Community Forum on Race Relations in Racine County, Wisconsin

Chapter 2

Statement of James H. Smith, Mayor, City of Racine

“I believe we have made great strides in our civil rights efforts here in the city of Racine. . . . In 1970, the city of Racine contained 53 percent of the county’s white population and 92 percent of its nonwhite population. In 1990, the city of Racine contained 42 percent of the county’s white population and 86.8 percent of its nonwhite population. Excluding the city’s population, the balance of the county is 96.7 percent white, 1.6 percent African American, and 1.7 percent of other races. The city’s minority population has increased from 18 percent in 1989 to 23.6 percent in 1990. The city’s population, based on the 1990 census, is 76.4 percent white, 18.4 percent African American, and 5.2 percent other races. In 1990, the city contained 75.9 percent of the county’s population of Spanish origin.

“As far as employment, in 1972 the city of Racine had a population of approximately 95,000 and a minority population of 15 to 20 percent. At that time the city of Racine’s work force was only 2.6 percent African American and 0.5 percent Hispanic. As of November 1997, the last time a diversity count was conducted, the city’s work force had increased to 11.2 percent African American and 6.4 percent Hispanic for a city with a population of approximately 85,000, of which 18.4 percent was African American and 5 percent was Hispanic. I think the city has made great strides in its commitment to diversity, but in actuality we also put that commitment into practice.

“As mayor, I want to emphasize that I will continue my commitment to diversity despite the de-emphasis on affirmative action posited from some quarters. I feel strongly about this and believe . . . we have made great strides among our diverse populations to bring this community together. When I ran for office in 1995 I made that commitment, to bring this community together, and I believe we are working towards that. I certainly do not take credit for all of our progress because we have wonderful, caring people in this community. What makes any community is the people that reside in it. I am proud to call many minority people in this community my friends, people with whom I meet on a regular basis to talk about issues in this community, and will continue to do so.

“When I ran for office in 1995, I worked hard in the central city. Generally the central city is an area with traditional low voter turnout. Coming home after campaigning I told my wife, ‘Whether I am elected or not, I will never forget this experience because many of our residents in the central city feel like they are forgotten, and that no one cares about them or the kind of homes they live in, or their standards of living or the conditions of their houses.’

“We have turned that around in many of our areas. We have made a commitment. West Sixth Street area is a good example where we have targeted the neighborhood with millions of dollars in order to make homeownership a reality for those who thought that was just a dream in the past. We have forged strong neighborhood coalitions that are working with our police department, our housing department, and our sanitation department to make the conditions much better than they were in the past, and we will continue to do so.

“Do we have racism in Racine? We do have racism in Racine. I get calls on occasion from people, and am just appalled at the conversation. Often I have [followed up on those calls] and offered an invitation to these callers, saying: ‘Why don’t you take a walk with me through the neighborhoods of this city and meet the folks who live there, who have the same hopes and dreams you and I have for our city, dreams of a good job, a community in which their children can grow up where there are no gunshots, a place where their children can get a good education.’

“I believe that overall we have made a lot of strides in our community to improve opportunities for all our citizens, and I have made a commitment to continue to do so. I, like many others, think of the diversity in the city of Racine as a strength. I truly believe we must understand that because the minority population is growing much faster than the white population, we must commit to make sure those children grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow. And there is a lot of effort going on in this community to make that happen.”[1]

[1] Testimony of James H. Smith before the Wisconsin Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Racine, WI, Sept. 21, 1999, transcript,  pp. 7–15.