Madison in the Sixties – Civil Rights, 1966
May 14—The Newspaper Guild of Madison names Reverend James C. Wright, chair of the city Equal Opportunity Commission and assistant minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, its Citizen of the Year.[i] Exactly two weeks later, the Madison Board of Realtors, which campaigned against the city’s fair housing code in 1963 and the similar state statute in 1965, joins the Wisconsin Realtors Association in a newspaper ad attacking the proposed fair housing section to the federal Civil Rights Act as “forced” housing. “Because we are concerned about the human rights of all Americans,” the ad reads, “we protest a law that gives one person the right to force another to enter into a contract against his will.”[ii]
July 1—South Madison native Richard Harris, twenty-nine, becomes director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center. Harris, UW 1961, has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois, and has worked for the Hyde Park Neighborhood House and the Illinois Youth Commission.[iii]
February 14—Lewis “Les” Ritcherson, a successful high school coach in Waco, Texas, is named the first black assistant coach on the UW football team. Ritcherson, whose son is a quarterback, will coach ends and backs.[iv]
May 5—SNCC co-founder Julian Bond, recently elected to but denied a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives due to his opposition to the war, speaks to a capacity Great Hall crowd on “Containment Abroad and Social Unrest at Home.” He jokingly reveals what he calls SNCC’s First Law of Civil Rights Movements: “a rights movement is successful in direct proportion to the number of white college students who are locked up in the course of activities.”[v]
September 4—The first cohort of twenty-four black students in the Special Five-Year Program for Tutorial and Financial Assistance, created and run by Ruth B. Doyle, begins classes.
September 21—NAACP National Field Director Charles Evers, brother of assassinated NAACP Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers, tells a Union Theater audience of about five hundred that racism must be uprooted “where it starts—in the white community.” Evers’s talk, “Black Power vs. Non-Violence,” is sponsored by the Union Forum committee and Young Democrats.[vi]
November—Freshman Willie Edwards, of Chicago, and Milwaukee junior Walter Ward form a new Black Power group, Concerned Negro Students, with initial membership limited to black students. On December 14, they submit to the university office for student organizations the constitution of “Concerned Black Students” without the racial exclusivity—“founded on the belief that, for the actual realization of his liberty, social and economic freedom, the Afro-American himself must assume the role of determining the most advantageous use of his political and economic resources.”[vii]
@H2:Reports on Race
Nineteen ninety-six is a year of reports.
In April, a two-man research team from the US Conference of Mayors paints a stark but ultimately hopeful picture in “Enlarging Equal Opportunity in Madison,” a thirty-nine-page analysis commissioned by the city. It finds that “If you are non-white in Madison, you are twice as likely as your white fellow citizen to be poor. Despite Madison’s prosperity and sophistication, the poverty rate is surprisingly close to that of the nation as a whole.”
The report challenges Madison’s effort to understand and address problems plaguing the minority community:
There appears to be insufficient data about the Negro population and the problems they face in Madison. Too little is known by those responsible for public action about the social and economic characteristics of Madison’s Negro population. Those in a position to plan and program for Madison’s future and growth could not provide simple facts about Madison’s 500 Negro families.
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of occupational data about Negroes in Madison, but it is clear that affirmative action is required to ensure that Negroes make the fullest possible contribution to Madison’s future.
The report raises disturbing questions about interracial communication, despite the fact that “Madison is making a conscious effort to improve the condition of people who are poor as well as Negroes and other minority groups. Disadvantaged groups do not yet, however, appear to have sufficient confidence in the sincerity of these efforts nor do they appear to have much sense of participation in this effort. Whenever possible people from disadvantaged groups must be recruited to participate in the shaping and actual conduct of programs.”
The same situation applies in the schools: “Madison’s educational institutions appear to be of uniformly high quality [and] the vocational school has demonstrated unusual flexibility. The high quality school staff with a relatively liberal budget has been incorporating the latest ideas into its educational programming, yet persons in the community do not seem to have any sense of involvement or participation in the development or implementation of these new ideas.”
The report calls for hiring more black teachers and a full-time executive director for the Equal Opportunities Commission, which the report suggests has floundered somewhat since enactment of the equal opportunities ordinance in December 1963.
Madison has “relatively small remaining problems of racial discrimination and poverty,” the report concludes, and a “unique combination of circumstances which provides Madison with an excellent opportunity. Madison can and should become a leader and a model for other communities.”[viii]
Another April report relates what it calls the “deep feeling of rejection and a desire for belongingness among lower-income Negroes who do not feel close to the rest of the community” because of their “rather involuntary isolation.”
This report, compiled by a researcher from the Urban League of St. Louis, calls Madison’s private housing market, “geared to moderate or middle-income families, a sort of ‘no man’s land’ as far as low-income nonwhites are concerned.” It cites other problems that also continue, especially in “the area of adoption and illegitimacy. The agencies who are directly involved in giving these kinds of services seem to be somewhat apprehensive about Negro children.”
The report, prepared in support of the Madison Friends of the Urban League application for funding from the Community Chest, a forerunner to United Way, concludes that “there is no prevailing atmosphere of racial conflict in Madison. The majority of both whites and Negroes felt that the climate of race relations was good, and most expressed the belief that the races would continue to ‘always get along’ in the city. There were minorities in both groups, however, who felt that this was not really the case. It is very likely that a substantial part of those who see racial friction is speaking of subtler aspects rather than open conflict.”[ix]
This relatively good news, though, causes an unfortunate reaction. Although more than three-fourths of Madison blacks are unaware of the services provided by public and private welfare agencies, creating a need for an agency like the Urban League to coordinate and promote services, the Community Chest twice rejects the League’s application to become a participating “Red Feather” agency. Board president Collins Ferris explains in December that “discrimination as it is known in other communities doesn’t exist in Madison.”[x]
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) issues its own annual report in late September, with mixed conclusions. Racial prejudice “is more widespread than many people realize,” it finds, “and will yield only very gradually to the increased occasions for human contact which are now developing.” The EOC says that “the employment picture for the Negro in Madison is fairly bright in terms of opportunity,” but there remains a great need for education, training, and apprenticeship opportunities “to help bridge the gaps created by discrimination, deprivation and denial of opportunity in the past.” The report states that the city’s fair housing code has “facilitated movement out of the traditional neighborhoods,” but that Negroes are still finding “some resistance on the part of private home sellers,” as the ordinance does not cover the sale of private homes.[xi]
[i] “Guild Names Rev. Wright As “Citizen of the Year,” CT, May 14, 1966.
[ii] “City Realtors Fight Fair Housing,” CT, May 31, 1966.
[iii] “Harris Is Named Director,” CT, May 4, 1966; Pommer, “’Rights Hostility A Good Sign’,” CT, August 26, 1966; Harris, Growing Up in South Madison, 35.
[iv] Bonnie Ryan, “Negro Accepts UW Coach Job,” CT, February 14, 1966.
[v] Vaughn, “’Murders Are Same In Viet Nam, South’,” DC, May 6, 1966.
[vi] “Evers To Discus Goal Achievement,” DC, September 20, 1966; Peter Abbott, “Evers Demands Whites Uproot Their Own Bias,” DC, September 22, 1966.
[vii] John Koch, “’Black Power—Sense of History’,” DC, November 15, 1966; “’Concerned Negro Students’ Group Organized At U.W.,” CT, November 28, 1966; “Constitution,” Office of Student Organization Activities, December 14, 1966.
[viii] Community Relations Service, U.S. Conference of Mayors, “Enlarging Equal Opportunity in Madison (1965), Pam 322, WHS Library; Coyle, “Find Bias In Jobs, Housing Here,” CT, April 12, 1966; “Action Urged On Bias, Poverty,” SJ, April 13, 1966.
[ix] Naomi W. Lede, “Madison’s Negro Population,” Urban League of St. Louis, Inc., April, 1966; Pommer, “Welfare Unit Asks Forming Of Madison Urban League,” CT, May 13, 1966.
[x] “Red Feather Officials Explain Rejection of Urban League Unit,” SJ, December 22, 1966; Zweifel, “Community Chest Isn’t Telling Whole Story on Urban League Refusal,” CT, December 22, 1966.
[xi] EOC Minutes, September 22, 1966; Aehl, “Racial Bias Still Found in City,” SJ, September 30, 1966.