40 years ago today - July 30, 1967
Racial tension in summer of 1967 fueled deadly violence
Thomas Crosby walked out of the St. Francis Social Center, at N. 4th and W. Brown streets, into chaos.
Crosby, then 17, and fellow members of a local rhythm and blues band were loading instruments into his father's station wagon around midnight July 30, 1967, when a fight broke out in the parking lot of the center, where black people came on weekends to dance.
A crowd gathered to watch. Moments later, Crosby said, Milwaukee police cars appeared, and people started throwing rocks at the police vehicles. Soon after, more police came wearing riot gear.
The entire incident developed too quickly to be coincidental, Crosby said. The sight of patrons battling police so mesmerized him, he drove his father's car into a hydrant.
"It blew my mind," Crosby said. "I think the fight was planned to get something started, because everything happened so fast, like people knew something. . . . It felt like someone said, 'Go and incite the people.' "
The Summer of Love in the United States was also the summer of racial tension, civil disturbances and rioting in some American cities. The mood in Milwaukee was ripe for something explosive.
Local civil rights activists had turned their attention to fair housing in the city, highly segregated by race and ethnicity. NAACP Youth Council members spent the early weeks of the summer picketing homes of aldermen who continued to vote against a proposed ordinance to outlaw racial discrimination in home sales and rentals.
Activists predicted that Milwaukee's racial discomfort could lead to disorder similar to what had just erupted in July in Detroit and Newark, N.J., where a combined 66 people were killed and almost 1,900 injured.
"We need fair housing legislation in Milwaukee," Father James E. Groppi told the Common Council on July 25, 1967. "Unless something is done about the uninhabitable conditions that the black man has to live in, Milwaukee could become a holocaust."
Violence broke out five days later - lootings, brawls, shootings and fires. A few hours after the earliest disturbances occurred, Mayor Henry W. Maier proclaimed a state of emergency, and the city was under curfew for the next nine days.
In the end, the riots left four dead, 100 hurt and 1,740 people arrested.
Most accounts of Milwaukee's riots don't point to a single incident as a starting point. After-hours brawls on and around N. 3rd St. - now N. King Drive - and a sniper shooting on Center St. were factors in Maier's decision to activate the National Guard on the night between Sunday, July 30, and Monday, July 31.
Just two months earlier, Maier's office had developed a riot control plan, created in part as a result of picketing and demonstrations in Wauwatosa the previous summer.
"There were some rumors that something was going to happen," said LeRoy Jones, who was then a 39-year-old Milwaukee police detective - and one of 18 black officers in a department of 2,056.
"We did know there was going to be a riot. The Police Department knew - one to two weeks ahead - that something was planned. It was predicted that it would be on 3rd Street," Jones said. N. 3rd St. was the neighborhood's business district.
Fred Bronson, then NAACP Youth Council president, said he, too, recalled chatter in barbershops, bars and gathering spots frequented by black residents of "something going down." On Saturday, July 29, Bronson said, rumors intensified as some youth council members reported hearing similar theories.
The question - one that's still unanswered today - was: Who was behind such a plan?
Demonstrations at aldermen's homes and Father Groppi's statement to the Common Council - which some perceived as a threat - led Milwaukee Police Chief Harold Breier to think the youth council was planning the insurrection.
That wasn't true, former youth council members said.
"There was never any discussion of rioting," said Margaret (Peggy) Rozga, a youth council member who married Groppi in 1976. "Even if any of us thought something like that, we didn't say it to anyone, because we certainly knew we would probably be blamed for anything that happened."
Besides, Bronson said, a riot would have gone against the youth council's non-violent approach.
But there were people who felt otherwise - others who were not members of the youth council, Bronson added.
July 31, 1967
The lot at 134 W. Center St. is vacant now, but the home that once stood there was the site of the bloodiest event in Milwaukee's civil disturbance.
Just before 2 a.m. on the hot night, residents of the mostly black neighborhood around N. 2nd and W. Center streets gathered and talked outside. A white man drove by slowly in a white station wagon.
He doubled back and yelled a racial slur.
He reached for something. Someone shouted, "He's got a gun in the glove compartment."
People ran. A shotgun blast came from the house. The car was hit. The man inside the car, Milton L. Nelsen, an ironworker, was shot in the face. Hannah Jackson, who lived next door, was also hit by gunfire.
Seconds later, an unmarked squad car pulled up. LeRoy Jones was in the squad. His boss at the time, Capt. Kenneth Hagopian, had asked him to work that night.
"There was nobody outside at all," Jones said. "This guy was shooting out of the basement window, but you couldn't see him. So as we pull up, all (the shooter) saw was Hagopian, who's white, and another person, Harry Daniels (a police detective, also white). When we pull up across the street from (the house) he started shooting. Hagopian got hit first."
Hagopian was wounded in the face and neck. Jones was shot in the leg and right arm.
Jones gave this account to a Milwaukee Journal reporter: "I jumped out of the car. Just then, the captain did. He got hit and went down. I got off four or five shots. I felt my right hand weak. I couldn't pull the trigger."
In the next hour, a flurry of gunfire and flames followed as police converged. Patrolman Bryan Moschea, 24, ran into the Center St. house, thought to be held by a sniper. Police lobbed tear gas inside.
Officer John Carter, a 25-year-old patrolman, entered the home, too. He recalled seeing a flash. He was shot in the face. That's all he remembers.
Moschea's body was found in the burned-out building, killed by a shotgun blast to the chest.His father, Kenneth, a lieutenant in the Fire Department, fought the blaze and learned later his son was inside. Annie Mosley, a white, 77-year-old widow who lived in a rear flat on the first floor, also was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. She had returned to the burning building to turn off the television in her apartment. Four other officers were shot, with Carter and Hagopian the most seriously wounded.
A year later, John Oraa Tucker, who lived in the house, was found innocent of murder and attempted murder but guilty of six counts of endangering safety of police men. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and was paroled after serving nearly 10 years.
It was after the conflagration on Center St. that Maier instituted a round-the-clock curfew - the strictest in a city rocked by riots.
Maier had gone to City Hall just before midnight and asked Gov. Warren Knowles to put the Guard on standby. A rash of small fires and false alarms grew, as did reports that firefighters were being stoned.
Breier, though, told the mayor he didn't think the Guard was needed. "He (Breier) figured, let the people know that the police department can handle anything," Jones said.
But at 2:26 a.m, 11 minutes after the mayor received word that police officers were shot on Center St., Breier agreed it was time to call out the Guard.
At 3:40 a.m. a round-the-clock curfew took effect, closing down taverns, liquor stores, gas stations. People were ordered off the streets. Roadblocks went up and Milwaukee became a blockaded city.
Officers drove Hagopian to Mount Sinai Hospital at N. 12th and W. State streets. He was first seen by Shirley Orndoff, a registered nurse called in to work that night.
She recalled getting odd instructions from her supervisor: "She said, 'Now Shirley, don't ask questions. I can't tell you the answers until you get here. Do not take the side roads or come down Wisconsin Avenue. You don't want to be on the streets. You need to take the freeway,' " Orndoff recalled.
The city was not yet under curfew, but Orndoff could see that it was shutting down.
"I was the only car on the entire freeway," she said. "I didn't see anyone coming in my direction. Nothing. And it was so quiet, that it almost made me sick. . . . The houses all had their lights out."
Orndoff parked close to the hospital and checked in. "OK, Shirley. Get back and get into your scrubs," her boss said. The dressing area was down a long hallway lined with tall windows. One more instruction: "On your hands and knees. Crawl. And don't let your butt stick up."
"Why?" Orndoff asked her boss.
"We're in the middle of a riot, Shirley," she recalled of the response. "There's gunshots all over the place. Do what I just told you. Crawl."
She crawled to the dressing room, changed and started to crawl back.
"But when I got to the end, against all orders, I looked around the corner and I saw St. Anthony's Hospital on 11th and State," she said. There, she saw three officers armed with rifles. "But they didn't stand up straight, you know, like targets. You could just see their heads bob up, and then one would come out a little bit later."
The supervisor told her to get to the emergency room immediately - even though she had never worked in the E.R. "I didn't know what was there, so I grabbed a bunch of extra sponges and I put them in my blouse top," she said.
Four police officers, two on each side of the table, held down another officer on the table. That was Hagopian.
"I took a package of sponges - I didn't even wait for gloves," she said.
"I put a sponge on his face to see how much damage had been done. One of the officers brought over a bucket."
Orndoff had never seen a gunshot wound before.
She found his pulse, talked to him, told him she was a nurse and would be getting help. She asked if he wanted anything at that moment. "He shook his head kind of. He was responding anyway . . . his skin was so torn up that you couldn't really see what was damaged," she said.
According to a 1996 article, surgeons removed 126 pieces of lead from him. But Hagopian returned to work, and retired as a high-ranking police inspector in 1987.
Guard on patrol
For the most part, the unrest in Milwaukee was concentrated in an area roughly from W. State to W. Burleigh streets and N. 1st to N. 5th streets, with most of it happening along N. 3rd St. But a look at the police log from that night shows shooting and unrest throughout the city:
"Cars being set on fire at 16th and Vliet."
"We've got a large group of punks who need some attention at 1301 (West) Center."
"More looting Woolworth's at 13th and Vliet."
"Windows smashed at television store, 27th and Atkinson."
Across the city, people closed their doors and followed the curfew. "I'll never, ever forget the feeling of hearing gunshots in the background, in the night," says Roz Huber, then 17. Her brother Jimmy and her dad, Jim Cuda, went through their house on N. 72nd St. and drew the drapes. Her father got out his deer hunting rifle.
"I remember him saying not to be afraid - he and my brother would be up all night long," Huber recalls. "I remember him walking around checking the windows and doors. He would check the house, make sure everything was OK before we went to sleep. Not that I slept."
She adds, "A couple of neighbors did the same. Everybody was afraid because you just didn't know. You didn't know at the time whether or not anybody would come into our neighborhood and come into our house, ransack it. You'd see the National Guard driving by."
Hours after Orndoff, the nurse, was called to work, Bill Graham, then a guardsman and student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, heard reports of trouble.
"I decided to take a ride and see what was going on . . . and someone threw a brick through the back window of my station wagon," said Graham, who lived on E. Randolph Court just west of the river. "So I decided that maybe that was not a good time to go out riding around."
He later learned that his Wisconsin National Guard unit, based in Oconomowoc, was being called up.
Because Graham was assigned to officer candidate school, he was given a position of responsibility.
"I was given a special weapon, a military issue shotgun. It had a very long, pointed bayonet on it. It looked more like a Civil War bayonet. And it was used in prisons if there was a riot," he said.
"And my job was to neutralize snipers. Kill them. Or shoot them. Or you know, suppress the snipers," he said - though he never fired a shot.
Guardsmen and police patrolled together. "The tactical units had all their riot helmets on and they would drive around with all their weapons pointed out of the car, and they were very intimidating," he said. "And I'm sure that's the image they wanted to project. . . . And that was coming from black and from white officers."
Graham, who had handled civil disturbances in Madison and Lake Geneva as a guardsman, today believes the Guard was "a neutralizing, calming force between the police and the community."
Graham's first patrol assignment was at N. 5th and W. Walnut streets.
As the night began, Graham gazed to the second floor windows of a red brick apartment building and saw shadows. Curtains moved.
The people in the houses looked at him. He looked at them. "We had no idea what they were doing," Graham said. "They had no idea what we were doing."
"There was minimal light, so you'd just see the shadows. And that's what you'd look for, the shadows. Shadows and sudden movement."
It was quiet until daybreak, Graham said, when an older African American man came out of his home.
"He wanted to know if they were going to lift the curfew, because he wanted to go to his job. It was one of the big heavy industry companies. And he said he really, really needed to get to work because he was concerned about losing his job.
"The guard is citizen soldiers. Two days before, we were going to work like everybody else," Graham noted. "And I could identify with this man that couldn't get to work."
He and the other guardsmen went up the chain of command to see if the curfew was lifted and the guy could get to work. "And the answer was no," says Graham.
The city had settled down some, but the violence was far from over.
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Thread: July 30, 1967
07-30-2007, 09:54 AM #1
July 30, 1967
Last edited by jasper45; 07-30-2007 at 10:04 AM.
07-31-2007, 12:15 AM #2
- Join Date
- Jan 2007
- Green Bay
Quite the story, can't belive I never heard of that before. Also pretty eery seeing the pictures and especially the highways and main roads with no traffic.
08-01-2007, 10:19 AM #3
Second of Three Parts
On the quietest day of Milwaukee's 1967 riots came the last death, that of a teen looking forward to his second year of college.
Racial tension had sparked fierce rioting in Detroit and Newark earlier that summer. Members of the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council had picketed the homes of aldermen who voted against a proposed ordinance that would outlaw racial discrimination in housing.
Lootings, shootings, fights and fires broke out late July 30 in Milwaukee's central city, mostly in an area stretching from W. State to W. Burleigh streets and N. 1st to N. 5th streets.
On the next night, after responding to gunfire at 134 W. Center St., Patrolman Bryan Moschea, 24, was killed by a shotgun blast. Four other police officers were also shot in that incident. Annie Mosley, a white, 77-year-old widow who lived in a rear flat on the first floor, also was found dead in the burned-out building with a gunshot wound to the head.
A 43-year-old woman, Willie Ella Green, also died July 31 when she suffered a fatal heart attack while running from her second-floor apartment at 1033 W. Burleigh St.
The disturbances prompted Mayor Henry W. Maier to proclaim a state of emergency and place the city under curfew.
But as the first days of the riots passed, the unrest quieted.
Mayor Maier relaxed the citywide curfew on Aug. 1, one day before Clifford McKissick died.
Rahman Malik, named Raymus McKissick at the time, had heard on the radio that buses were running again, stores were reopening and people were going back to work.
That meant Malik, then 17, could get back to his summer job at a metal plating company. His brother Clifford McKissick, soon to be a sophomore at Wisconsin State University-Whitewater (now the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), could return to his summer jobs, one as a counselor for the Milwaukee Boys' Club.
Despite the National Guard in the streets and the eerie quiet that blanketed the neighborhood around their home at 2754 N. 15th St., the McKissicks were still a playful family of nine children, members of the family said.
"I remember the night before, we were all on the porch just talking and laughing," said Terry McKissick, then 13.
Eighteen-year-old Clifford liked children and was majoring in education in school because he wanted to be a teacher, according to his siblings.
Around 9:30 p.m., Malik said, he heard voices coming from the back of the house. Wearing only his trousers, he went to check out the noise. Clifford McKissick was leaving the kitchen to go to the backyard as well, Malik said.
Police officers involved in the incident said they saw Clifford McKissick and other youths lighting gasoline-filled bottles and throwing them into a paint store on N. Teutonia Ave. near the McKissick home. Police said McKissick ignored their cries of "Halt."
"Quite naturally . . . someone is shooting at you, you try to get away," Malik said.
He ran to a space between the house and the garage and ducked, he said, while Clifford McKissick ran to the house. A police officer shot him in the neck moments before he reached the door.
Malik recalled seeing his brother fall back after the shot was fired, but he was arrested before he could go back into the house.
Clifford died on the floor of the family's home.
The night of the shooting, police arrested Malik and another brother, Alvin McKissick, then 19.
Malik said he and Alvin have never talked about that night. He said he doesn't know where Alvin was when Clifford was shot.
Alvin McKissick, who still lives in Milwaukee, could not be reached for comment. In a newspaper report published two days after the shooting, he said he was in the family's house reading a newspaper at the time of the shooting. He later pleaded guilty to throwing a lighted firebomb at the paint store and was sentenced to 7Ĺ years in prison.
Malik was also arrested and accused of attempted arson. He appeared in three trials. One ended in a hung jury, the second was declared a mistrial and he pleaded no contest while the third was in progress, according to a 1969 newspaper report.
In 1981, a civil suit the McKissicks filed charging that police officer Ralph Schroeder used excessive force when he shot Clifford led to a Circuit Court ruling that Clifford McKissick was responsible for his own death.
The family sees things differently. There was no imminent danger to anyone since Clifford was running into the house, family members said.
"He was already in the residence," Patrick McKissick said. "Why not just surround (it)?"
Clifford McKissick's death was followed by protests from the community.
About 60 people, local civil rights activists and others from the community, met at the site of the incident the day after Clifford died as a show of support for the family. While there, Father James E. Groppi, adviser to the Milwaukee Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the killing a murder. Later that week, members of the community wore black arm bands to mourn the death, and more than 100 people marched 30 blocks in the rain from the McKissick home to the Safety Building to protest the fatal shooting.
About 500 people attended Clifford's funeral.
"A lot of good people in Milwaukee came and tried to help us through that difficult situation," Malik said.
After Clifford's death, family members said, their view of life in Milwaukee changed.
"It was like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer," said Malik, starting to cry.
"All of the sudden I'm thrust into a position that I'm not prepared to deal with . . . in the County Jail, and a lawyer is coming to tell me, 'your brother is dead.' Then, you're locked up for two weeks, then you have to get out and go to a funeral and then they come back and lock you up again," Malik said.
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