Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters

For years, the Milwaukee metro area has had a reputation as one of the most segregated in the United States.

How did this complex problem come about, and why does it endure? How does it contribute to persistent poverty? Are there ways to break through the boundaries?

WUWM seeks answers to those questions in our Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters series.

Help shape this series. What questions do you have about segregation? Submit your responses below.

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In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program explicitly designed to increase — and segregate — America's housing stock. Author Richard Rothstein says the housing programs begun under the New Deal were tantamount to a "state-sponsored system of segregation."

The government's efforts were "primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families," he says. African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects.

Zffoto / Fotolia

Over the past several months, data has shown rising mortality rates among a surprising population - middle-age, largely rural white people.  But many who study public health say focusing solely on that data ignores the historic disparities in other areas, such as the extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate among African-American women.

There's a compelling question at the heart of a report released this week by the Metropolitan Planning Council: If more people — especially educated professional white Americans — knew exactly how they are harmed by the country's pervasive racial segregation, would they be moved to try to decrease it?

The Cost of Segregation report

A new study out from the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council, with the Urban Institute, has quantified how segregation may affect a region’s economy. The Cost of Segregation looks at the impact of segregation on the Chicago area and compares it to the 100 largest U.S.

Courtesy of The Milwaukee Journal

Segregation in metro Milwaukee can be traced back, in part, to discriminatory housing practices like redlining and racial restrictive covenants. During the Civil Rights movement, there was large-scale pushback against such practices.

What can I do to help decrease segregation? What is being done to alleviate the problem? What can we do to change how segregated metro Milwaukee is?

During WUWM's series, Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters, the most common questions we received from YOU regarding segregation dealt with solutions.

Solving this issue will not be easy. However, several ways to help reduce segregation in metro Milwaukee did emerge during our coverage.

ART MONTES

It can be uncomfortable to discuss race relations. Discussions may be particularly minimal, in a region as segregated as metro Milwaukee. The group Ex Fabula relies on storytelling to make inroads. It invites its fellows to share personal tales about prejudice and misunderstandings.

A Milwaukee Judge's Perspective on Segregation

Mar 10, 2017
Andy Dean / Fotolia

Merriam-Webster defines the word “segregate” in two ways: “to separate or set apart from others or from the general mass,” and “to cause or force the separation of (as from the rest of society).” It defines “segregation” as the act of segregating; it gives a secondary definition of “segregation” as “the separation or isolation of a race, class or ethnic group by enforced of voluntary residence in a restricted area . . . .”

Susan Bence

WUWM has been taking a comprehensive look at some of the many issues caused by segregation in Milwaukee through our series, ​Project Milwaukee: Segregation MattersBetween reports on WUWM news and interviews on Lake Effect, we have looked at how segregation can be quantified, how it's perpetuated, and its costs and effects on the community.

Pat Rabinson

Milwaukee Water Commons was created four years ago to educate the community about water - its rivers, streams and Lake Michigan - to cultivate informed stewards.

“I came from a more traditional environmental effort, which was the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition – working to make the river more beautiful, more accessible. There was already a ton of passion around that issue, but it was by and large a middle class and white group of people,” founder Ann Brummitt says.

David Flowers

Milwaukee native Davita Flowers-Shanklin brings a unique experience to the discussion of segregation, and its ripple effects.

“I remember being in high school and being really into science and biology. I was the co-director of Camp Everytown, which is a diversity camp for teenagers," Flowers-Shanklin says. "So my work even as a teenager was around anti-oppression."

Michelle Maternowski

Segregation comes with borders, whether they are manmade - 124th Street, the dividing line between Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, or natural - the Milwaukee River. Today, WUWM reports on one particular border, and how some people feel about crossing it.

Metro Milwaukee has a segregation problem. It's an issue prominently on display within area schools.

Some say, school segregation in Milwaukee as bad today as it was 60 years ago, at the height of the Civil Rights era.

How did we get here? Let’s take a look back...

Jim Moy for Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers

Segregation can impact a person's body, mind and health. Not everyone has the same opportunity to be healthy in a city like Milwaukee.

Dr. Julie Schuller says the lack of access to quality healthcare and environmental factors inhibit segregated African-American and Latino populations from living healthy lifestyles.

Courtesy of UWM, David Pate

The road to modern segregation has been a long one. "There's been 350 years of segregation in our country that was perpetuated by the government as well as by the social norms, based on race in particular," says David Pate

Pate studies the complex causes, effects and potential solutions of segregation in his role as an associate professor of social work at the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at UW-Milwaukee. He says that after centuries of segregation, it's become normalized.  

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