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James Groppi leading African-
American males in Open Housing
Where is Father Groppi when we need him? In the 1967–1968 school years I was a graduate Jesuit seminarian student at Marquette University. There was much happening in the civil rights and peace movements at the time. In Milwaukee, an archdiocese priest, Father James Groppi, led civil right marchers from the North side of Milwaukee to the South Side for an Open Housing ordinance in city of Milwaukee. After 200 nights of marches, the City of Milwaukee passed an open housing ordinance in 1968. It is considered a great victory in the civil rights history of Milwaukee and one of the bridges between North side and South side is called the James Groppi Memorial Bridge.
Now the area where Father’s Church at the time, St. Boniface’s, stood in North Central Milwaukee is the most racially segregated area of Milwaukee, the most racially segregated city in the United States. At the time there were 17 Catholic Churches in this area and now there are two. It is the most improvised area of Milwaukee, one of the poorest cities in the USA. There is high unemployment and violence and criminalization in the area. (See M.A.P.S.).
James Groppi was marginalized by the Catholic Church and left the priesthood, got married, had three children and died young at the age of 55 from brain cancer. His legend, like that of other great civil rights, leaders lives on but his work has been canceled by the new racism, ‘new Jim Crow’ of our times.
I left the Jesuits in 1968, got married, had two children and try to keep the battle against racism alive. At present we are struggling on two fronts, one is trying to stop the St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Thrift store from being built in Suburbs to have it built in North Central Milwaukee. (See Trickle Down or Trickle Up Also in my neighborhood we are struggling to save all four basketball backboard in the County park across the street. However, those who promote racism use different words to accomplish the same end, racial segregation. SVDP leaders saying they are spending millions and millions of dollars in the suburbs to make money to help the poor in North Central Milwaukee. Although they have no evidence of this or it does not make common or business sense and it is clearly a violation of Mission of St. Vincent de Paul Society they continue, never mentioning where the thrift store is needed and they are not placing it, is racially segregated. Those who want to stop “full court basketball playing” at the County Park only said it was a danger and nuisance to the park that existed over 4o years when some of the basketball players on the court became young African American males. Banning ‘full court basketball’ became the code word for ‘banning African American males.
I feel we are fighting loosing battles on these two civil rights fronts. However, I learned from James Groppi and many others that we must persist in fighting racism in any form it takes, especially when it is in our own city and backyard. It may not be the overt racism of the 60’s but nonetheless it is racism. Racism needs to be stopped Now. There is a saying in the battle against street violence that answers the question: Where is Father Groppi when we need him? It is: “We are the ones we are looking for.” Stop Racism Now!
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