Every Thursday morning Joe Glover Jr. volunteers at the Sheboygan Police Department, alphabetizing the judge’s records, mailing documents or feeding officers with food from his wife.
His work in the municipal court is quiet, and often done alone. Yet he is known around the police department for his outgoing, cheery disposition —he is always trying to make other people smile.
SPD Volunteer Coordinator Penny Weber said despite being one of the department’s newest volunteers, he already has built a positive reputation.
“If you met Joe, you know he is probably one of the most positive people you will ever meet. He always has a smile on his face. He is just one happy person,” Weber said.
The woman who volunteered before him would bring in cookies for the officers, affectionately becoming known as “The Cookie Lady.” When she retired, Joe took over her working duties, and eventually, he found out about her baking reputation and took up the mantle himself.
Joe was a volunteer at the Blood Center before he went to Coffee with a Cop at McDonalds and learned of the police department’s volunteering programs.
Joe’s decision to help the police department is remarkable given that he happily works for the same department that racially profiled him on several occasions more than 40 years ago.
His path to becoming a retired volunteer in Sheboygan is a long one that didn’t even start here.
Joe grew up in Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code, an infamously rough neighborhood now being featured in a documentary for having the highest incarceration rate in the country.
He grew up in private schools, graduating in a class that only had six minority students. He also had a machinery apprenticeship in Milwaukee and became a skilled laborer.
Those skills brought him to Sheboygan Jan. 5, 1970 to work for Hayssen Manufacturing, running the lathe machine. According to Joe, he was harassed by the white workers whom saw him as a threat to their job.
“Guys would be balling up clay, spitting it through straws, hitting you all over,” Joe said. “You’d turn around and they’d be standing there like, ‘Well who do you pick did it?’”
One day, a fellow black coworker was beat up in the bathroom before Joe saw him running across the machine floor. He went to physically defend the man—a decision that resulted in him and the man being fired, according to Joe.
That was two weeks after his first day.
The job didn’t even outlast the temporary living at the YMCA Hayssen provided. He had two more weeks to live there for free. Joe met a woman there, who was white, who would become his wife—Mary. Those last two weeks were the beginning of a courtship that lasted several months before Joe was drafted for service.
“I’d get stopped here, stopped there,” Joe said. “I never knew about (Sundown towns) at the time. I didn’t see it immediately, I just was wondering, ‘Why are they doing this? Why do I have to be out of here at dark?”
Was Sheboygan a sundown town?
Census data dating back to 1860 shows that the black population of Sheboygan did not reach double-digits until 1970, peaking with nine in 1910. Through the 1920’s and 30’s, there were no black residents in Sheboygan, with one in the 1940 census and eight in the 1950 census.
According to research by Professor James W. Loewen, who taught race relations for 20 years at the University of Vermont, there is evidence to suggest Sheboygan may have been a “Sundown Town” – a place where people of color were forced to leave the city after sunset.
Loewen compiled an online map allowing people to find out more about the racial history of their towns, identifying thousands of likely and confirmed sundown towns across the U.S.
Sheboygan is labeled as having possible sundown status. It is unknown whether there was an ordinance or sign specifically prohibiting black people from staying, but the testimonials he lists indicate a certain amount of racial animus.
Loewen received a report of a black social worker from Madison’s state office had to stay at a smaller hotel outside of Sheboygan in 1976 because she couldn’t stay in Sheboygan’s main hotel.
Other testimonies to Loewen showed similar patterns.
“’I recall being told when I moved to Sheboygan in August 1970 that in previous years blacks had not been allowed to stay in the city overnight. There was no generalized policy in that regard by 1970, but I suppose reminisce[sic] of the one-time prohibition might have been carried on informally.
“’We lived on the city’s south side initially and later on the southwest, mostly in the working class section. And I saw no evidence of blacks being prohibited per se, that the black population was quite low.
“’We had a black mailman between 1970 and 1975, but at the junior high school I taught at in those years, also on the south (side), I don’t recall any black students,” Loewen said he was told by Donovan Walling, a former Sheboygan resident, in 2002.
Loewen’s testimonies are remembered, secondary accounts. The Sheboygan Press archives also tell a story of discriminatory local discourse and policy.
The very rumor of a sundown ordinance prompted then-Mayor John Bolgert in 1959 to outright deny that Sheboygan had any sundown laws. He cited as proof that black people we able to live in the city when they were playing baseball for the local minor league team. The same story reported a local pastor as saying there was no prejudice toward black people because there were none here.
Four years later in September of 1963, Professor Spencer Hildahl, then chair of the sociology department at Lakeland College spoke to the Sheboygan Evening Optimist Club about welcoming “negroes” into the city.
“Negroes are coming to Sheboygan just as surely as Christmas is coming next December,” Hildahl said. “We have to assume, whether people accept the fact or not, that Sheboygan is going to have a population that includes Negroes and other minority groups in the not too distant future.”
One of the unnamed Optimists present asserted that an ordinance existed that prohibited black people from living in Sheboygan.
“The same Optimist asserted that present city officials deny that Sheboygan has an ordinance preventing Negroes from living in Sheboygan. But, he claimed, Sheboygan adopted such an ordinance in 1887 —‘that no Negroes will be housed in Sheboygan — and it is still on the books,’” the Press reported.
Confirming ordinances or signs that explicitly gave a town sundown status is difficult because ordinances are revised and recodified.
The city clerk’s office has only two old ordinance books, both of which were from 1976. One of those has been updated. The city attorney’s office has a 1975 book that was updated in 1998 and a 1965 copy that was updated in 1975. The Sheboygan County Historical Research Center also has a 1928 copy of the ordinances, but it is abridged. No such ordinance is mentioned in any of those copies.
Even if the ordinance never officially was on the books, it is still possible that sundown policy was institutionalized here, according to Loewen.
“It’s typically difficult or impossible to actually find copies of the ordinances. Matter of a fact, most towns, you might ask the clerk to show you the double-parking ordinance,” he said. “I bet they can’t find that, but if you double-park you’re going to get a ticket. So the issue typically is many sundown towns never even claimed to have passed an ordinance.”
Legalized discrimination: The 1968 “Fair Housing Ordinance”
Even if there was no specific sundown ordinance, discrimination was occasionally on the books. On Monday Oct. 7, 1968—four years after the federal Civil Rights Act was passed—the Sheboygan Common Council passed an ordinance in a 15-0 vote that banned housing discrimination with two exemptions.
Religious organizations could discriminate based on religious reasons and owners of owner-occupied two-family homes could discriminate in rentals on the bases of “race, color, religion or national origin.”
The first exemption was narrowly added back into the ordinance after a motion to do so narrowly passed in an 8 to 7 vote. It had been deleted two weeks before the final vote by the Committee of the Whole. Alderpersons also rejected 11-4 a last-ditch effort to delete the second exemption from the ordinance.
The State of Wisconsin had already passed a fair housing statute in 1966, but it had several exemptions as well, which left it to cover only about 25 percent of housing in the state, according to an April 1966 Press article. In that article, local leaders were urging the Common Council to pass a fair housing, open occupancy ordinance to ensure minorities who came to Sheboygan were not confined to a “big city ghetto.”
In the months following the ordinance’s passage, several local organizations including the Sheboygan County Council of Churches and the Sheboygan City of Elm Amvets Post 18 called for the exemptions to be deleted.
The fight was mainly over the religious exemption, not the one that allowed for racial discrimination in shared dwellings. And in February of 1969, a motion to remove just the religious exemption was defeated. The ordinance exemptions were legal until state laws, federal laws and court decisions made the exemptions illegal, according to a January 1976 Press article.
“There’s no negroes here after dark”
Those instances of discrimination were epitomized when Joe and Mary were relaxing one night outside of the same YMCA. That was when one police officer made the situation clear to him.
“I was parked with Mary, we were having popcorn and root beer. Because of the humidity the back windows fogged up, you know, And all of a sudden this cop knocks on the back window and I’m like, ‘What’s he doing?’
“I said, ‘I bet he thinks we’re making out or something.’ She was driving because I didn’t have my license. And she’s just laughing. I rolled down the window and said, ‘Can I help you?’
“He’s looking in the back of the car—‘What’re you guys doing here?’ the officer said. I said, ‘We’re just having a beer.’ (He responded) ‘You’re not supposed to be drinking in the car!’ I said, ‘Root beer,’ trying to be funny.”
The officer was not amused and continued by asking Joe and Mary where they lived. Mary told the officer her address and Joe said he lived at the YMCA. The officer asked him where he worked and Joe explained he had recently been laid off.
“He said, ‘No then you got to get out of town.’ I said, ‘Pardon me? Why do I have to leave?’” Joe said. “He said, ‘We don’t have negroes here after dark.’ And that’s when I went, ‘Woah!’”
The officer went on to tell him it was city law that no “negroes” could be in town, unless they had a job. That was when Joe moved back to Milwaukee.
“180 degree difference”
In 2008, years after Joe first met Mary at the YMCA, they moved back to Sheboygan.
Joe spent 34 years in Milwaukee as a plumber, with Mary working at various locations over the years. Joe’s parents and his only remaining brother all died within 90 days of each other, all of whom lived in Milwaukee.
They moved here to take care of Mary’s mother. That was when Joe retired and started volunteering. He said it was also when he noticed the police are more approachable.
“180 degrees (difference). You can talk with them. You can joke with them. You can say something smart with them, you know I am sassy,” he said. “It’s like when you were a little kid and a cop gave you bubble gum and a baseball card. That’s what it feels like… You just feel happy when you see them and you’re grateful for what they do.”
Joe said he appreciates how different the policies and the police are today.
“To go from being kicked out of town to working for the police,” Joe said. “I think that’s pretty awesome.”
Joe said he never held anger or animosity toward the police department. In the ‘70s, he thought the law was the law and the officers were just doing their jobs, enforcing it.
“It was just a shock when I came here,” he said. “And you forgot about. It was ‘70 when that happened and then you go in the service and you forget about everything.”
Time has changed Joe’s perception of the police and it has also allowed for change within the department. Those explicit laws and policies are gone, and the department performs training with officers to reduce racial biases.
Sheboygan is growing too. The black population more than doubled from the 2000 to the 2010 census, although it is still only 1.8 percent of the total population. But even as Sheboygan becomes more diverse, there are still implicit disparities. Black people made up 18.9 percent of all arrests in 2015, according to documents obtained by the Sheboygan Press.
And while at 21 percent of the city of Sheboygan is either black, Asian, Hispanic and/or Latino, only 5 percent of the police department’s officers are, according to a 2015 USA-TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin article.
Nonetheless, Joe still sees the police department as better, and moving in the right direction.
“Even though it seems like I’m by myself in here, I got a whole community now,” he said. “The officers pat you on the back. Everybody sees you, (they say), ‘Hey thanks for volunteering.’ It’s a nice feeling to have the other way. Instead of ‘go home’, it’s ‘welcome home.’”
Photo: Miller/Jozwiak, USA Today)