Madison in the 60s – May 1968
Third, leaders of campus groups Concerned Black People (CBP) and University Community Action Party (UCA) present a six-part racial equity plan to university president Fred Harvey Harrington. Among other initiatives, they want classes in black history and culture, a black community center, a year’s salary for professors taking leave to do civil rights activity, and that the university sell its shares in the Chase. Manhattan Bank to fund a black scholarship program.
On the seventeenth, the Board of Regents directs Harrington to extend the university’s aid to the underprivileged and to “include as a matter of priority” for the next budget funds to meet “problems of poverty, prejudice and of equal opportunity”. President Harrington plans to spend $4 million on the effort from 1969 to 1971. The council also establishes the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund, supported by funds transferred from the Wisconsin Student Scholarship Fund Association (WSA), which Harrington says the university will match.54
But that afternoon, the Regents resisted another civil rights action demanded by around a hundred CPB, UCA and WSA activists. Students fill the assembly hall beyond capacity to demand that the university sell its 3,300 shares of Chase Manhattan Bank (valued at $230,000) because the bank helped the apartheid government of Union of South Africa survived a financial crisis in 1961, with proceeds from the sale used for minority scholarships. “As long as the university is involved with Chase Manhattan Bank, it is the enemy of concerned black people,” CBP Chief Willie Edwards said. “If you don’t sell, we will take further action.”
The regents deliberate behind closed doors for about ninety minutes and refuse to comply. The students actively contemplate a hostile occupation of the hall but are dissuaded from it by Edwards and other black leaders, who warn of the foreseeable harmful consequences of such an action. Instead, they will occupy the empty administration building, occupying it peacefully with up to four hundred protesters until twenty after a Saturday morning when they leave peacefully.56
But about twenty minutes later, someone throws three Molotov cocktails through a first-floor window in the historic South Hall, sparking a fire that heavily damages around fifteen thousand student records, melts light fixtures and causes havoc. of smoke on the four floors of the second oldest. building on campus. University officials warn against linking the firebombing to the protest against Chase Manhattan’s actions.57
After a Monday morning rally on the Library Mall, CBP leaders meet with Harrington and learn that the university will agree to three of their demands: to hire a black deputy director of the Minority Scholarship Program headed by Ruth B. Doyle , giving students an equal voice in the program’s operations, and starting a Black student-led freshman orientation. But the Regents staunchly refuse to reopen the question of the sale of Chase shares, and UCA’s Billy Kaplan calls the concessions “meaningless.”59
Off campus, the frequent fights between blacks and whites at the East Side Businessmen’s Club teen dances on Atwood Avenue ultimately prove too much for Monona Police Chief Walter Kind. On the seventh, he orders the dances closed. “Things just got out of hand,” he says.38
Taking matters into her own hands is one of the many challenges facing the first executive director of the Equal Opportunities Commission. As expected, on May 18, Mayor Otto Festge appoints former COU Chairman Reverend James C. Wright to the $10,000-a-year position. Wright, forty-two, ranked first among forty candidates. The South Carolina native has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW, previously served as associate pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher St., and operated a nearby hair salon. This spring, he studied at Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and the University of Chicago’s Urban Training Center, focusing on police-community relations.
The 21stFestge is asking Madison’s 125 employers with more than fifty employees to declare themselves equal opportunity employers by signing the “Plans for Progress Alliance” pledge sent to them by the EOC.39 In late September, the president of the EOC job, Merritt Norvell, reports that they did.40
May 27 – The EOC debuts an hour-long documentary, “Madison’s Black Middle Class,” produced by radio personality and writer George “Papa Hambone” Vukelich. “Madison is seemingly liberal, but people are pretty complacent,” one interviewee said. “Madison’s middle-class whites live in a fantasy land,” says another.
And there is a race-based concern in public schools. The 20and, school superintendent Douglas Ritchie told the Citizens’ Committee for Teaching Black History in Madison Schools that he could “identify no threads of continuity” in the way schools present the non-white history and culture. “The blind spots are so vast they’re dreadful,” says James B. MacDonald, a school board member and law school professor, husband of influential former EOC secretary Betty MacDonald.
Two days later, the chair of the EOC education committee says the racism is systemic. “There is not yet an American history book that includes the role and impact of black Americans in history,” Betty Fey told the school board. But it’s also local. Black children ‘do not have a near-equal education’, she says, due to the ‘prejudicial climate and attitudes’ of white students and teachers who ‘lack the necessary knowledge and understanding’ to identify with black people. She warns that “our black citizens are becoming more and more discouraged and the clock is ticking.”
And in protest news, it’s epithets and eggs May 15 for Selective Service Chief Gen. Lewis B. Hershey when the project director arrives at the Loraine Hotel for a Forces Day lecture armies at the downtown Rotary club. The Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union (WDRU) action drew about three hundred vocal protesters, their line stretching from West Washington Avenue to West Main Street. Most are orderly, chanting “Hell no, we’re not going!” and other anti-draft slogans as about 50 Madison police officers and two dozen helmeted Dane County deputies with mace and riot batons stand ready – one with a handle of very menacing ax. But a handful lay about twenty eggs, coating Hershey’s black station wagon (and a few officers); WDRU leaders rebuke the egg throwers and seize their remaining stock, but the public relations damage has been done. Greeted by a standing ovation from the five hundred businessmen and professionals in the Crystal Ballroom, the seventy-four-year-old serviceman avoids a second confrontation later by slipping down an alley and exiting through a dry-cleaning shop far away. side of the block. Hershey is not visiting his former World War II research director, Chancellor William Sewell.
And that’s this week’s MITS. For your award-winning, listener-supported WORT press team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Ira Black photo of the UW Regents reunion, published in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 18, 1968