Young people played significant roles in the civil rights movements of the 1960s. In Milwaukee, youth took part in several protests and instigated protests themselves. In 1964, the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC) carried out its first school boycott in which thousands of students participated by attending alternative Freedom Schools. Students took part in a second boycott the following year. Many local youth also joined the Milwaukee NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council. Eventually, the Youth Council moved to the forefront of Milwaukee’s civil rights movement into the mid-1960s when it began campaigns against housing and employment discrimination.
St. Boniface student Vada Harris became active in MUSIC and, with Father James Groppi‘s encouragement, taught Black history to a Freedom School class while still in her early teens during the 1964 Milwaukee Public School (MPS) boycott. When Harris completed her schooling at St. Boniface, she insisted on attending Riverside High School, which at that time was a predominately white school located on Milwaukee’s East Side. While attending Riverside, Harris and her fellow classmates campaigned for the inclusion of Black history classes. Harris organized and led a “textbook turn-in” protest in which she and 35 other students walked out of their classrooms and proceeded directly to the principal’s office where they turned in their history books. Afterwards, Harris read a letter stating the students’ grievances, claiming “far more serious are the distortions in our history books. Here again, even the existence of the Negro-American is ignored in both the text and illustration.” The letter continued lamenting the students’ disgust towards receiving a biased education. Unfortunately, school officials disregarded the students’ education demands. EM