Madison in the Sixties – May, 1968
On the third, leaders of the 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 courses in black history and culture, a black community center, a year’s pay for professors taking leave to do civil rights activity, and that the university sell its shares in Chase Manhattan Bank to fund a black scholarship program.
On the seventeenth, the board of regents directs Harrington to expand the university’s aid to the disadvantaged and to “include as a high priority” for the next budget funds to meet “the problems of poverty, prejudice and equal opportunity.” President Harrington projects spending $4 million on the effort from 1969–1971. The board also creates the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund, supported by money transferred from the Wisconsin Student Association (WSA) Scholarship Fund, which Harrington says the university will match.54
But that afternoon, the regents resist taking another civil rights action demanded by a hundred or so activists from the CPB, UCA and WSA. The students pack the meeting room past capacity to demand the university sell its 3,300 shares of Chase Manhattan Bank stock (valued at $230,000) because the bank helped the apartheid government of the Union of South Africa survive a financial crisis in 1961, with proceeds from the sale used for minority scholarships. “As long as the university is involved with the Chase Manhattan Bank, it is the enemy of Concerned Black People,” CBP leader Willie Edwards says. “If you don’t sell, we’ll take further action.”
The regents deliberate in closed session for about ninety minutes and decline to comply. The students actively consider a hostile occupation of the room but are dissuaded by Edwards and other black leaders, who warn of the predictable adverse consequences of such an action. Instead, they go occupy the empty administration building, peacefully occupying it with up to four hundred protesters until twenty after one Saturday morning, when they peacefully depart.56
But about twenty minutes later, somebody tosses three Molotov cocktails through a first- floor window in historic South Hall, starting a blaze that heavily damages about fifteen thousand student records, melts fixtures, and causes smoke damage on all four floors of the second- oldest building on campus. University officials caution against linking the firebombing to the protest over Chase Manhattan stock.57
After a Monday morning rally on Library mall, CBP leaders meet with Harrington and learn the university will agree to three of their demands: hiring a black assistant director of the minority scholarship program headed by Ruth B. Doyle, giving students an equal voice in the program’s operations, and starting an orientation for black freshmen run by black students. But the regents resolutely refuse to reopen the question of selling the Chase stock, and the UCA’s Billy Kaplan calls the concessions “meaningless.”59
Off campus, the frequent fights between Blacks and whites at and around the teen dances at the East Side Businessmen’s Club on Atwood Avenue finally prove too much for Monona Police chief Walter Kind. On the seventh, he orders the dances shut down. “Things were just getting out of hand,” he says.38
Getting things back in hand is one of the many challenges facing the first executive director of the Equal Opportunities Commission. As expected, Mayor Otto Festge on May 18 names the EOC’s former chair, Reverend James C. Wright to the $10,000- a- year post. Wright, forty- two, ranked first among the forty applicants. The native South Carolinian holds a BS degree in psychology from UW, formerly served as associate pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher St., and operated a nearby barbershop. This spring, he has been studying at the Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois and attending the Urban Training Center at the University of Chicago, focusing on police-community relations.
On the 21st, Festge asks Madison’s 125 employers with more than fifty employees to declare themselves equal opportunity employers by signing the “Plans for Progress Alliance” pledge that the EOC has sent them.39 In late September, EOC employment chair Merritt Norvell reports that 113 of the firms have done so.40
May 27— The EOC premiers an hourlong documentary, “Madison’s Black Middle Class,” produced by radio personality and writer George “Papa Hambone” Vukelich. “Madison is ostensibly liberal, but people are rather complacent,” one interviewee says. “The white middle- class people in Madison live in a Never- Never land,” another says.41
And there’s a race-based curriculum concern in the public schools. On the 20th, school Superintendent Douglas Ritchie tells the Citizens Committee for the Teaching of Negro History in Madison Schools that he could “identify no thread of continuity” in how the schools present any nonwhite history and culture. “The blind spots are so vast, they’re appalling,” says school board member and Law School Prof. James B. MacDonald, husband of the influential former secretary of the EOC, Betty MacDonald.
Two days later, the chair of the EOC’s Education Committee says the racism is systemic. “There does not yet exist an American history book which includes the role and impact of the American Negro in history,” Betty Fey tells the school board. But it’s also local. Black children “are not having anywhere near an equal education,” she says, due to the “climate and prejudicial attitudes” of white pupils and teachers who “don’t have the background and understanding” to relate to blacks. She warns that “Our Negro citizens are growing very discouraged, and time is running out.”
And in protest news, it’s epithets and eggs on May 15 for Selective Service chief Gen. Lewis B. Hershey when the draft director arrives at the Hotel Loraine for an Armed Forces Day talk to the Downtown Rotary club. The Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union (WDRU) action draws about three hundred noisy protesters, their line stretching from West Washington Avenue to West Main Street. Most are orderly, chanting “Hell no, we won’t go!” and other antidraft slogans as about fifty Madison police officers and two dozen helmeted Dane County deputies with Mace and riot sticks stand by— one with a very menacing axe handle. But a handful throw about twenty eggs, coating Hershey’s black station wagon (and a few officers); WDRU leaders reproach the egg tossers and seize their remaining stockpile, but the public relations damage has been done. Greeted with a standing ovation by the five hundred business and professional men in the Crystal Ballroom, the seventy- four- year- old military man avoids a second confrontation afterward by slipping down a back alley and out through a dry- cleaning store on the far side of the block. Hershey does not visit his old research director from World War II, Chancellor William Sewell.
And that’s this week’s MITS. For your award-winning, listener supported WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Ira Black photo of the UW Regents meeting, published in the Wisconsin State Journal May 18, 1968