Milwaukee’s human history begins with American Indian people who lived near the confluence of Milwaukee’s three rivers into Lake Michigan for centuries. Tribes who inhabited the area that is now Milwaukee included Menominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, and Potawatomi. With the arrival of Europeans and an increasing population, large and often violent divides become more prominent. These settlers built three dueling settlements (Juneautown, Kilbourntown, and Walker’s Point) around what is now Downtown. The two former communities were extremely competitive and created two non-aligning street grids. This is why 1st Street is west of the Milwaukee River and the reason that many of the city’s bridges cross the river diagonally (connecting the two grids).
Milwaukee has historically been a major immigrant city. During the early 20th Century, German and Polish immigrants tended to dominate, and the city still strongly identifies with its German and, to a slightly lesser extent, Polish heritage. For part of the early 20th century German was even the main language of the city, and German names are still very common.
As waves of immigrants arrived in Milwaukee they tended (and tend) to form communities in specific areas. The different areas of the city are still identified with the ethnic groups that originally populated them. The Near North and Northwest sides were originally German, but are now mainly African American with Hmong enclaves. The Near South side was originally Polish but is now mainly Hispanic. Juneautown was originally mainly populated by English immigrants as well as people from the eastern United States.
The city experienced ‘white flight’ during the 1960’s and 70’s, creating a large socio-economic divide between the inner city and suburbs. Today the city remains highly segregated with low rates of social and economic mobility within the inner city.

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