It was the summer of ‘67, I had just turned twelve.
On the evening of Sunday, July 30th, my family was returning from a camping trip when the National Guard had been called to Milwaukee to contain the disturbance, sealing off Michigan to Capital Avenues from Holton to 20th Street, particularly along 3rd St.
Our church was on 4th and Meineke. They wouldn’t let us in.
My dad said, “That’s enough! We’re moving back in town.” The plan began to move our family from the little farm twenty miles west where we had lived for about a decade, back into the city.
Within two years, my older brother Ed and I were attending Riverside High School, John and Joan, elementary at Hartford Ave.
Ollie Mitchell and I were in choir together with Mr. “Rollie” Kohl, our teacher, who later became principal. I looked up to Ollie. She was older than me and had a powerful voice.
Not long after we arrived things blew up.
Riverside students set the gym mats on fire in the school basement, and tables and chairs flew through the windows of the third-floor cafeteria.
The day Ollie sang “Precious Lord” in that cafeteria, a cry rose from the destruction to overcome the anguish in our school, city and country at the time.
I still remember it as if it were yesterday.
On the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, Riverside was the first Milwaukee school to be selected to bus students outside of their neighborhoods. It was like putting a bandaid on a bleeding wound and created new problems.
What was needed then and still needed now, was to step into the heart of the neighborhoods, not away, and into the hearts of the people who were crying out against the injustices of society.
These hearts, like Ollie’s, revealed the depth of faith that had evolved out of the horrendous bigotry and injustice endured and the racial divides of our city and country.
Ollie’s voice rose from the school upheaval and the violence of that time, turning the cafeteria into a sanctuary of hope. “Precious Lord take my hand, lead me on, let me stand…” It still echos today. Voices of hope don’t leave our hearts.
“Oh Riverside, dear Riverside, fair Alma Mater true…”
I’m afraid that’s all I remember of our school song, even though every time Dad and I used to drive past the high school, which was the one he had also attended, he’d break out into song. You’d think I would have learned the words. I didn’t.
But I will always remember the words Ollie sang!
A few Class of ‘73 Yearbook memories: