Milwaukee civil rights activist and leader Calvin Sherard was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to a Baptist minister. Following high school graduation, Sherard moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked at the American Motors Company and became involved in the labor movement. In the mid-1950s, Sherard moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he found work as a metal finisher at the local American Motors plant.
In 1958, the Milwaukee police department conducted a cover-up in the shooting death of twenty-two year old Daniel Bell. Bell had been shot by police for fleeing from a random police stop for a broken tail light. To make the killing look justified, one officer planted a large knife on Bell and claimed that he had fled the scene with the knife in hand. The Bell incident sparked outrage among Milwaukee’s black citizens, but the established black leaders did not share the community’s contempt for the police department’s brutality. Dismayed by the inactivity of local leaders and disgruntled with the conservativeness of local black institutions, Calvin Sherard, and several of his co-workers, created an inquiry group called Citizens to Protest the Case of Daniel Bell.
In 1962, Sherard’s group became a local chapter of the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), which was affiliated with A. Phillip Randolph’s national organization formed to fight discrimination in labor unions. That same year, the Milwaukee NALC, along with twelve high school students, picketed three North Side grocery stores to protest the small percentage of blacks employed, despite the high proportion of black customers. The high school students were also picketing the store to demonstrate the need for summer jobs for local black youth. Sherard’s group picketed for two weeks, demanding that blacks be hired as store clerks, butchers, and management trainees. In 1963, Sherard’s NALC began a “selective buying” campaign against inner core grocery stores due to their continual discrimination toward hiring blacks. The organization encouraged the community to avoid shopping at stores where they could not work. Sherard and the Milwaukee chapter of the NALC helped set the stage for a new generation of civil rights organizations to be more active and vocal about issues affecting Milwaukee’s black community, most notably the Milwaukee chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Milwaukee NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council. EM