Radio Chipstone: The Anthems of the Milwaukee Riot of 1967

Aug 5, 2017

Music can represent a generation or even a social movement. 

Matt Mixon was born in 1951 and spent his formative years living in Milwaukee's central city. As a teen, his family moved to the north side. As he dealt with his own personal transition, the rest of the country dealt with a broader transition to equal justice. Racial tensions were high, and the city was on the brink of something big.  Mixon describes his experiences and observations as a young man during the years surrounding the Milwaukee Riot of 1967:

"I think that broadcasting ignored us during those days," he says bluntly. "I can't say that any of the Milwaukee stations really went in to the black community and dealt with the big structural issues of institutional racism. The struggle for civil rights, as far as media was concerned, was always a national story, unless something happened like the riots of '67, to get on the radar locally."

Mixon remembers watching documentaries by local television stations in the late 60's and 70's, but doesn't recall them being about the core black community.

While he may not have been seeing his story on television, the music being released around those years really spoke to him. Mixon says when James Brown's Say it Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud came out, it became an anthem for him and many other black teens.

"I remember thinking, 'I always knew I was black,' and 'I always knew I was proud,' but to hear those two things connected in a song, all of a sudden that was like a beacon for me, and I said 'Yeah! that's me."

"Music was also changing the way we listened and the way we reacted," Mixon continues. "There was a sequence of songs that came out in those few years. I remember that Sly and the Family Stone came out with Everyday People, around that time, late '68, and then the Temptations came out with Psychedelic Shack in early 1970. Those were anthems and celebrations, and my community was never going to be the same again."

Material culture contributor Gianofer Fields curates the Radio Chipstone series. The project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.