Anti-desegregation demonstrator. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society
Anti-desegregation demonstrator. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society. Image ID: 48078

Counterdemonstrators are people who come to protest against demonstrations carried out by activists. They usually do this because they do not agree with the demands of activists and they do not want to see certain practices or conditions change. Counterdemonstrators can be violent or nonviolent. Hostile counterdemonstrators were common during a number of demonstrations at the time of Milwaukee’s civil rights movement. During the Milwaukee NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council‘s 1966 Eagles Club protests, the scene became a full spectacle with thousands of hostile whites shouting obscenities and pelting hard objects at Youth Council members. Members of the Wisconsin Realm of the United Klans of America also showed up dressed in Klan attire. By the twelfth night, the scene had become so tense that the National Guard was brought in.

The Youth Council also encountered hostile and violent counterdemonstrators during its 1967 open housing campaign. On Monday, August 28, 1967, the first day of open housing marches, close to 200 Youth Council members and supporters marched to the South Side’s Kosciuszko Park. Upon reaching the South Side, marchers were greeted by a hostile crowd of thousands. The crowd hurled eggs, rocks, and bottles at Youth Council members. Crazy Jim’s car lot was a site where many counterdemonstrators gathered during the first two days of open housing marches. Many times, the behavior of counterdemonstrators became so violent and hostile that police would had to subdue or arrest them.

A group of South Siders called the Milwaukee Citizens’ Civic Voice, led by a Catholic priest named Father Russel Witon, resisted the open housing movement by organizing closed housing marches. Members of the group would often march on the city’s North Side holding signs calling for white power and segregated housing. The American Nazi Party also held white power marches and rallies throughout the city. EM