Milwaukee Urban League Records, 1919-1979


The National Urban League was founded in 1910 through the merger of three existing groups; the League for the Protection of Colored Women, the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of Negroes in New York City, and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. The League's purpose was to improve the economic situation and social status of African Americans who lived in cities, to improve race relations in the United States, and to develop the strongest possible leadership among members of both races. Local branches were also organized, and are autonomous in nature; financial support comes from local United Funds and Community Chests, to which the branches belong. The policy making and program development of the League are determined by volunteer groups comprising national and local boards of directors and trustees.

The Milwaukee branch was affiliated with the National Urban League in 1919. Described as an “educational social work agency,” the Milwaukee League set as its goals the orientation of new citizens to urban living, stabilization of the family unit, development of jobs, academic and vocational assistance, development of responsible community leadership and elimination of discrimination and segregation in employment and housing. A large part of the Urban League's work has been in the areas of vocational and guidance services, including job counseling, testing, and placement; and the development of new job opportunities for minority candidates. Much of the success of the Milwaukee Urban League can be attributed to the efforts and stature of two of its executive directors, William V. Kelley (director from 1928 to 1959) and Wesley L. Scott (1959 to 1981). Kelley, a respected and honored leader in the Milwaukee community, was a graduate of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, and a former college sociology instructor. In 1923 he began work as the industrial relations secretary of the St. Louis Urban League, and held that post until e moved to Milwaukee. Under his leadership the Milwaukee industrial relations and jobs programs grew to their present importance. Among these efforts are the Back-to-School, Stay-in-School Campaign (1962), Equal Opportunity Days, ad the Milwaukee Skills Bank. Wesley Scott attended Xavier University, New Orleans, and Ohio University, where he earned a Masters Degree in Social Administration. In 1951 Scott became the executive director of the Massillon Urban League, Massillon, Ohio, a position he held until his move to Milwaukee in 1959.

During his tenure with the Milwaukee Urban League Scott was extremely active in many local civil rights, civic, service, religious, and social organizations and clubs, an influence which extended to the Urban League itself, which became more deeply involved in working with community organizations during the 1960s and 1970s. Also during this period the Urban League received federal grant funds to permit expansion of existing programs and creation of new projects in the areas of job development, vocational counseling, and financial and technical assistance to minority business people. Although federal funding decreased somewhat during the later 1970s, the Milwaukee Urban League under executive director Bernard Benn (1981- ) has retained its original emphasis in the areas of employment, housing, family services, and community welfare.