A New Mural Honors Community Activist Lucille Berrien

It’ll be completed this weekend, with a celebration on Sunday, May 28.

Two years after a North Side park was renamed in honor of Lucille Berrien, a colorful mural of the long-time community activist will now adorn a wall of a building on the property. 

The park at 3629 N. 16th St., in Milwaukee’s Arlington Heights neighborhood, had previously been named for Charles Lindbergh until the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, led by local educator and organizer Brian Verdin, drove a successful effort to change the park’s name over concerns about the famed aviator, who had been branded as a Nazi sympathizer during World War II

Berrien, who is 95, is a former Black Panther member and has fought for numerous causes, including open housing and welfare rights. She became the first Black woman to run for mayor of Milwaukee but lost the race in 1972 to incumbent Henry Maier. She also ran for state treasurer in 1990 as a member of the Labor-Farm Party of Wisconsin but lost to Republican Cathy Zeuske.

Lucille Berrien mural; Photo by Rich Rovito



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Berrien, who founded the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression with Verdin 50 years ago, also had close ties with the Rev. James Groppi, a Roman Catholic priest and open housing advocate who led daily marches starting in the summer of 1967 until March 1968 demanding the passage of a fair housing law in Milwaukee.

She also fostered more than 120 children. 

“A park named for a local grassroots leader whose life has been committed to social and racial justice, is so important,” said Adam Carr, director of strategic partnerships for the Milwaukee Parks Foundation, which is funding the mural project. “The commitments of her life being reflected in the name of this park is really amazing but now getting to see her present in the park with a mural that’s a tribute to her career, that’s really a special thing.”

Lucille Berrien mural; Photo by Rich Rovito

The mural is the work of a partnership between the foundation and TRUE Skool Inc., a creative arts and hip hop artist collective led by Verdin’s son, Fidel, that since its inception in 2004 has worked with local and national artists, middle and high school students, local and national community-based youth organizations, public officials, law enforcement agencies, small businesses, large corporations and schools and universities to empower youth and young adults through a variety of services.

The parks foundation, which formed in 2019, began setting aside funds the following year for mural projects in parks that addressed the topics of division and unity and the social justice marches. An early request for funds came from the group leading the charge to rename the park in honor of Berrien. 

“Lucille Berrien is a person who is known to many in the community but not everyone knows who she is, so a decision was made to make a mural of her in the park,” Carr said.

Lucille Berrien mural; Photo by Rich Rovito

The foundation has been working directly with a team of artists from True Skool to learn about Berrien’s career and create a design for the mural.

“The artist team is really amazing. They’ve been doing murals all around town,” Carr said. “One of the muralists, Tyrone Macklee Randle, has studied local history, in particular the life of George Marshall Clark, a Black man who was lynched in Milwaukee in 1861. He’s coming into this project with a background of raising up stories that we need to know in our community.”

The name change and the creation of the mural are important for Berrien Park, which sits in a quiet North Side neighborhood and is surrounded on two sides by schools – Keefe Avenue Elementary School to the south and Andrew S. Douglas Middle School to the west.  

“One of the things that we take for granted is how great our park systems are,” Carr said. “That doesn’t just mean the parks where tourists go or those that are the busiest. It also means the one that’s down the block. Berrien Park continues to be kind of a quintessential community park, where parents bring their children to play on the playground and where kids come to play basketball. In a lot of ways, it’s a simple park. But we shouldn’t underestimate how powerful a simple park can be.” 

The renaming of the park and the mural are another example of a reckoning of sorts focused on the names tied to public spaces, Carr said.

Lucille Berrien mural; Photo by Rich Rovito

“Some are saying that there are those who don’t deserve to have their name on public buildings and parks, so let’s change it,” he said. “This reckoning is overdue, so it becomes a question not just of what you take down but of what you put up. It’s not just about our criticism but about our values. Who do we think are the kinds of people who we want to hold up?”

Carr pointed out that the name of a Near North Side recreation space was changed from Wahl Park to honor Harriet Tubman Park, the abolitionist and social activist, in January 2021. In 2019, Columbus Park on the Northwest Side became Indigenous Peoples’ Park.

“I feel like there is a really long way to go but it’s profoundly meaningful for a homegrown, grassroots activist like Lucille Berrien to have this place in the city,” Carr said. “There are over 150 parks in Milwaukee. That’s a lot of names and Lucille Berrien Park just feels like a revelation to me in some ways.”

Painting of the mural is set to be completed by the weekend, with a celebration set to run from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 28 at the park. Berrien is expected to attend the ceremony.

“It’s a chance to celebrate the mural being completed,” Carr said. “The act of making a mural in a public place always provokes some interest and on Sunday we’ll get a chance to tell people more about what they are seeing and celebrate Lucille Berrien and her family.”



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.