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The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee Harvard University Press Patrick D. Jones


30th November 2011 History Books 8 Comments

Between 1958 and 1970, a distinctive movement for racial justice emerged from unique circumstances in Milwaukee. A series of local leaders inspired growing numbers of people to participate in campaigns against employment and housing discrimination, segregated public schools, the membership of public officials in discriminatory organizations, welfare cuts, and police brutality.

The Milwaukee movement culminated in the dramatic—and sometimes violent—1967 open housing campaign. A white Catholic priest, James Groppi, led the NAACP Youth Council and Commandos in a militant struggle that lasted for 200 consecutive nights and provoked the ire of thousands of white residents. After working-class mobs attacked demonstrators, some called Milwaukee “the Selma of the North.” Others believed the housing campaign represented the last stand for a nonviolent, interracial, church-based movement.

Patrick Jones tells a powerful and dramatic story that is important for its insights into civil rights history: the debate over nonviolence and armed self-defense, the meaning of Black Power, the relationship between local and national movements, and the dynamic between southern and northern activism. Jones offers a valuable contribution to movement history in the urban North that also adds a vital piece to the national story.

(20090512)

Think you know the full story of the civil rights era? Patrick Jones’s masterful study of the movement in Milwaukee will make you think again. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, The Selma of the North provides a devastating rebuttal of many of the conventional narratives of the civil rights movement. Here a vibrant nonviolent movement in the de-industrializing Midwest grows into a Black Power movement led by urban youth and a white Catholic priest who use confrontational direct action to lay bare the fissures of racial inequality in the ‘liberal’ North.
–Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College (20090401)

A well-researched, well-written, and important history. Based on a rich array of sources, this book enhances our understanding of civil rights activism in the postwar urban North and establishes a useful foundation for the comparison of similar developments elsewhere in the country.
–Joe William Trotter, Jr., Carnegie Mellon University

This book fills a serious gap in the literature of the civil rights revolution, joining studies on other cities in laying the groundwork on race and civil rights in the postwar urban North. Jones tells a good story, capturing events that might otherwise be lost to history.
–Arnold R. Hirsch, University of New Orleans

The Selma of the North is an insightful and invigorating addition to the growing literature on black freedom struggles outside of the South. Jones’s important and informative account writes Milwaukee back into the narrative of the civil rights-Black Power era and in the process expands our understanding of postwar America.
–Peniel E. Joseph, Brandeis University

The Selma of the North is a riveting new story of the civil rights movement in America, a tale on par with Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery in its power and importance. Jones’s magisterial research and magnetic prose illuminate the untold story of the battle for the urban north in the 1960s, a battle that shows how race has always been the Achilles heel of white progressives. This story transcends easy dichotomies of black and white, North and South, radical and reformist. How did a group called ‘the Commandos’ define nonviolence? How did a white Catholic priest become a ‘Black Power’ leader? If this is not a saga for the age of Obama, I don’t know what is.
–Timothy B. Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name

A well-researched and fascinating narrative…Jones has produced an outstanding study of the civil rights movement in Milwaukee which should prove a model for investigations of other Northern cities.
–Ron Briley (History News Network )

Anyone living in Milwaukee in the ’60s and old enough to be aware will recall a time of sharp tension. A riot erupted in the inner city during the summer of 1967, a year of unrest around the nation, and a white Roman Catholic priest organized black youth to march against the segregation that confined African Americans to Milwaukee’s poorest, most run-down quarter. Whites responded with violence. And the police were not amused by challenges to the status quo. The story is recounted with lucid scholarship in The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee.
–David Luhrssen (Express Milwaukee )

Selma of the North is a solid entry into the expanding bookshelf on civil rights activism in the North, offering what Jones rightly calls “another tile to the mosaic” of studies about the struggle for racial justice in the twentieth century.
–Amanda I. Seligman (H-Net )

Patrick D. Jones is Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies, University of Nebraska.

Think you know the full story of the civil rights era? Patrick Jones’s masterful study of the movement in Milwaukee will make you think again. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, The Selma of the North provides a devastating rebuttal of many of the conventional narratives of the civil rights movement. Here a vibrant nonviolent movement in the de-industrializing Midwest grows into a Black Power movement led by urban youth and a white Catholic priest who use confrontational direct action to lay bare the fissures of racial inequality in the ‘liberal’ North.
–Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College

A well-researched, well-written, and important history. Based on a rich array of sources, this book enhances our understanding of civil rights activism in the postwar urban North and establishes a useful foundation for the comparison of similar developments elsewhere in the country.
–Joe William Trotter, Jr., Carnegie Mellon University

This book fills a serious gap in the literature of the civil rights revolution, joining studies on other cities in laying the groundwork on race and civil rights in the postwar urban North. Jones tells a good story, capturing events that might otherwise be lost to history.
–Arnold R. Hirsch, University of New Orleans

The Selma of the North is an insightful and invigorating addition to the growing literature on black freedom struggles outside of the South. Jones’s important and informative account writes Milwaukee back into the narrative of the civil rights-Black Power era and in the process expands our understanding of postwar America.
–Peniel E. Joseph, Brandeis University

The Selma of the North is a riveting new story of the civil rights movement in America, a tale on par with Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery in its power and importance. Jones’s magisterial research and magnetic prose illuminate the untold story of the battle for the urban north in the 1960s, a battle that shows how race has always been the Achilles heel of white progressives. This story transcends easy dichotomies of black and white, North and South, radical and reformist. How did a group called ‘the Commandos’ define nonviolence? How did a white Catholic priest become a ‘Black Power’ leader? If this is not a saga for the age of Obama, I don’t know what is.
–Timothy B. Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name

A well-researched and fascinating narrative…Jones has produced an outstanding study of the civil rights movement in Milwaukee which should prove a model for investigations of other Northern cities.
–Ron Briley

Anyone living in Milwaukee in the ’60s and old enough to be aware will recall a time of sharp tension. A riot erupted in the inner city during the summer of 1967, a year of unrest around the nation, and a white Roman Catholic priest organized black youth to march against the segregation that confined African Americans to Milwaukee’s poorest, most run-down quarter. Whites responded with violence. And the police were not amused by challenges to the status quo. The story is recounted with lucid scholarship in The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee.
–David Luhrssen

Selma of the North is a solid entry into the expanding bookshelf on civil rights activism in the North, offering what Jones rightly calls “another tile to the mosaic” of studies about the struggle for racial justice in the twentieth century.
–Amanda I. Seligman

The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee










  • 8 responses to "The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee Harvard University Press Patrick D. Jones"

  • TrafficWarden
    9:52 on November 30th, 2011
    Reply to comment

    I am white; I moved to Milwaukee 30+years ago and have always wondered why we are one of the most segregated cities in the world. Now I know! This is not written like a novel; it is a history of a very important economic an cultural issue for Milwaukee and the north in general.

  • John Baxter
    12:47 on November 30th, 2011
    Reply to comment

    In this book, Sonya Douglass Horsford just may have provided the necessary baton between and among generations of educators, educational administrators and education researchers. Here, she succinctly differentiates and delineates between equality, justice, desegregation, integration and opportunity in conversations around educational policies and practices. This work, rooted in the legal and historical perspectives of educating students of color explores the tension of race and education in the American culture in context. Bravo and Kudos to Dr. Horsford for this much needed and appreciated contribution to the educational literary landscape.

  • nedendir
    14:13 on November 30th, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Patrick D. Jones offers a new look at Fr. James E. Groppi, the most successful and controversial civil rights activist. Groppi fascinates scholars, since he was a white Catholic priest who led a black power movement in Milwaukee. Jones shows that Groppi and his co-militants saw black power as an attitude, not a color. It is precisely this fact that allowed Groppi and his supporters have success in changing opinion in Milwaukee. While their militant rhetoric and garb upset conservative Milwaukee, it also allowed them to build bridges with white liberals.

  • cjinsd
    20:48 on November 30th, 2011
    Reply to comment

    When you pick up a work of nonfiction it is often difficult to know what you will get. If not done right, it can be like reading a text book — dry and unfulfilling. I am pleased to say that was not the case here. Dr. Jones is able to convey reality and history in such a manner that you are learning while eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens next.

    This is such a good story and one of great importance. It saddens me that this was the first time I had heard of Milwaukee’s contribution to the Civil Rights movement and I highly recommend this reading to anyone that is interested in this topic or anyone that enjoys history and nonfiction in general. This tale is far too important to pass up. The reading goes quickly and easily. You will not be disappointed.

  • Seano
    1:44 on December 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    I enjoyed reading this book, I just wish there was more of it. Excellent research was conducted, however, I don’t feel that all of the points of the author were developed fully. I think it would make a great piece of reference material.

  • TimJohn
    23:12 on December 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it” or so the saying goes. As educators become more and more desperate to find answers for how to improve education in this country, we keep grappling with solutions without knowing some of the root causes for our issues, which commonly can be found in our history. In “Learning in a Burning House”, Dr. Horsford does a great job of delineating the truth about the roles desegregation and integration played in the current state of education. More importantly, she gives some viable solutions for creating equality in education for student populations found in schools all across America today.

  • AOL Hater
    8:00 on December 3rd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    For too long, Civil Rights scholarship was confined to examining the better known events in the south. In recent years we’ve begun to see a new generation of writers look at the equally important, if not more complicated, topic of activism in the north. Whereas the southern arena tended to be dominated by the struggle for political rights and access to accomodations, the movement up north–where political rights were not so much in question–focused on the more intractable issues of housing, education, and economic freedom. Patrick Jones has provided an essential study of this second wave of Civil Rights advocacy. Moreso, he illuminated an aspect of this struggle far too often overlooked–the role of religion, specifically the part played by Catholic priests, other religious, and lay people.

    His work focuses on the bitter conflict over open housing in Milwaukee. With a focus on Fr. James Groppi, Jones illustrates how the streams of Vatican II Catholicism, the Civil Rights movement, and the precarious position of urban white ethnics collided. As also happened in Chicago, Cleveland, and other industrial cities of the north, black migration to the cities in large numbers in the post war years forced these areas to confront race as they never had before. As Jones shows, the result was not always laudable.

    Having spent a great deal of time in Milwaukee, I can attest to how well Jones describes the city and its history. His description and integration of Vatican II Catholicism is also spot on. This is a thoroughly researched study, bolstered by interviews with many of the still living participants.

    Any honest look at cities like Milwaukee will suggest that much of what was being contested during the 1960s has yet to be adequately addressed. Milwaukee is still one of the most segregated cities in America with staggering levels of African American unemployment. Selma of the North provides much needed context for this reality. For anyone interested in a complete understanding of the breadth of the civil rights movement–both north and south–and its relevance for today, this book is essential.

  • oldschool
    16:12 on December 3rd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Finally, a thorough look into the civil rights movement in one of the U.S.’s most segregated cities, Milwaukee, which is often overlooked during the most dynamic periods of social interaction and change in U.S. history.

    Dr. Patrick Jones writes a detailed yet equally exciting piece on these troubled and trying times.

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