A field trip can make books and history come alive.
That’s one reason Florence Johnson takes her class on a field trip every year. Johnson is a senior lecturer in Educational Policy and Community Studies.
This year, the students in the Milwaukee Community class (Ed Policy 113) set out by bus on a chilly April day to see the sights and experience what they’d been reading about in class.
From Juneau Town to Bay View, from Groppi’s market on the south side to Perkins soul food restaurant on the north side, the class visited Milwaukee, taking notes for a project comparing Milwaukee neighborhoods.
Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the students in the class are from outside Milwaukee, Johnson noted, and even those who are from Milwaukee often tend to live and shop in their own neighborhoods or don’t venture far from campus.
The class used two books – John Gurda’s “Making of Milwaukee” and Patrick Jones’ “The Selma of the North: Civil Insurgency in Milwaukee” as guides to the history, neighborhoods and segregation issues impacting the city.
“This area used to be all tanneries and breweries, now it’s condominiums and cable offices,” Johnson pointed out as the bus rolled along Commerce Street toward downtown.
As they traveled through downtown, Johnson was able to show them the visual results of a long-ago feud between two of the city’s founders – Solomon Juneau and Byron Kilbourn. Because they couldn’t agree on aligning streets between their two settlements, many of the bridges cross the Milwaukee River at an angle.
A stop at the Rolling Mill monument in Bay View gave students the chance to learn more about a formative event in union history. In 1886, more than 1500 strikers gathered to support the idea of an 8-hour workday. The governor called out the militia and seven strikers were killed.
Without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t enjoy some of the labor protection laws we have today, Johnson explained.
Students were quick to identify the “Polish flats,” on the near south side that they’d read about in Gurda’s book. They toured the Garden Homes neighborhood, Milwaukee’s first housing project. They passed the site of the former A.O. Smith factory which formerly provided thousands of family supporting jobs and how the loss of such factories impacted the economy of the city. “Almost all the industry moved overseas for cheaper labor.”
The bus rolled through Polish, German, Latino and African American neighborhoods, across the 27th Street Viaduct over the Menomonee Valley. Johnson talked about her own experiences as a young African American woman where it was understood she couldn’t go shopping or to the movies in certain neighborhoods.
Jonas Pearson from Illinois is in his first year in Milwaukee and had some familiarity with the city, but the class and the tour have really expanded his knowledge. “This was great,” he said, as he got off the bus after the tour.
“The field trip is one of my favorite parts of the year,” said Johnson.
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