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UW-Parkside professor launches class about Kenosha's African-American history

Posted at 10:33 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 23:33:58-04

KENOSHA — A local college professor launched a course that specifically discusses Black and African-American history in Kenosha.

It's called Researching Kenosha's Black History, and UW-Parkside history professor Edward Schmitt is leading it.

Kenosha found itself in the national spotlight after video captured the police shooting of Jacob Blake last summer.

Schmitt said people started to contact him for more historical context about Kenosha's Black and African-American population.

"I realized I did not know very much about what made the Black community in Kenosha unique," Schmitt said. "And so really it started as a mission for myself to learn more as quickly as I could."

This spring he launched the seven-week course. Both students and community members can participate.

"I thought we should really do this in a more focused way and try to bring people from the community in who we can learn from, and who also want to learn more about Kenosha's Black history," Schmitt said.

Schmitt and his students have been able to discover some unique stories in archived newspapers, such as a World War One hero named James Martin.

He said one of the challenges is Kenosha didn't have its own African American newspaper. Instead, he's hearing from longtime Kenosha families, such as the Mattox family.

"That's how our discussion got started," Darren Mattox said. "I told him about my family, about Jimmy and Johnny Grimes. They had a business since the 40s."

Mattox said his grandfather moved to Kenosha from Georgia following World War One to work in the auto industry. Mattox said his grandfather's family was one of the first African-American families to build a home in Kenosha, but could only get a loan from a bank in Milwaukee. He added the contractor who built his grandfather's home was subsequently banned.

The Mattox family established Masonic Lodge, Joseph Lodge 225, and helped establish two other churches. Darren Mattox says he's proud to call Kenosha his home.

It's these kinds of stories Schmitt hopes to preserve.

"A class like this, where you can see the weight of history and how it shapes the way we still think, I think is an important contribution," Schmitt said. "Is it going to solve the problems that we have? No, but I think it’s the grounds for understanding one another at a deeper level that history can provide."

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