Monday, July 10, 2006

Frank Zeidler

It'd be wrong for a political blogger with an interest in local history not to comment on the passing of Frank Zeidler, who served as Socialist mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960. One of the fun things I've gotten to do in the practice of law was to interview Mayor Zeidler for background and as a potential witness in the metropolitan school desegregation case. He was an old and venerable guy even then - and that must have been twenty years ago. He still lived then - and I think remained until his death - in a house around 2d & Locust that he bought before becoming the mayor.

Zeidler was important in that case, in part, because of one of his most visible legacies to Milwaukee - all that space on the Northwest side. Because he had annexed the old Town of Granville, there was substantial room for residential growth out of the near north side within the city limits. This is one of the reason that such a small percentage of African-Americans in the Milwaukee metro area live in the suburbs. If you look at industrial midwestern cities, the African-American population generally grows out from an initial inner city location in a pie slice-shaped fashion. Milwaukee looks just like places like Chicago and Cleveland in that regard. The difference here is that the pie slice remained largely within city limits because Zeidler had so radically expanded the city's limits, creating a "suburb within the city."

He was a fascinating guy. Although he came to be wrong about almost everything because, I think, he failed to see how experience had disproved many of his core beliefs, he was, nevertheless, an inspirational example of how a person stays engaged and lives in accord with his or her most deeply held beliefs. May he rest in peace.

As an aside, the Mayor will be buried, most appropriately, at Forest Home Cemetery, the second oldest garden cemetery in the United States and a beautiful repository of the city's history. Forest Home is owned by my church and I serve as its counsel. It is really a neat place.


Dad29 said...

AFter all else is said and done, Zeidler, above all, was honest and understood the word "honor."

Anonymous said...

Your description of the way black people move to new neighborhoods is sterotyping. Since you live in Mequon, how do you account for the African-Americans who moved there?

Rick Esenberg said...

No, it's not stereotyping. It is well known demographic fact. In the metropolitan desegregation case, no one disagreed that it was true. The argument was over why it was true.

But to say that the black community moves in certain direction is not to say that every black person moves in that way. Mequon was an area in which some - fairly wealthy - African Americans moved and in which the reception given early black "pioneers" was less hostile than elsewhere - probably because it didn't create the same economic anxieties.

Anonymous said...

Hi.. I happened upon your blog about Zeidler and noticed the reference to Forest Home Cemetery being "the second oldest garden cemetery in the United States." Can you tell me what the source is for that? Thanks!