. David I. Bednarek, "Boundary shift at Washington Termed Extention of the Ghetto" and "Boundary Rift: School Board Can't Win," Milwaukee Journal, 14 and 28 Apr. 1970.

  48. Office of the Superintendent, "Policies and Procedures Relating to Pupil Transportation," in Background Papers on Equality of Educational Opportunity, pp. 1-3.

  49. Stolee, p. 251.

  50. Office of the Superintendent, "Policies and Procedures Relating to Pupil Transportation," p. 1.

  51. Community Action on the Issue of intact Bussing," Barbee Papers, box 73, folder 44, pp. 1-3.

  52. Goddard, p. 40; Stolee, p. 239; Laurie Van Dyke, "City School Boycott Today: 60% Out?" Milwaukee Sentinel, 18 May 1964.

  53. "Civil Rights Workers Halt Bus, 11 Seized," Chicago Tribune, 25 May 1965.

  54. Barbee papers, box 73, folder 44, p. 4.

  55. Ibid.

  56. Ibid., pp. 7-9.

  57. "Hawley Parents Vow to Fight Bussing Into Core," Milwaukee Journal, 23 Jan. 1968.

  58. David I. Bednarek, "Vincent Denies Segregation," Milwaukee Journal, 20 Feb. 1967 and Bernice Buresh, "Bussed Pupils Integrated Until 1957," L.A. Times Special, 20 Feb. 1967

  59. Barbee Papers, box 73, folders 73 & 74 and Goddard, p. 90

  60. David I. Bednarek, "Vincent Denies Segregation," Milwaukee Journal, 20 Feb. 1967 and Bernice Buresh, "Bussed Pupils Integrated Until 1957," L.A. Times Special, 20 Feb. 1967

  61. Goddard, p. 89.

  62. David I. Bednarek, "Vincent Denies Segregation," Milwaukee Journal, 20 Feb. 1967 and Bernice Buresh, "Bussed Pupils Integrated Until 1957," L.A. Times Special, 20 Feb. 1967

  63. Survey data, Barbee Papers, box 117, folder 8.

  64. Ibid.

  65. "'It's Blatent Segregation:' Barbee," Milwaukee Sentinel, 26 June 1967.

  66. Goddard, p. 89

  67. Barbee Papers, box 73, folder 46.

  68. "Schools Told to Integrate," Milwaukee Journal, 19 Jan. 1976.

  69. David I. Bednarek, "Panel of 100 Suggested to Map Integration Plan," Milwaukee Journal 8 feb. 1976; Rick Janka, "September integration Predicted" and "McMurrin Plan Lauded," Milwaukee Sentinel, 21 Jan. and 10 Feb. 1976.

  70. Stolee, pp. 248-253.

  71. Jeff Browne, "Desegregation Suit is a Lesson in History," Milwaukee Journal, 12 Jan. 1978; David I. Bednarek, "McMurrin's Hope: End Litigation," Milwaukee Journal, 3 Nov. 1978; "Desegregation Lawyers Meet Again," Milwaukee Courier, 6 Jan. 1979.

  72. Levine and Zipp, pp. 54-55.

  73. David I. Bednarek, "Citywide Integration Ordered," Milwaukee Journal, 8 Feb. 1979; "Reynolds Okays Out-of-Court Settlement," Milwaukee Courier, 9 May 1979.

  74. Northeast, Midwest Cities Ranked Most Racially Segregated in Study," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 27 Jan. 1977.

  75. Wisconsin Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, The impact of School Desegregation in Milwaukee Public Schools on Quality of Education for Minorities... 15 Years Later (Aug., 1992), pp. 9-10.

  76. Wisconsin Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, pp. 8-10.

  77. Alan J. Borsuk, "Graduates Remain Fraction of Freshmen," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9 June 1997.


Primary Sources

Lloyd A. Barbee Papers. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Chicago Tribune

Los Angeles Times

Milwaukee Courier

Milwaukee Journal

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Star

Office of the Superintendent of Schools. Background Papers on Equality of Educational Opportunity. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Schools, 1964.

Secondary Sources

Alexander, William M. and Paul S. George. The Exemplary Middle School. New York: CBS College Publishing, 1981.

Filardo, Gregory. Old Milwaukee. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, Ltd., 1988.

Goddard, Caroline Katie. "Lloyd A. Barbee and the Fight for Desegregation in the Milwaukee Public School System." Thesis. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, 1985.

Lamers, William M. Our Roots Grow Deep. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Board of School Directors, 1968.

Rose, Harold M. "The Development of an Urban Subsystem: The Case of the Negro Ghetto." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 60.1 (1970).

Rury, John L. and Frank A. Cassell eds. Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee Since 1920. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

Trotter, Joe William Jr. Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat. 1915-1945. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

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