"The Old South, Up North" (Dec. 30) correctly delineated many of the problems that confront Milwaukee, a city where I have lived and worked for more than 40 years. There is one issue regarding the disparity between black and white income levels that required more research, the erosion of Milwaukee's industrial base.
For much of the 20th century, Milwaukee was one of the nation's most industrialized cities, which was one of the reasons why thousands of African Americans migrated there. At Capitol Drive and Holton, on the city's east side, 12,000 workers, many of whom were African American, assembled auto bodies for American Motors. At its former location now stands a huge Wal-Mart. At 35th Street, the former A.O. Smith Corp., whose principal product was auto and truck frames, employed nearly 6,000 employees, including a very large number of African American workers, most of whom were male. The work was hard, but the wages earned, mostly on an incentive system, were very high. At most, 600 workers remain. On 70th Street, Allis-Chalmers Corp., at its peak, employed between 12,000 and 14,000 workers. The site is now occupied by retail shops. The list could be expanded infinitely.
The industries that employed large numbers of African Americans and paid high union wages are largely gone and have not been replaced by jobs that employ large numbers of African Americans, particularly men, at high wages. This is not an excuse for the income disparity, but it goes a long way toward explaining the problems besetting Milwaukee's African Americans.
Milwaukee's treatment of its black citizens is embarrassing. Come on, America, wake up! How can we judge other countries for their inferior treatment of citizens; we're no better on too many levels. Racism continues to be a thorn in America's side. Ask Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).