Community Forum on Race Relations in Racine County, Wisconsin

Chapter 1


The purpose of this study is to examine the state of race and ethnic relations in the city of Racine and Racine County, Wisconsin. Testimony from organizations and individuals supported with demographic, employment, housing, and education data are presented regarding the presence of racial and ethnic tensions and the existence of covert and/or overt barriers in the city of Racine and in Racine County that may be precluding equal opportunity for minority residents.

In the 1940s and 1950s, obvious differences in opportunities among racial and ethnic groups existed in the community. This was a time in Racine when many of the most modest public accommodations were not available to people of color. Minorities could not access many of the finer hotels, restaurants, and public venues. Higher paying jobs in the community were overtly denied to people of color.

In the 1960s, open racial and ethnic tensions spewed across the community. In response, backed by the community’s major employers, programs were implemented jointly with the city to resolve such issues. The major initiative was the Racine Environment Committee (REC). The REC was established in the fall of 1967 to study and recommend action on race-related problems that affected the industrial, economic, and social climate of the Racine metropolitan area. It was formed as an outgrowth of the Hill-Kidd Committee, which had been appointed by the mayor of Racine in August 1966 to investigate and recommend action in areas where racial and ethnic discrimination existed. More than a benevolent enterprise, industry leaders had come to understand that if they could not produce a good living environment it would negate their opportunity to attract the type of work force they wanted.

Since the REC, other public and private efforts to examine and resolve race-related issues have been implemented, and today instances of people of color being openly denied access to housing, employment, and public venues are increasingly rare. Still, since the REC there has been no similar, broad-based community initiative in the area of civil rights. To this end, a public community forum was held on September 21, 1999, by the Wisconsin Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to determine the current state of race and ethnic relations and to again draw the community’s attention to such issues.

At the community forum, the Advisory Committee solicited testimony from individuals and organizations in two sessions. During the day session, invited public, civic, and community leaders addressed the Advisory Committee at the Radisson Inn Harbourwalk. In the evening, members of the public were afforded the opportunity to address the Committee at an open session held at the John Bryant Community Center, 601 21st Street in Racine.

Those invited to testify before the Committee during the day session were (in order of appearance): James H. Smith, mayor, city of Racine; Chief of Police James Polzin, Assistant Chief Allen Baker, and Lieutenant Steve Hurley (Racine Police Department); Mattie Booker (Racine Unified School District); Dave Mauer (Racine Area United Way); Mary Day (Racine Educational Council); Morris Reece (Racine chapter NAACP); Julian Thomas (Urban League); Rev. Jimmie Lockridge (Civil Rights Committee); Rev. Lawrence Kirby (St. Paul Church); Sonya Telez (Hispanic Business and Professional Association); Ken Lumpkin (The Insider News and Hispanic News); Rev. George Ramsey (Shiloh Stronghold Church of God in Christ); and Neal Kueny (Family Service Center of Racine).

Individuals speaking at the public session were (in order of appearance): Dianna Garcia, Alphonso Goron, Paula Castile, James Gordon, Hugh Souter, Chester Todd, Judith Koenig, Rev. Shaw Parsons, Wally Rendon, Theresa Gordon, David Guran, Corrine Owens, and Gilbert Delgado.

This report presents its examination of race relations in Racine County and the city of Racine in four sections: (1) income and employment, (2) education, (3) policing, and (4) housing and public accommodation. Each section opens with background information followed by two sets of commentary, one from the invited public leaders and organization representatives and a second set of commentary received from the public at the open session. In a separate chapter, the Committee offers its comments and observations.