It was until the First World War that blacks started to spread across the United States, leaving their Southern states. Buchanan says, (1973) “The foundries, tanneries, and meatpacking plants recruited black help because the war had cut off their supply of cheap European immigrant labor” (p. 131). With the decrease in immigrant movement from other countries, companies needed new employees to keep their businesses going. Most of these employees ended up being African Americans. After the war had ended, African-Americans still kept leaving the fields in the South to join the concrete playground of the North. That is why between the years of 1915 and 1925 the movement is credited as the development of Milwaukee’s Black Working Class. As a current Milwaukee resident and student at the University of Milwaukee, it is important for me to understand the development of the city of Milwaukee and how it got to be the way it is today. What started as a great place to trade beaver and developed into the most segregated city in America, it is important to understand what happened in-between the two. Throughout the semester we have learned about many things that attributed to the development of Milwaukee. The purpose of this paper is to provide the audience with information, an understanding, and a discussion about the black movement between the years of 1915 and 1925, which provided such a big key part in Milwaukee’s history.
Milwaukee’s blacks had a hard time finding jobs in the industrial North. As stated by Buchanan (1973) “by the turn of the century blacks worked in some of the city’s factories but only a few and sometimes only as strikebreakers” (p. 132). Companies called for colored workers in the Illinois Steel Company, but they were only used as strikebreakers and after the strike none of the company’s workers were reported black. Buchanan later mentions (1973) “In 1910, most of the city’s approximately 1,000 blacks worked in service or common labor occupations. A distinguished few found work in other pursuits” (p. 132). The black working class in Milwaukee more than doubled during the years of the war. Before the war the black population began with 980 residents and after the war rose all the way to 2,229 residents. Weems tells us (1974)“The “typical” black migrant to Milwaukee and the state during this period was an unmarried black man” (p. 107). Data from Wisconsin reveals that the black male to female rate at one point was all the way up to 132.6 black males for every 100 black females by 1920. He also states (1974) “despite the earnest recruitment of black laborers in Milwaukee during the war, the overwhelming majority of business did not use blacks at all. Out of the city’s more than 2,000 manufacturing establishments, no more than eleven hired black workers” (p. 107). Of these establishments blacks were also located on the bottom of the occupational chain. After a couple years of struggling with the return of soldiers from the war, Milwaukee’s black working class began another period of increased work. With a shortage of immigrant workers because of a restriction law, black workers were in need again. By the end of the 1920’s the black population had risen all the way to 7,501 people. Jones says, (2009) “Yet, African Americans still accounted for less than one and one-half percent of the city’s total population” (p. 19). According to Jones it was not until after WWII, when the black community finally skyrocketed in Milwaukee.
Jobs were often called for and found by the works of newspapers around the country. Newspapers such as the Advocate, Wisconsin Weekly Blade, and St. Paul Appeal all were ways of letting people know of job opportunities up in the North. Buchanan states (1973) postings such as “received an order for 250 colored men to work in the [North Chicago] rolling mills at Bay View with the intention of keeping boarding houses” (p. 132). Postings often time appealed