Social movement scholar Charles Tilly once wrote “the oppressed have struck in the name of justice, the privileged in the name of order, those in between in the name of fear.” While I have discussed the root causes of protest and possible solutions to prevent uprisings, recent unrest in Milwaukee provides the occasion to revisit an earlier uprising in the city, specifically the ways the state and its agents also utilized urban revolts as political tools.
Forty-nine years ago, on July 30, 1967, black Milwaukeeans took to the streets to protest the multiple layers of oppression in their lives. While most accounts of the uprising do not center around one specific catalyzing event, many cite an over-policed CORE dance in Garfield Park as the opening salvo. As the dance ended, around 11 p.m., a fight started between two teenage women. When the police arrived, a crowd of 300 dance attendees remained, and police ordered everyone to disperse. As groups went home they moved down North Third Street and broke a small number of store windows. Over the next three days participants caused localized property damage including lighting several fires and overturning cars, including one police vehicle. 
On Monday, July 31 Mayor Henry Maier imposed a swift and aggressive response, including a city-wide curfew for forty-eight straight hours. By the afternoon, 750 local police, 250 State police, and 950 National Guard sealed off an 840-square-block area in Milwaukee’s black enclave, the Inner Core. National Guardsmen held an additional 1,607 soldiers in reserve. The city sealed off all roads in and out of Milwaukee and closed the airport. For the next twenty-six hours law enforcement prevented anyone from entering or leaving the city, except for medical professionals, the press, and emergency service providers. By midnight, the National Guard committed 2,357 men to the Inner Core area, either on active or reserve duty. The next day, August 1, civil authorities committed the entire police force and placed 4,084 National Guard on reserve. This massive show of force by National Guard and police effectively stifled the small uprising but more importantly sent a powerful political message to participants and the broader black community.
The State’s operational tactics during the uprisings reflected a conscious decision to shut down not only the physical uprising but also potential ideological awakenings. The actions that the State took represented not an overreaction; but a strategic and pragmatic response. The State’s adaptations had to be effective not only in stopping the uprising, but also to psychologically deter participants from protesting in this manner again. The establishment of riot zones and curfews effectively criminalized all members of the black community. Residents, though not illegally engaging in the uprisings, could be arrested and arraigned on riot-connected charges, by virtue of being outdoors in their own neighborhood. Despite its small population, police arrested 1,700 people in Milwaukee during the uprising; of this number only 193 people were arrested for non-loitering offenses. Meanwhile, the curfew prevented the city’s black population from congregating, stifling the possibility of further mobilization.
Although municipal government explicitly applauded the hundreds of responsible citizens, such punitive arrests tacitly sent a message of black criminality to the broader white community. Despite this, Maier framed the curfew as a unifying measure. When the suburbs (which were all white because of residential red-lining) voluntarily implemented their own curfews, the mayor opined “there was a common identity in the metropolitan area…I hope the experience could bolster efforts to achieve a greater metropolitan sharing of the poverty burden in Milwaukee.” Maier framed this rebellion suppression tactic by tying it to ongoing pressure to pass open housing ordinances in Milwaukee. The Mayor and City Council refused to sign such initiatives unless they included the entire metropolitan area. In so doing, they effectively halted the measures, fully knowing that the segregated suburbs would never agree to outlaw racial covenants. By framing the curfew as a way of uniting Milwaukee, Maier cleverly pushed forth his own political narrative, presenting the central city and suburbs as ever wedded, facing the same obstacles. Contrasting the alleged unity of urban and suburban, in practice, Milwaukee police and National Guard only patrolled the black Inner Core neighborhood.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the power structure’s co-optation of the rebellions and authentic local grievances came from Mayor Maier’s disregard of the demands of black community leaders. On August 7, 1967, Common View, a black civic group, submitted a five-point statement concerning housing, employment, education, police-community relations, the court system, and recreation. Ignoring this grassroots presentation of grievances, Mayor Maier mandated top-down solutions to solve ghetto problems in consultation with handpicked advisors. Maier’s apparent cluelessness in choosing his advisory board was not unintentional. The Mayor had long been advocating for greater county, state, and federal support of the urban city. The uprising provided the rhetorical and political tool he needed to make further entreaties to the entities that could grant his wishes. The final product of his efforts was a 39-point plan that became known as “Milwaukee’s Marshall Plan.” Though it constituted broad sweeping hopes, it lacked focus and tangible action plans, containing no indigenously created demands. Of the thirty-nine points, the Mayor could only directly influence six. Most disconcertingly, although working-class African Americans comprised the main participants in the uprising, Maier insisted that his plan was “not intended to help just one group, but to help all by making this a better city.”
In the midst of an election year where protesters chant “Black Lives Matter,” candidates promise to “Make America Great Again,” and the news regularly broadcasts images of black suffering, we must be prepared for the ways in which the events unfolding in Milwaukee will be used as a political pivot in the rhetorical ramp up leading to November. We must beware of the ways in which racial violence is used not only by activists but also state agents to advance their own individual agendas. We must not let co-optation silence the authentic demands of the people.
Charles Tilly, “Collective Violence in European Perspective,” in Violence in America: Protest, Rebellion, and Reform, vol. 2, ed Ted Robert Gurr, (Newbury Park CA: Sage Publishers, 1989), 62.
 Ashley M. Howard, “Why Ferguson Isn’t the Tale of Two Protests,” The Black Scholar (blog) August 18, 2014, http:// http://www.theblackscholar.org/why-ferguson-isnt-the-tale-of-two-protests.
 Ashley M. Howard, “How U.S. Urban Unrest in the 1960s Can Help Make Sense of Ferguson, Missouri, and Other Recent Protests,” Scholar Strategy Network, November 2014 http:// http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/how-us-urban-unrest-1960s-can-help-make-sense-ferguson-missouri-and-other-recent-protests
 “Reconnaissance Survey-Milwaukee” NACCD/E51, Johnson Presidential Library, 37.
 Henry W. Maier, The Mayor Who Made Milwaukee Famous. (Madison: Madison Books, 1993), 65.
 “Justice Department Weekly Summary Milwaukee August 4, 1967” NACCD/E33, Johnson Presidential Library,2. “Memo to Staff from Henry B. Taliaferro Subj Milwaukee trip 28-29 Aug 1967, 26 Sept 1967” NACCD/E24, Johnson. “Disturbance in Vicinity of North Third Street, Milwaukee WI 1 Aug 1967” NACCD/E24, Johnson Presidential Library, 6.
 Maier, The Mayor Who, 70. “Conviction Count-Milwaukee” NACCD/E2, Johnson Presidential Library.
 “Common View demands with Mayor’s response” NACCD/E51, Johnson Presidential Library.
 Maier, The Mayor Who, 89.
Ashley Howard is an Assistant Professor at Loyola University in New Orleans and The Black Scholar book reviews editor. Her research centers around African Americans in the Midwest; the intersection between race, class and gender; and the global history of racial violence. She is currently completing her book Prairie Fires: Race, Class, Gender, and the Midwest in the 1960s Urban Rebellions that analyzes the way identity played critical and overlapping roles in defining resistance to racialized oppression in Cincinnati, Ohio; Omaha, Nebraska; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.