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Milwaukee's Bronzeville landed on 'The New York Times' top places around the globe to visit

The statue of Martin Luther King Junior, near MLK Jr. Drive and Vine Street, overlooks Bronzeville businesses.
Mallory Cheng
The statue of Martin Luther King Junior, near MLK Jr. Drive and Vine Street, overlooks Bronzeville businesses.

Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood was named by the The New York Times as one of the top places around the globe to visit for a changed world. The annual list of travel destinations looked at places where visitors could be a part of the solution.

In the early 20th century, Bronzeville was a hub for Black-owned businesses. But like many of our nation’s Black-owned business districts, the neighborhood was destroyed by racist urban renewal projects in the 1950's. Today, redevelopment organizations and local business owners are re-building and revitalizing Bronzeville.

"Early in the mid 20th century around 1940s Milwaukee's Black population was about 8,000. By 1950, that exploded 21,000," says Robert “Biko” Baker, an instructor at UW-Milwaukee in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department.

Milwaukee's African American migration started a little later than Chicago's. Baker says this was largely due to the post war automobile boom, freeways and because of the Interstate Commerce Act.

"People were coming to Milwaukee to work at places like Allis-Chalmers and A.O. Smith and Briggs & Stratton. And today 70 years later [Bronzeville is] reviving and becoming one of the strongest neighborhoods in the city, and I hope in the region as well," says Baker.

Baker points out Milwaukee's Bronzeville isn't the only Bronzeville in the nation. The creation of these predominantly Black districts came consequently out of Jim Crow laws and harsh segregation.

It wasn't until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that African Americans could move around the city and not face segregation. Then, in the 60's, huge infrastructure projects where taking place, but unlike other areas there was a lot of discrimination that went into the destruction of these Black neighborhoods, especially in Bronzeville.

"What ended up happening was a lot of people were displaced", says Baker. "And I think we're still just now getting back to that vibrant community in that part of the city."

These urban renewal projects had a huge generational impact on neighborhoods like Bronzeville. In addition to large groups of people being displaced, crime started to increase as well. Now, The New York Times has named Bronzeville as one of the top places around the globe to visit for a changed world and Baker says it's an awesome opportunity.

Sites in the area like America's Black Holocaust Museum to Pete's Fruit Market, and other artistic spaces have all contributed to the area's vibrancy. Baker says the recognition comes when young people of color have the vision to bring art and culture.

"I really believe in Bronzeville. I really believe in the north side and the south side and I think that if more people like myself come back, we can really turn things around. I'm hearing more and more of my friends who are thinking about either buying houses or investing in studios and so hopefully we can have a renaissance [in the area]," says Baker.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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