- Where to Go
- The Best of Milwaukee and Madison
- The Best Wisconsin Weekends
- A Perfect Week in Door County
- Wisconsin for Recreationists
- Rustic Road Tripping
- Made in Milwaukee
- Madison Weekend
- Sports: The Packers and Beyond
- Out on the Town in Milwaukee
- Say Cheese!
- Four Days in the Mad City
- A Wisconsin Family Road Trip
- Wisconsin’s Best Brews
Some theories hold African Americans first arrived in Wisconsin in 1835, in the entourage of Solomon Juneau, the founder of Milwaukee. But records from the early part of the 18th century detail black trappers, guides, and explorers. In 1791 and 1792, in fact, black fur traders established an encampment estimated to be near present-day Marinette. Though the Michigan Territory was ostensibly free, slavery was not uncommon. Henry Dodge, Wisconsin’s first territorial governor, had slaves but freed them two years after leaving office. Other slave owners were transplanted Southerners living in the new lead-mining district of the southwest. Other early African Americans were demi-French African immigrants, who settled near Prairie du Chien in the early 19th century. Wisconsin’s first African American settlement was Pleasant Spring, outside Lancaster in southwest Wisconsin; the State Historical Society’s Old World Wisconsin in Eagle has an exhibit on it.
After passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave catchers to cross state lines in pursuit, many freed and escaped slaves flocked to the outer fringes of the country. Wisconsin’s opposition to the act was strident. One celebrated case involved Joshua Glover, an escaped slave who had been living free and working in Racine for years. He was caught and imprisoned by his erstwhile master but later broken out by mobs from Ripon, Milwaukee, and southeastern Wisconsin. The state Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional.
After the Civil War, the African American population increased, and most chose to live in rural, agricultural settings. Large-scale African American migration to Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha took place after World War II, as northern factories revved up for the Korean War and, later, the Cold War. Today, the vast majority of Wisconsin’s nearly 300,000, or 80 percent of, African Americans (around 6 percent of the state total) live in these urbanized southeastern counties. The black population is one of the fastest growing-increasing by 25 percent per decade.
© Thomas Huhti from Moon Wisconsin, 5th Edition