Daniel Bell

Click the image to learn more. Portrait of Daniel Bell before he was killed by a Milwaukee police officer in 1958.

The “signal shot for the black freedom movement in Milwaukee” began as a routine traffic stop. On February 2, 1958, Daniel Bell, a twenty-two year old African American male, was pulled over for an inoperative taillight.[1] Within moments he was fatally shot by Milwaukee patrolman Thomas Grady. The officer claimed that he chased and cornered Bell because he believed Bell was a holdup suspect. Purportedly, when Bell lunged at him with a knife, Grady had to shoot the suspect. A coroner’s jury subsequently ruled that patrolman had acted “justifiably.”[2] Black Milwaukeeans quickly became suspicious of Grady’s story, leading to a short-lived protest led by Rev. R. L. Lathan. In turn, Lathan reported police intimidation and threatening phone calls directed at him. Twenty-one years later, an officer who had been at the scene of the shooting revealed that Bell had not lunged with a knife and that Grady had planted the knife after the shooting. He also recalled that Grady’s words then were: “It was just a goddam nigger kid.”[3] In 1979 Grady confessed and was convicted of reckless homicide and perjury. A few years later, the Bell family received a settlement from the city of Milwaukee.

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Patrick D. Jones, The Selma of the North (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 32.
  2. ^ Diane Schwerm, “Ex-officer’s Plea Closes Slaying Case,” Milwaukee Journal, August 30, 1979.
  3. ^ Schwerm, “Ex-officer’s Plea Closes Slaying Case.”

For Further Reading

White, Sylvia Bell, and Jody LePage, Sister: An African American Life in Search of Justice. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.


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