All Zeddie Hyler wanted to do in 1955 was build a home in Wauwatosa, Wis. But that wasn’t easy for a black man to do at the time.
Hyler had to overcome many obstacles — like angry neighbors concerned about property values, and vandals. He even had to get a white friend to buy the property for him before he could even begin to build. Once the building began that’s when the vandals and arsonists hit.
But his persistence paid off: Hyler became the first black man to build a home in Wauwatosa. When he died in 2004 he left the home to his nephew, Gerald Williamson.
Williamson decided the home’s historical significance should be recognized, which he says was the first thing he told his wife when inheriting the house. He took the idea to the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission. And recently, the city’s Common Council approved the home as a Wauwatosa landmark.
"[Dennis McBride] said [building the house] was before what Rosa Parks did — standing up for her rights by not giving up her seat. That kind of threw me back. If you start thinking about it, like, that was a significant thing that he did. He stood on just the fact that he belong," Williamson says.
Williamson is happy to have the house recognized by Wauwatosa Historic Preservation society because his Hyler had a profound influence on his life. Williamson grew up in a single-parent home and says having Hyler as a father figure probably kept him out of trouble.
"Young men [who grow up without dads] always wished that they had a dad, so I spent time with my uncle. And I think now, I understand why he decided to take me under his wing — because he lost his own son, which was his only child, and by doing that, I think he's seeing something in me," Williamson says.
Williamson notes that Hyler was an active member of the community at large and mentored other youth, something Williamson also does.