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Honoring Margaret Henningsen: Decades of leadership, mentorship, and celebrations

June 18, 2022
 

Milwaukee hosts the oldest known and longest-running Juneteenth celebrations in the United States and for that, we have Margaret Henningsen to thank. 
 

Margaret first learned about Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S., when she visited her grandmother, who lived in Georgia. By 1971, Margaret had become a member of Milwaukee’s first Juneteenth planning committee.
 

She remembers a thousand or so people who brought out their grills and drums to 3rd Street and celebrated until midnight. Margaret became convinced the event should occur annually when, at the end of the evening, a Black teenage boy approached and hugged her, saying “I hope this becomes a tradition.” 
 

And so it did. The annual celebration, now held on King Drive, takes over more than eight blocks and draws more than 100,000 attendees. This year’s event, held on June 19, will feature vendors, food, a parade, and activities to honor Father’s Day.   

Margaret’s contributions to Milwaukee go far beyond an annual celebration of Black America, however. Margaret has dedicated her career to fighting for—and serving as a mentor to citizens of Milwaukee.

Perhaps it was because she was the oldest of 10 children, or that her mother, aunts, and grandmother were community activists, but Margaret has been interested in improving the lives of others since she was a girl. She was active in the civil rights movement in college and has since volunteered for almost every presidential campaign. 

After finishing her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Margaret began working in real estate and banking, where she began seeing the impact of discrimination against women and minorities. As a result, Margaret eventually co-founded Legacy Bank, which focused on mortgage lending and community outreach. It was the first time a woman started the process to charter a commercial bank in the state of Wisconsin.

In 2011, Margaret was appointed executive director of the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee, a community foundation that supports initiatives to advance equity for women and girls. She has served on countless committees and boards, including being the chairperson of the I Have a Dream Foundation – Milwaukee (IHDF – MKE) Board of Directors.

Perhaps most important to us, Margaret generously served as an FCI Community Advisor, connecting anyone who sought out our services with resources, technical assistance, and a helpful ear to listen to any challenges they faced.

 

Though Margaret has announced her retirement, she has promised to never leave Milwaukee and to continue being of service. After mentoring hundreds of women and girls and providing such important leadership for decades, we suspect she will continue her work in some capacity.

As she told The Milwaukee Business Journal a few years ago, “There is nothing like having someone tell you that you changed her life when she was feeling down in the dumps. That has kept me going.”