Legislation is the creation of laws. Beginning in 1877, states created laws that forced African Americans to use separate public accommodations from white people. These laws, commonly referred to as “Jim Crow” laws, covered all aspects of life and were prevalent in the South and border states until the mid-1960s. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that laws requiring black and white children to attend separate public schools were unconstitutional. Following the Brown decision, other Jim Crow laws such as those covering public transportation were also challenged and found to be unconstitutional. In addition to challenging existing laws which limited their freedoms, civil rights activists also fought for the passage of new laws which would guarantee equal rights for all people. Two such examples are the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which abolished legal racial segregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited barriers to voter registration such as poll taxes and literacy tests.
In 1960s Milwaukee, Alderwoman Vel Phillips attempted to create a law that would forbid racial discrimination in housing. Discriminatory practices by landlords and real estate agents resulted in black Milwaukeeans being virtually unable to find housing outside of a small area in Milwaukee’s North Side known as the “inner-core.” Between 1962 and 1967, Phillips introduced her open housing ordinance four times. Each time the measure was voted down by the rest of the common council, with Phillips’ vote being the only one cast in favor of passage. By 1967, open housing was a national issue and activists across the country were marching in support of a national fair housing law. In Milwaukee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council supported Phillips’s legislative efforts by marching for 200 consecutive nights to protest the absence of an open housing law. One week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act. Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota specifically referenced events in Milwaukee while addressing Congress in support of the act. On April 30, 1968, the Milwaukee Common Council, with seven newly-elected aldermen, finally passed an open housing law which was even stronger than the national law. LW