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Remembering the Milwaukee Riot of 1967

Wisconsin Black Historical Society
The Wisconsin National Guard was called in to get the riot under control.

The summer of 1967 was violent all across the country. Just as in other cities, black residents in Milwaukee tired of unequal treatment and the lack of opportunity hit their breaking point and a riot ensued.

“The creation of deindustrialization was in full bloom. People don’t have jobs. Things got bad. Depression, unemployment and poverty began to blanket the city so it just exploded,” Clayborn Benson says.

He is the executive director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society.

“People are reacting all sorts of ways from turning cars over, breaking windows, looting department stores, liquor stores, there’s accidents, there’s sniper firing everywhere. It’s the spirit of frustration that Milwaukee has,” Benson says.

Credit Wisocnsin Black Historical Society
People looted stores, fires were set and snipers shot at people.

The National Guard was called in and a curfew was put into place.

Benson says his most vivid memory has to do with him breaking curfew to go see his girlfriend. He was 16 years old at the time.

Credit Wisocnsin Black Historical Society
Both black and white people were armed.

“It’s after curfew and I’m climbing up this long steep hill, going on the opposite side of the freeway as it is today and a national guard soldier was pointing a 16mm gun in my face and warned me that I was outside of my house during curfew time and I could be shot and arrested,” he recalls.

Benson says eventually, things died down and people stopped acting out, but the problems remained.

And he says those problems became even more evident last summer in the Sherman Park meighborhood.

“The conditions of the city in terms of difficulties - education, housing, employment - is worse that it was before. That’s why we had the riot of 2016,” Benson says.

Still, he says he’s holding out hope. “I want to see in the African American community we have our own business…I want to see the same things that other ethnic groups have in their communities,” Benson says.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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