Madison in the Sixties. 1961 – Civil Rights.
Bias is big news again this year, especially on campus. Sometimes it’s accepted; sometimes it’s banned.
In April, the Regents follow current informal policy and accept a $100,000 bequest from a Stoughton woman for “worthy and needy Gentile Protestant students” in their junior or senior year. The action draws quick criticism.
The Capital Times editorializes, “The incident indicates again how the dollar consciousness at the University permeates virtually everything it does,” making it “a party to attitudes that weaken democracy.” Concerned about what it calls “the moral and legal issues this type of bequest raises,” the Governor’s Commission on Human Rights formally requests that the regents rescind their acceptance.
Stung, the regents consider the matter more closely, and learn that there is also a bequest pending for “Caucasian, Christian students of unqualified loyalty to the United States,” and one for students of “backward, colored, minority races.” That’s in addition to ongoing bequests restricted to:
- “Needy, Protestant Christian high school students of the Caucasian or white race”
- “A Jewish girl in economics”
- “[Students] whose thoughts and actions are motivated by a Christian character”
- “[Students] of Negro blood” (the scholarship provision in the bequest of Senator William Freeman Vilas)27
In October, the regents direct the administration to draft a policy statement against accepting gifts with restrictive covenants. The faculty Human Rights Committee drafts a policy that the university “should neither accept nor administer funds [that are] restricted in terms of the race, religion, or ethnic background [unless] the clear intent of the donor is to alleviate current social and educational inequities in opportunities acting to the detriment of a particular group identifiable on racial, religious, or ethnic bases.” The regents take the matter under advisement.
May 17— Governor Gaylord Nelson and others address about four hundred students at a Union Theater rally commemorating the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing school segregation. The annual rally, sponsored by the Wisconsin Student Association and the Student Council for Civil Rights, the SCCR, also features folksingers Dan Kalb and Marshall Brickman.
June 23— About 150 supporters of the SCCR rally and march to the Capitol to ask Governor Nelson to petition Mississippi governor Ross Barnett to release Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Riders jailed in his state. Nelson is at a conference in Hawaii, but sends a statement in support. But the Daily Cardinal is not impressed, deriding the protest as quote “integration agitation.” “Let them be happy and satisfied with their harmless, and purposeless parade,” the paper editorializes proclaims. “Perhaps someday someone will really do what needs to be done instead of remaining content with merely participating in childish publicity stunts.”
Exactly one month after the mocking Cardinal editorial, four members of the SCCR are arrested trying to integrate the lunch counter at the Greyhound terminal in Jackson, Mississippi. Imprisoned at the notorious Parchman Farm, the four Freedom Riders are separated from the other prisoners and denied mattresses and toilet paper; they spend their time singing freedom songs and playing chess with sets made out of bread. Several other current and former Wisconsin students are also arrested and imprisoned over the summer, both before and after the Cardinal editorial. Upon their release and return to Madison, they spread the word at various public forums; among their number is Paul Breines, about to start a two- year term as president of the Socialist Club, who serves three weeks of a four-month sentence, later recounting his experience to a packed Tripp Commons.
Closer to home, housing discrimination is the issue, as the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights creates a special subcommittee to help relocate minorities forced to move due to urban renewal. Commissioner John McGrath says finding housing for minorities is “becoming a problem so large” that the all-volunteer commission can’t handle it anymore; he suggests asking the council to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing.
And proof of that housing discrimination is provided in fall, thanks to Stuart Hanisch, an instructor in the UW Bureau of Audio- Visual Instruction. He begins secretly filming a group of black and white actors posing as would- be renters as they respond to apartment listings around Madison. Over the next four months, he records at least thirteen incidents of landlords lying to black apartment seekers about unit availability. The film of these undercover housing discrimination tests, “To Find a Home,” is produced by UW–Extension in conjunction with the Madison Citizens Committee on Anti- Discrimination in Housing; attorney Lloyd Barbee, president of the state NAACP but acting only as chair of the Citizens Committee, raises $3,000 of the film’s $4,000 budget. After Hanisch and Barbee (Wisconsin State Representative, 1965–1977) explain the project and the use of hidden microphones and telephoto lenses, Bureau of Audio-Visual Instruction director Professor Fredrick A. White and Extension dean L. H. Adolfson provide the final funding. A rough cut is expected to be available early next year
In October — The SCCR presents $1,150 to James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, to pay Freedom Rider fines and bail. Farmer says it’s “the largest of any college organization.” The council raised the money in a two- week campaign that found its sole success on campus. “We tried to reach the Madison area but couldn’t,” council chair Ron Corwin says.
November 17— The Regents vote 7–1 to endorse the faculty decision banning the university’s oldest fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, for violating the clause against discrimination by social organizations. Although the Wisconsin Alpha house, cofounded in 1857 by William F. Vilas and whose past members included Frank Lloyd Wright, had shown good faith in working to rid the national organization of discriminatory practices, the president of the fraternity’s general council explained in the fraternity’s official publication that national policy bars “Jews, Negroes, and Orientals” because “many chapters do not regard them as acceptable.” The fraternity is immediately banned from pledging new members, and barred from campus next September, “unless and until” it demonstrates compliance with faculty antidiscrimination legislation.
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.