A Journal Sentinel series exploring racism & community solutions

Made possible by a Foundation Fellowship in Public Service Journalism

By James E. Causey, excerpted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By 1970, Milwaukee was statistically the best place for a Black family in America.

  • More than 85% of Black men between 25 and 54 in the metro area had jobs.

  • Milwaukee trailed only Detroit in having the highest median household income in the nation.

  • The poverty rate for Black residents was 22% lower than the national average.

This was Milwaukee’s promise.

Now, my parents have passed and so has the hopeful world they wanted to pass on to us.

Blacks here suffered more than anyone else from the collapse of manufacturing — their household incomes, adjusted for inflation, dropped nearly 29% from 1979 to 2010.

So how do we reclaim Milwaukee’s true promise?

How do we build a place where every life is valued regardless of skin color?

That’s the subject of this series, which builds on my work as a 2019-2020 O’Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University.

Instead of digging deeper into our problems — let’s face it, we all know what they are — we decided to look at solutions.


James E. Causey

About Milwaukee Promise's Project

Reporter James E. Causey spent the 2019-20 academic year as an O'Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University, where he was assisted by student researchers Abby Ng, Donna Sarkar and Sebastian Becerra.

Photojournalist Angela Peterson's work was supported by a public service journalism fellowship from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which aims to inform and foster civic engagement and rising together to eradicate systemic racism that withholds our region and all people from truly thriving.

All work on the project was done under the guidance of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editors. Neither Marquette nor the foundation had involvement in decisions about the content or presentation of the work. To support the Journal Sentinel's in-depth local reporting, please subscribe at