Diversity has been one of Milwaukee’s hallmarks since the city’s infancy. A bewildering variety of ethnic communities have emerged there, including Native Americans and French Canadians before the dawn of urban time; Yankees, Germans, Irish, Poles, and Italians in the nineteenth century; and Latinos and African Americans in the twentieth—and that’s just the major groups. Each has played a formative role in the making of Milwaukee, but harmony has not been the dominant theme in their complex coexistence. A pecking order developed early and changed regularly in Milwaukee, usually in response to the arrival of newer groups.
In the first talk of the Wisconsin Academy's The American Dream in Wisconsin Series, Historian John Gurda explores how in Milwaukee, as in other U.S. cities, differences became divisions—and how we can work to reconcile the promise of diversity with its abundant challenges.