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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee's Lindsay Heights neighborhood is featured in national exhibition

eddee garden pic.jpeg
Eddee Daniel
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Growing vegetables, flowers and nurturing orchards are part of Lindsay Heights' formula for a healthy neighborhood.

Lindsay Heights is a historic African American neighborhood in the heart of Milwaukee that dates back more than 150 years.

A Washington, D.C. based organization called The Cultural Landscape Foundation has selected Lindsay Heights as one of 13 locations to be featured in its Landslide report and exhibition.

The Landslide report highlights relatively unknown but culturally significant landscapes associated with African Americans, Hispanic Americans, or Native peoples around the country.

Lindsay Heights' story is one of resilience.

Milwaukee School of Engineering history professor Michael Carriere calls it part of a long arch of history traced back to Indigenous populations who were the initial inhabitants of European immigration.

That’s where Samuel Brown and the Underground Railroad come in.

Residence of Mrs. Samuel Brown, 1876. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society.jpg

"You have people like Samuel Brown who becomes an important figure in Milwaukee politics but is also a staunch abolitionist who uses his very home in the Lindsay Heights community to become a stop on the Underground Railroad," Carriere says.

Underground Railroad site and Sign Marker, Lindsay Heights, Milwaukee, WI, 2021. Photo by Pat A. Robinson.jpg
Pat A. Robinson
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The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The only remnant of that history is a small placard.

Lindsay Heights would become home to Russian, Polish, and Jewish immigrants.

Demographics shifted as African Americans moved from the south to northern cities during the Great Migration. The area became known as Bronzeville.

Neighborhood fest, Lindsay Heights, 1982. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Public Library.jpg
Milwaukee Public Library
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The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Lindsay Heights' neighborhood fest 1982

"It became a hotbed of commercial activity, and then you have those stories of erasure again. You have issues of highway construction and a proposed highway, and to double the tragedy, it isn't even constructed. You have all of the clearance done for this highway, and the project is abandoned," Carriere says.

But Lindsay Heights hasn't been erased.

Residents are leading initiatives to honor the neighborhood's history while transforming blighted and neglected landscape pockets.

>>You Can Tour Milwaukee's First Eco Neighborhood - Lindsay Heights

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Danielle Washington
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Danielle Washington says Lindsay Heights means family to her.

Danielle Washington is one of those residents.

She and her siblings attended elementary school at nearby Brown Street Academy, where they learned about the Underground Railroad.

To Washington, Lindsay Heights means more than community, it means family.

"I'm reminded of always being encouraged to be our greatest, and that's the type of education I received from Brown Street from our educators, their stories of resilience from the teachers," Washington adds, "And always also cleaning up the community, we'd go and clean up, so there's not so much pollution, cleaning up the debris….and I think I've really expanded upon it as a result."

Danielle Washington and Michael Carriere are involved in a neighborhood project called the Adams Garden Park Arts Initiative.

A core component is oral histories shared by Lindsay Heights residents. Their stories will inspire artwork that will be installed throughout the neighborhood.

"I see all the work that's going into the community. [I see] the people who have not given up even though there is so much systemic oppression thrown our way, and we keep on striving to be better. To leave our community better than we inherited it," Washington says.

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Eddee Daniel
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Existing mural in Lindsay Heights; the new art initiative will add installations throughout the neighborhood.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation president and CEO Charles Birnbaum says he’s moved by Danielle Washington’s words.

"We have 18 original interviews in this (Landslide) program, and Danielle is one of them. Candace Henry, who's the director of the Water's Edge Museum in Oxford, Maryland, proclaims that what we're talking about is not African history, this is American history," Birnbaum continues, "So what we're doing is for people not just in Milwaukee and in Wisconsin, but for the nation to really reveal and make accessible these stories and in many cases with the people who are the inheritors, the custodians, the interpreters that are bringing them forward for the next generations."

Since Landslide kicked off in 2003, it has shone a light on more than 300 sites around the country.

Birnbaum says the goal is to introduce people to what are often little-known but important places and widen the circle of people who value them.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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