During the 1960s, Milwaukee’s South Side was inhabited primarily by whites, particularly those of Polish and German descent. Most South Side residents were working or middle-class homeowners. At that time, the South Side had a reputation for not being welcoming to people of color. In fact, the 16th Street Viaduct, which linked the city’s North Side to its South Side, was considered the “Mason- Dixon Line” of Milwaukee. The borders of the mostly Polish South Side were never clearly defined, but were generally considered to be Mitchell Avenue, Forest Home Avenue, and Cleveland Avenue between 6th and 27th Streets. By mid-century, many white South Siders began to move into neighborhoods further South and West.
Milwaukee’s blacks resided on the North Side, also at that time known as the “inner core.” On the first and second day of the Milwaukee NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council‘s open housing marches, thousands of South Siders gathered on the southern edge of the bridge to heckle, harass, and throw objects at marchers. Also, a group of South Siders, known as the Milwaukee Citizens’ Civic Voice, led by Catholic priest Father Russel Witon, resisted the fight for open housing by organizing closed housing marches. Despite the overwhelming racial intolerance of many South Siders, there were still others who supported and participated in the local civil rights struggle. Some civil rights participants, including Margaret (Peggy) Rozga and Father James Groppi, grew up on the South Side of the city. EM