By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 06, 2009 at 1:20 PM

About a decade ago, while working at Schwartz Bookshops, I visited Los Angeles to attend the American Booksellers Association's annual convention. After the activity on the convention floor shuts down for the day, the action really begins as publishers host parties around town at restaurants, clubs and other venues.

That year, I went to a party thrown by a publisher at Campanile, which was notable to me for a few reasons:

  • It was housed in what was once Charlie Chaplin's headquarters in L.A.
  • It was across the street from A&M Records' La Brea Avenue offices.
  • It was a fabulous restaurant adjacent to the famous La Brea Bakery and the vegetarian lasagna was so good my wife asked for the recipe (and we never do that).

But most notable was that among the people seated at our table was Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights movement veteran that marched with Dr. King and can be seen in footage of nearly every landmark civil rights event of the 1960s.

Presumably, he had written or was working on a book at the time, which would explain his presence.

When he heard we were from Milwaukee, he talked to me about Father James Groppi, recalling times they'd met and the work the Italian boy from Bay View had done for the civil rights movement.

Then, he told me -- a guy who was working on author events and creating a monthly bookstore newsletter but who had never written a book -- that there should be a biography of Groppi and I was just the person to write it.

Although I've written three books since then and one about Bay View Italians, I haven't written the Groppi book and I can't be sure I ever will. But Congressman Lewis really meant that Groppi's work deserves to be explored and celebrated and written down for posterity. That I do it is hardly the important part.

This is a long way of telling you that University of Nebraska Assistant Professor of History Patrick D. Jones has told at least part of Groppi's story in his new book "The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee," published in hardcover by Harvard University Press.

Harvard Press salesman John Eklund, who was there with me for that ABA convention just gave me a copy because Jones will appear at Boswell Book Company -- run by my ABA roommate that year, Daniel Goldin -- on Thursday, May 14 at 7 p.m. (Hey, this is Milwaukee, so it won't suprise you that I know a few Groppis, too! That's Brew City's one degree of separation for ya!)

Because I only received the book 10 minutes ago, I can't tell you a whole lot more yet. But I will talk to Jones for a fuller story in the near future. In the meantime, go to the event, and here is a description of the book from Harvard University Press...

"Between 1958 and 1970, a distinctive movement for racial justice emerged from unique circumstances in Milwaukee. A series of local leaders inspired growing numbers of people to participate in campaigns against employment and housing discrimination, segregated public schools, the membership of public officials in discriminatory organizations, welfare cuts, and police brutality.

"The Milwaukee movement culminated in the dramatic -- and sometimes violent -- 1967 open housing campaign. A white Catholic priest, James Groppi, led the NAACP Youth Council and Commandos in a militant struggle that lasted for 200 consecutive nights and provoked the ire of thousands of white residents. After working-class mobs attacked demonstrators, some called Milwaukee 'the Selma of the North.' Others believed the housing campaign represented the last stand for a nonviolent, interracial, church-based movement.

"Patrick Jones tells a powerful and dramatic story that is important for its insights into civil rights history: the debate over nonviolence and armed self-defense, the meaning of Black Power, the relationship between local and national movements, and the dynamic between southern and northern activism. Jones offers a valuable contribution to movement history in the urban North that also adds a vital piece to the national story."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.