Madison in the Sixties. 1962 – Civil Rights.
In January, Attorney Lloyd Barbee, president of the state NAACP, releases the draft of a tough human rights ordinance banning bias on the basis of race, color, creed, ancestry, or national origin. The ordinance would cover housing, employment, and public accommodations, with a maximum fine of $200 or thirty days in jail for violations, and create a nine- member city commission with a fulltime director. The draft is referred to the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights (MCHR), which Barbee chairs – but only until his term ends in April, when Mayor Henry Reynolds declines to reappoint him. At the behest of national NAACP leaders, Barbee soon moves to Milwaukee, to begin his historic career in politics and the law. The commission chooses as his successor the Rev. Richard Pritchard, minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nakoma.
In June, concerns about alleged anti-Semitism at the Madison Club cause the Madison Community Chest charity to stop paying the $150 membership dues for its executive director. The club denies the allegations, which were raised by former State Rep. Ruth B. Doyle, a member of the Community Chest budget committee.
And a changing of the guard at year’s end, as Marshall Colston, a supervisor with the Dane County Department of Public Assistance and a member of the MCHR, is elected president of the Madison NAACP without opposition. Outgoing president Odell Taliaferro – who decisively beat Colston last December, is elected to the board as an at-large member at the meeting at the YWCA, 122 State St.
A Race about Racism
In 1962, race and racism dominate alderman Harold E. “Babe” Rohr’s campaign for a fourth term representing the South Park Street–area Fourteenth Ward. Rohr, business agent for the painting union, calls the NAACP a “malicious force” and his challenger Jan Marfyak its “hand- picked candidate.” Marfyak, an administrative assistant with the department of motor vehicles, notes he is not a member of the association, disagrees with some of its tactics, and has never even met NAACP president Taliaferro. At a Franklin School forum, Rohr says blacks hurt themselves backing bills like the NAACP’s proposed human rights ordinance. He denies being prejudiced, declaring “some of my best friends are Negroes.”
Then someone starts sending anonymous postcards to ward voters claiming Marfyak lives in a trailer, doesn’t pay taxes, and is himself Black. Although none of this is true, Rohr refuses to disavow the lies; “I had nothing to do with this,” he insists.
At a campaign forum in late March, someone asks Rohr point- blank: “Do you think that Mr. Marfyak is a Negro?” When Rohr won’t answer, Marfyak shoots to his feet. “In the sense of fair play, Mr. Rohr, will you tell me to my face that I am not a Negro?” he demands. Rohr won’t. “I’m not going to state whether you are or are not a Negro,” Rohr replies.
Both papers endorse Marfyak with blistering editorials. “Rohr seeks to whip up race hate and fear,” the Capital Times declares. The State Journal denounces Rohr’s “racist line” and his “plans to fan the flames of prejudice rather than work for solutions.”
As the election nears, Rohr’s campaign reprints a 1960 photo of Madison’s popular liberal state senator Horace Wilkie, much to Wilkie’s displeasure. “I deplore the injection of the race issue into this year’s campaign by Rohr’s supporters, and I emphatically disagree with Rohr’s refusal to disavow such action,” Wilkie says, explicitly stating he’s not supporting Rohr’s reelection. But Fourteenth Ward voters do, reelecting Rohr 54-46.
Despite its disappointment over the election, the State Journal still pushes politics over protest. “We can do without the marchers,” it editorializes on April 27. “The picketing act has always had an element of phoniness in any nation where everyone has to vote. The recent trend has not only made it tiresome but a bit frightening. It has no legitimate place in a free society where we govern ourselves by the ballot box and not street agitation. Let ’em write to their congressman.”
In January UW regents make Madison the first Big Ten school to adopt a policy banning gifts or grants based on bias – eight months after they approved accepting a $100,000 bequest to aid “worthy and needy Gentile Protestant students.” As proposed by UW president Conrad Elvehjem, the new rule bans gifts with “discriminatory restrictions based upon race, color or creed” but not national origin; university vice president Fred Harvey Harrington explains that as the campus with the seventh- largest foreign student body in the United States, the university has to allow for grants for international students. Regent Harold A. Konnak mockingly moves to add a ban on bias based on sex, which he withdraws after regent A. Matt Werner calls the amendment “ridiculous” and “frivolous.” Elvehjem tells the board that donors have the right to support any group they wish, but should do so directly to the individuals or through outside organizations, not the State or university. The only other Big Ten school with such a policy is Illinois, as set by state statute.
And the two most important black leaders in America come to campus in the spring of 1962, only a few days apart. But their schedule is closer than their messages. On Friday, March 30, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the second annual Jonas Rosenfield lecture, entitled “The Future of Integration,” before a very supportive capacity crowd at the Union Theater on “Segregation is on its death- bed,” the Baptist preacher declares, “and the only problem is how expensive the nation will make its funeral.”
On Monday, April 2, Malcolm X takes a different tack, calling for racial separation in a Great Hall address entitled “Black Nationalism in America.” “We reject integration— period,” the Nation of Islam minister declares. “We’ve outgrown it.”
After his speech, Malcolm makes a rare visit to a white person’s residence, spending hours in deep discussion with a group at the west Dayton street house of history grad student Marty Sklar, a co-founder and editor of the journal Studies on the Left. It was Sklar who recently edited and published an essay by former Communist Party functionary and would-be playwright Harold Cruse entitled Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, mask-wearing, hand-washing, socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan