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Greendale: a community divided by design; now moving forward with purpose A short history of segregation and integration in Greendale, Wisconsin

President Franklin Roosevelt established three Greenbelt communities in the 1930s to provide public housing to help workers get out of the city of Milwaukee and "achieve a more equitable mix of social classes." To this end, Greendale was initially government-run by the Public Housing Administration.
Greendale stands on the land of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Potawatomi, Miami, and Sioux. It was built on what was once a Native American village, and early histories note that there was a tribal burial ground immediately north of Village Hall. These historical facts have yet to be formally recognized or commemorated.

In 1938, federal policy guidance suggested that "insofar as it is practical, it is desirable that the Greendale population be representative of the population of Milwaukee County, the selection area." The projections suggested that there be 52 one-bedroom homes, 230 two-bedroom homes, 272 three-bedroom homes, and 18 four-bedroom homes. The guidance suggested consideration in terms of having different Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths represented proportionately as well as balancing the public/parochial school attendance reflected in the county. It also suggested that if Greendale reflected the racial demographic of the county, there would be 11 African American families among the village's initial 572 tenants in 1938, but indicated that this characteristic would be of "doubtful significance" to the tenant selection committee. Only white families were selected to be able to rent homes in Greendale.

Residents of the new village "found that the government had provided them with the facilities of a complete ready-made town."
Greendale was, according to the first residents, "an ideal place to raise a family" an a wonderful place to grow up. Unfortunately, no African Americans were provided this opportunity by the federal government.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited Greendale in 1938, expressed that she was “disappointed with the lack of planning for blacks.” "If we are to have racial good feeling and fairness," she said, "we must not permit discrimination to creep in.”

Even as more African Americans moved to Milwaukee in the 1940s, Greendale remained racially segregated. Whites in the suburbs were given opportunity to have better living conditions, and had better access to schools. Interstates were built by tearing down African American homes, yet African Americans were prevented from getting mortgages from redlining even as they were kept from moving to other parts of the city or suburbs by other means. Not being able to buy homes also meant that they couldn't build equity leading to generational wealth like Greendale residents could.

In 1947, Elroy and Marvel Barbian built a home on Edgerton Avenue, then developed Crestview Acres. Homes in Crestview Acres were sold with covenants that would keep Greendale white by restricting ownership to white buyers, even after the Supreme Court outlawed this practice in Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948.

Regardless of whether or not subdivisions had racially restrictive covenants, realtors in Wisconsin and nation-wide were instructed not to contribute to "race mixing."

Even by 1965, there were only 60 African American families in the 30 communities surrounding Milwaukee. None lived in Greendale.

Pioneer yearbook, 1968.

In 1968, a Housing Committee encouraged the village trustees to pass ordinances prohibiting discrimination and to pass an open housing ordinance that would be stronger than the state law with its many loopholes. The Housing Committee attempted to persuade the village trustees by presenting a "faith in open housing" pledge signed by 1,000 Greendale residents. Faith leaders, including Greendale Community Church's Pastor Robert W. Horat, talked about open housing to their communities. Boston Store, newly coming to Southridge Mall, pledged its support for open housing.

Norman Rockwell's 1967 painting about integration in Chicago could just as easily have captured the experiences of the first Black family to move to Greendale.
In 1975, in an attempt to avoid redrawing district lines to desegregate schools in Milwaukee County, Greendale entered into the Chapter 200 Program. This program provided funding for Black students residing in Milwaukee to attend Greendale schools. The legislature defunded the program in 2015.
"In 2017, there were 14.1 times more White Alone residents (12.4k people) in Greendale, WI than any other race or ethnicity."
October 2019 -- The School District hosts "Greendale Welcomes Diversity" to present an action plan that includes committees comprised of community members, school district members, and village officials/employees.
On June 5, 2020, approximately 750 people marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement to honor the memory of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis. It marks a new stage in Greendale's history where we look to the future and take action to create a more equitable and welcoming Greendale for everyone. PROTEST PHOTO CREDITS: STUDIO TEN