Editor’s note: The Wisconsin National Guard hosted former Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt for a discussion on Black History Month at Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, Wis. After the discussion, Tech. Sgt. Lee Rettmann shared his perspective and what he took from the discussion.
Walking into Witmer Hall at Wisconsin’s Joint Force Headquarters, I knew very little about Marvin Pratt and what he accomplished in life, so I was unsure what the presentation would provide.
I was interested in Mr. Pratt’s recounting of life and growing up in a time of civil unrest. His perspective seemed more as spectator, participating in only a few marches or demonstrations, but not forcibly protesting. He was not necessarily denied rights, but at times did not prosper as well as white Americans. He was in the minority, not as a race, but excelling in life.
His military enlistment resulted in a positive and promising future, which led to a commission and retirement. I like to believe that the military breaks down the walls of racism and segregation, providing the same opportunities to everyone regardless of color. I also know it has not always been true and there are still isolated pockets of racism in the Armed Forces, but my hopes are high that future generations will correct this error.
I was very pleased when the presentation included his wife, and they provided two perspectives of life in Milwaukee and more importantly how the schools functioned while they lived there. Schools contribute the most to the growth of our children, and if schools are not functioning properly in providing education and good character building, the results could be devastating. Both Mr. Pratt and his wife understood this and worked very hard to improve education. Pratt’s wife was a teacher, and the couple even ran their own school for awhile.
Schools today are still struggling for proper education. I believe it is no longer an issue of race or segregation, but more of funding.
The question was asked from the audience regarding the education of the civil rights movement to our children and the possibility of them not knowing what impact it had on our history. I had an answer to that.
I have witnessed my children growing up in a very ethnically and racially diverse school, but that is not how they see it. When they describe their classmates they tell us, “Tall, pretty, likes to play Legos, shares their lunch food, and a good friend.” When they bring home a class photo, my wife and I look at the picture of the friend they are always talking about and find they never mentioned their friend was Black, or Hispanic, or Indian.
It is my generation and past generations that make race a distinction. If our children start using that same distinction, it is because the parents are making race an issue and corrupting them. Racism is an endangered species needing extinction, and our children will be the exterminators. If they can remain uncorrupted by their parents and others, they will be better people. Segregation will become some event in history kids are taught in school – remembered, but never repeated.