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Milwaukee's historic Black Nite bar expected to become city's first LGBTQ designated landmark

Black Nite bar 1961
The Wisconsin LGBT History Project
Black Nite bar 1961

In 1961, eight years before the Stonewall uprising, Milwaukee was home to a historic moment in LGBTQ+ history, known as the Black Nite Brawl. A group of LGBTQ+ people defended a popular gay bar called the Black Nite against a group of men.

The Black Nite Bar no longer stands, but the spot will soon become Milwaukee County’s first LGBTQ+ landmark.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee County Landmarks Committee held a public meeting where it was decided the location met the qualifications to become a landmark.

To learn more, WUWM’s Kobe Brown joined LGBTQ+ activist Brice Smith the executive director of lgbt milWALKee on Plankinton Avenue where the Black Nite used to be. The bar was torn down to build a highway.

"This is the very first time that an LGBTQ+ site has been designated as a landmark, so it was a long time coming, " said Smith.

Kobe Brown
Empty lot where Black Nite landmark is planned to be.

He explained that the application was submitted last summer by the Wisconsin LGBTQ+ history project and the organization submitted the application as part to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Black Nite uprising.

The process seemed to be at a standstill until several months ago when Smith heard from a member of the Milwaukee Historical Landmark Committee. The member of the committee asked if Smith had anymore information they should know about because they were considering the nomination. Smith said he submitted everything he could think of.

Then, when he was alerted of a public hearing was being called by the committee, Smith and his team reached out to numerous officials around the city for support like Mayor Cavalier Johnson and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, who all sent in their letters of support.

Dozens of supporters showed up at the public hearings to offer testimonies in person. It became undeniable that the Black Nite bar deserved to be designated as a historic landmark.

"At the end of the hearing, when we heard that the Black Night had met the criteria and was going to be designated as a landmark, everybody cheered. It was such a great night and such a great feeling. I still get a little choked up about it. It just means so much," Smith said.

The Black Nite bar is expected to be designated a Milwaukee County landmark next month. Until then, Brice is working with a handpicked committee to plan fundraising to buy the lot currently owned by the city.

Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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