James K. Nelsen is a history teacher at Golda Meir High School who decided to turn his senior thesis into a book. Finally after 18 years, reading 162 books, studying 964 endnotes and going through 1,000-plus news articles, he did just that with "Educating Milwaukee: How One City's History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped Its Schools," published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
He gave a lecture at UWM’s Golda Meir Library on Tuesday about Milwaukee Public Schools segregation problem pre-1976, providing plenty for those in attendance to chew on, including these five points.
1. Black and white kids were kept apart in the same building
Before 1976, the Milwaukee school board wasn’t all that different from many other cities in wanting to keep black and white students from being able to learn and socialize together. One tactic implemented was "intact busing." In this ridiculous system, meant to provide temporary relief to overcrowding in black schools, black children were bused to white schools for their classes. However, when they arrived at the school, they could still only learn in a blacks-only classroom.
It wasn’t any different at lunch time. The black children didn’t just have their own lunch hour at the white school; they had their own lunch hour back at their old school so they could mingle with students of their own color. The same happened with recess. So black kids would have to make three bus trips, back and forth, just because their skin color happened to be different.
2. School board approved new schools to be built in predominantly black neighborhoods
At face value, this sounds like a positive for people who wanted their kids to go a school near their home. However, the school board decided it would rather build not just one but numerous schools just so it wouldn’t have to bus students to the South Side and allow them to mingle with white kids.