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The housing decisions that shook Bronzeville and the city’s Black community

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A development in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Milwaukee under construction
Kim Shine

Last week, I had a meaningful conversation with Tiffany Miller, a resident of the vibrant Bronzeville community who shared how art and entrepreneurship intersect in her neighborhood. We'll reconnect with Tiffany next week for a guided tour of Bronzeville in its present state, but not before establishing some context by looking into a past that’s as important as it is unpleasant.

Bronzeville holds historical significance as the heart of Black culture on Milwaukee's Near North Side. This term, "Bronzeville," not only signifies a location, but also an idea that stretches beyond the neighborhood’s boundaries, much like the one that shares its name in Chicago.

Originally part of Kilbourntown, Bronzeville welcomed German and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 19th century, and the Black population who gravitated to the neighborhood in the 20th century. Black businesses grew, and the area became a hub for jazz music in Milwaukee, hosting renowned artists like Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.

Then, in the 1960s, decisions made during the construction of the North-South (Interstate 43) and Park East freeways led to the destruction of homes and businesses, and disproportionately affected Black residents. Their displacement reshaped the community.

To understand the ongoing effects, it's crucial to look into the housing dynamics of Milwaukee — something another Radio Milwaukee podcast, By Every Measure, explored in one episode.

The series as a whole examines systemic disparities in the city, from health and education to brain drain and birth outcomes. For this particular entry, hosts Tarik Moody and Reggie Jackson — a journalist and researcher well-versed in the historical development of the nation's racial hierarchy — take a hard look at housing and its lasting impact.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee