Madison authors, topics, book events and publishers
Stu Levitan welcomes Daphne E. Barbee-Wooten to discuss the book she edited about her father, “Justice For All: Selected Writings of Lloyd A. Barbee,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
Lloyd Augustus Barbee was an attorney, a state legislator, and the man who fought and won a 12-year fight to desegregate the Milwaukee public schools.
He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on August 17, 1925, and he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he was just 12 years old. After serving in the Navy during WWII, in 1949 he graduated from the all-black Lemoyne College with a B.A. in economics. Later that year, Barbee moved to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin Law School, but dropped out after his first year because of the racism he encountered among his peers and professors. He eventually returned to the university, however, and received his law degree in 1956.
He was elected president of the Madison branch of the NAACP in 1955. In 1958, he completed a study outlining discriminatory housing practices in Madison. In 1960, as chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights, he got the Air Force to stop using segregated housing lists for personnel stationed at Truax Air Base.
In 1961, he raised funds for a film by UW-Extension instructor Stuart Hanisch exposing racist landlords in Madison – a film the university sought, with some success, to suppress. That same year, he conducted his first civil rights demonstration in support of open housing at the Wisconsin State Capitol. In 1962, as president of the state NAACP, Barbee released the draft of a tough human rights ordinance for Madison banning discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations – an ordinance Madison adopted in 1963,the first fair housing code in the state. But by then, Barbee moved to Milwaukee at the urging of national NAACP leaders, to confront the de facto segregation of the city’s public schools.
In 1964 Barbee organized and led an alliance of civil rights activists dedicated to ending de facto segregation in Milwaukee called the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC). When MPS refused to modify its school policy, the NAACP organized boycotts of MPS schools and operated “freedom schools” in their place. After a year of high-profile MUSIC demonstrations with no positive changes in school board policy, Barbee decided that the only way to enact change would be through the legal system. On June 17, 1965, Barbee filed a federal lawsuit, Amos et al. v. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee, charging the Milwaukee School Board with unconstitutionally maintaining racial segregation in its schools.
Finally, in January of 1976, Federal Judge John Reynolds ruled that Milwaukee Public Schools were indeed segregated unlawfully, prompting the Wisconsin Legislature to enact a school integration program. Although Barbee won the case in 1976, he spent the next several years dealing with appeals, new trials, and work to enact a viable plan to desegregate the school system. Though not perfect, the court decision began to address schooling issues in Milwaukee.
In 1964 Barbee was also elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly where he served until 1977. He soon became known among his fellow assemblymen as “the outrageous Mr. Barbee” because of the progressive legislation he advocated, and some of the pretty harsh language he employed. In addition to legislation concerning open housing and fair employment practices, Barbee introduced legislation promoting gay rights, women’s rights, prison reform, the legalization of drugs and prostitution, the disarming of police officers, and the taxation of churches. In later years, Barbee continued to work as a Milwaukee lawyer, and remained dedicated in his commitment to promoting human rights and positive social change. He died on December 29, 2002, at the age of 77.
Daphne E. Barbee-Wooten is one of Lloyd and Roudaba Barbee’s three children. She is an attorney focusing on civil rights practicing in Honolulu Hawai’I, where she was the first senior trial attorney for the state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A former public defender, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Hawaii NAACP in 2014 and in 2016 the Civil Rights Attorney of the Year from Sisters Empowering Hawai’i.
She earned her BA in philosophy from the UW-Madison before obtaining her law degree from the UW-Seattle. She is a member of the Hawaii State Bar Association, the African American Lawyers Association of Hawaii, the National Bar Association and AA Film Festival in Hawaii.