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Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories project interactively celebrates the city's Black history

A mural created by Detroit artist Sydney James draws the eye of visitors.
Kitonga Alexander
Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories
A mural created by Detroit artist Sydney James draws the eye of visitors.

The history of many Milwaukee neighborhoods has been erased or replaced over time. But a new project is working to educate people about the history of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood and inform how the past continues to influence the present.

The Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories project maps out where historic African-Americans figures lived and worked. Through their app or website, guided maps and curated tours, pinpoint where longtime establishments and other significant areas were located.

Lead project researcher, Kitonga Alexander details how he came into the role and how the project can help people understand the extensive Black historical significance that Milwaukee holds.

A former human services worker, coordinator of the Welcome Home Project and elementary and high school educator of 12 years, Alexander was a Ph.D. candidate when he began contributing to the Bronzeville project. His background in history, serving communities and helping people learn cultivated well in this project in creating a way for people to engage with Milwaukee's historically significant Black areas interactively. After receiving a grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which helped develop the app, the research and landmarks of the area were collected and incorporated into this engaging, interactive project.

Kitonga Alexander shares the history of Bronzeville businessman Larry Hill.

Alexander explains how the term Bronzeville is typically used in three distinct ways. In one sense, the term is used to describe the neighborhood and area that later became known as Bronzeville. However, that term was not used at the time the neighborhood existed — the "Old Bronzeville," as Alexander describes. This is why the Bronzeville map and Google-mapped areas of Bronzeville are not perfectly identical. In cohesion, the second instance of the term describes the modern neighborhood or the "New Bronzeville." The final common use of the term is any African American neighborhood, as many areas around the U.S. have adopted the term as well.

Kitonga Alexander explains why Hattie McDaniel, the first Black person to win an Academy Award, credits Milwaukee for her success.

Kitonga wanted to highlight the people who "made a way out of no way" and to disprove the notion that the area was completely destroyed by policies such as urban renewal and the construction of I-43.

READ: The Construction Of Milwaukee's Freeways: An Asset For Some, Detrimental For Others

"We argue through the Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories that the African American community was not destroyed by those policies. It was altered, so it still existed. And what we use to make that central argument is the fact that we still see the same energy, the same effort, the same ideologies today," says Alexander.

Last year, the neighborhood celebrated international attention and was named a top destination to visit last year by the New York Times.

Kitonga Alexander looks at the time artist, athlete, and activist Paul Robeson spent in Milwaukee.

Some of the areas and businesses featured in the project are the childhood home of Malcolm X, the man who became both the first Black quarterback and head coach ever in the history of the NFL as a member of the Milwaukee Badgers, and the residence of the first African American woman to ever win an academy award. As research continues, Alexander explains the project plans to add names, businesses and locations on a yearly basis. The latest addition to the program is a walking tour guide.

Kitonga Alexander explains how the Sherman Phoenix came to be a hub of entrepreneurship and hope.

The Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories Project app is available now on GooglePlay and the App Store.


Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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