Civil Rights Leader Won the Fight Against School Segregation

This week’s progress on the MATC project, “Portrait of Milwaukee Progress” is a sketch of Lloyd Barbee. A contemporary of Father Groppi and Vel Philips, Mr Barbee was an inspirational lawyer who took the anti segregation case against Milwaukee Public Schools all the way to the US Supreme Court, and won. For this portrait I have combined three images – in the foreground a portrait of Mr Barbee, behind him in the midground is Barbee pictured with a row of anti school segregation protestors, and in the background a scene of children of the era being bussed to school. As with the other images, this one is draft status and the design is in flux, but I’m happy with the direction so far.


Lloyd Barbee, 1925-2002

Lloyd Barbee was a lawyer and noted civil rights leader of the 1960s, fighting to end segregation in Milwaukee. In 1963, working for the NAACP, he challenged the Milwaukee Public Schools to integrate. Barbee organized civil rights activists into the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC), which organized boycotts of the schools and blocked buses, aiming to bring attention to the problem. In 1964 Barbee ran for Wisconsin State Assembly (MKE 6th District) and won. From 1965 to 1977 he was the only African-American in the state legislature, introducing a State Fair Housing bill, and working for fair employment, gay rights, women’s rights, prison reform, legalization of drugs and prostitution, disarming police officers, and taxation of churches. The school boycotts did not sway Milwaukee’s school board, so in 1965 Barbee filed a federal lawsuit Amos et al. v. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee. The case ground on for years, but in 1976, federal judge John Reynolds ruled in favor of Barbee: “I have concluded that segregation exists in the Milwaukee public schools and that this segregation was intentionally created and maintained by the defendants.” MPS appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, but that court supported Judge Reynold’s judgment and Barbee’s case. In 1979 MPS agreed to change its policies and began making progress toward integrating its schools.


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