Milwaukee’s African American Trailblazers (Week 2)

February 18, 2021

African Americans have been involved in civil rights, politics, journalism, religion, land resources, public service, medicine, academia, law, science, economics, music, arts, etc. While African Americans are deeply entrenched in the history of our country, often they don’t get the recognition they deserve. This month, I am recognizing several African American men and women, past and present, who are pioneers and an example of the contributions African Americans have made to the City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin.

Marvin Pratt

In 2000, Marvin Pratt was elected president of the Milwaukee Common Council. When Mayor John Norquist stepped down in 2004 three months before his term expired, Pratt became acting mayor. He was the first African- American to serve as mayor of Milwaukee. Pratt ran in a primary election for the Mayoral seat and finished first from a field of thirteen candidates during the primary. He lost his bid to retain the job to Tom Barrett in the 2004 general election. On February 4, 2011, Pratt was sworn in as interim Milwaukee County Executive. Appointed by County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, he filled the unexpired term of former Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who was elected governor of Wisconsin, until the special Spring Election held on April 5, 2011. Upon swearing in, Pratt became the first person to serve as both Milwaukee Mayor and Milwaukee County Executive.

Preston Cole

Preston Cole previously served as the Commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services and presently serves as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary, the first African American to serve in this position. Previously, Secretary Cole was the Chair of the State Natural Resources Board and the first African American elected to that position. Cole has been a member of the Natural Resources Board since 2007, appointed by Governor Jim Doyle.

Lloyd A. Barbee

A prominent lawyer, state representative, and civil rights activist, Lloyd Barbee was the driving force behind efforts to desegregate public schools in Milwaukee, a city long known for its deep racial divisions. The cornerstone of those efforts, a federal lawsuit known as Amos et al. v. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee, occupied Barbee for more than a decade. Still, he noted in comments quoted by Maxine Aldridge White and Joseph A. Ranney in the April 2004 issue of Wisconsin Lawyer, “I am not discouraged. I have seen more difficult times. We are not as well off as we could be, but we are better off than we were.”

After attending segregated public schools, Barbee served in the U.S. Navy for three years, from 1943 to 1946, before entering LeMoyne College, a predominately African American institution in Memphis. He received a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from LeMoyne in 1949, then moved north to attend law school at University of Wisconsin in Madison. Frustrated with the racist attitudes he encountered among professors and fellow students, Barbee dropped out after his first year. After spending several months as a student organizer for a social-change organization called Americans for Democratic Action, he returned to the university, where he earned a law degree in 1956. His first major position after passing the bar exam was with the Madison-based Industrial Commission of Wisconsin (ICW), where he served as a law examiner for five years, from 1957 to 1962. He then moved to Milwaukee and started his own law firm. While he most often worked behind the scenes, Barbee did not hesitate to lead nonviolent protests in the streets when he felt it necessary. In 1961, for example, he led a thirteen-day sit-in at the State Capitol in Madison, a dramatic event that galvanized support for several anti-discrimination bills then pending.


Marvin Pratt –

Preston Cole – WDNR Website Biography. See entire biography at:

Lloyd Barbee –

Next Week: Continuation

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