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Milwaukee neighborhoods with John Gurda: North Milwaukee, Harambee

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Historic Milwaukee / Milwaukee Parks Foundation

Eight years ago, local historian and writer John Gurda sat down with 88Nine to share stories from Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. The idea for the series came after the release of Gurda’s 2015 book, Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, which chronicles 37 contemporary portraits of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.

With the weather warming and conditions ripe for exploring the city, we decided it was the ideal time to look back at this collection and share Gurda’s very well-informed perspective on these well-known areas of Milwaukee. After starting on the south end of town and then relocating east, this episode finds us moving north to two more neighborhoods you can explore using the player at the top of the page or the videos below.

North Milwaukee

Although this neighborhood borrows the name of our fair city, its history is rooted in independence. In fact, it’s one of just two Milwaukee neighborhoods (Bayview is the other) that were once independent suburbs.

Both of those areas have industrial foundations, with North Milwaukee’s clustered around the intersection of two railroad lines: one going to Minneapolis and the other to Green Bay. This crossing defined the neighborhood and is still visible in a map of its rectangular setup, with a big iron “X” running through it. The transportation benefit had people moving from other parts of town to the newly established North Milwaukee, which remained independent from 1918 to 1929.


This long, narrow neighborhood stretches from North Avenue to Capitol Drive and I-43 to Holston Street. While its name comes from the Swahili word that means “pulling together,” neither the name nor its cultural heritage were present in the early days. Instead — like many parts of Milwaukee — it was originally settled by Germans in the mid-1800s.

More than a century later, the neighborhood became an epicenter for civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, fighting against institutional racism such as segregation in schools and housing. Around that time that, it officially adopted the name “Harambee” and remains a stronghold of Black culture and commerce in Milwaukee.