Madison in the Sixties. Civil Rights on Campus, 1968 – part 1.
“Wisconsin is a terribly bigoted place,” UW junior Gene Parks says in late April, “and If progress toward racial equality is going to be made, it will have to come within the white communities.” Director of the University YMCA’s Project TEACH, one of about 500 Afro-Americans on campus, Parks wants to train and pay forty- five white students to go into their home communities with that message.
In early May, representatives of Concerned Black People (CBP) and University Community Action Party (UCA) present a racial equity plan, starting with the demand that the university sell its $230,000 in stock in the Chase Manhattan Bank because it helped the apartheid government of South Africa survive a financial crisis in 1961, and use the proceeds for minority scholarships. They also want courses in black history and culture, a black community center, and a year’s pay for professors taking leave to do civil rights activity.
On the 17th, Students leave the streets for the suites and stage an unprecedented confrontation with the board, packing the regents meeting in Van Hise with 100 members of CBP, UCA, and the WSA. They watch, warily, as the regents direct the administration to expand efforts to provide equal education opportunity for the disadvantaged and to “include as a high priority” for the next budget funds to meet “the problems of poverty, prejudice and equal opportunity.” And they note with disapproval that when the regents create the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund, they fund it with existing money transferred from the Wisconsin Student Association (WSA).
Even with the matching funds Harrington promises to contribute, the students still demand the black scholarships be funded by selling the 3,300 shares of Chase stock. “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 or to reconsider.
The students consider a hostile occupation of the room but are dissuaded by Edwards and other black leaders. Instead, they return to the scene of the antiwar movement’s high-water mark precisely two years prior, the anti-draft sit-in in the administration building, and peacefully occupy the Peterson building administration building with up to four hundred protesters until 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, when they depart still peacefully.
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 Chase stock protest.
At a Monday noon rally of five hundred students at Bascom Hall, some militant whites favor another confrontation with university administrators, but CBP leader Edwards says obstruction would just “give the administration an excuse to come in and knock some heads.” The rally features a surprise appearance by former protest mainstay Bob Cohen, who loses the crowd by rapping on student power rather than racism.58
Afterwards, Harrington tells the CBP leaders he’ll 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
Also apparently meaningless – president Harrington’s word. On November 14, Vice chancellor Robert Altwell writes Chancellor Edwin Young that Harrington has “completely reneged on his promise to provide funds to match the student’s contribution” to the King Scholarship Fund. “We have yet to [prove] to ourselves and certainly to the black students that we are committed,” Atwell writes, warning that unless and until such proof is provided, “We can expect major political confrontations, and even violence.”
Two days later, campus police arrest a black nonstudent, Terrence Calneck, after he gets into a shouting match in the Rathskeller and threatens an elderly female worker who allegedly used a racial epithet when he complained about the portion of ice cream she served and refused to pay for it. The arrest gets physical, as four officers wrestle with Calneck and handcuff him. He’s charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and battery; the WSA pays half of Calneck’s $500 bail.
November 19— Students stage a noisy eight- hour picket and boycott of the Rathskeller, demanding Calneck’s freedom, student control of a police- free Union, and the opening of the Union to nonstudents. Although the picketers don’t physically obstruct business, tensions between protesters with drums and bullhorn and patrons who want dinner get so great that Union director Ted Crabb closes the Rat’s serving lines for three hours.
For three days, the recently merged Students for a Democratic Society/Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union (WDRU) runs a “liberation food service” across from the Rat, providing free sandwiches and chili, cutting cafeteria and Rathskeller revenue in about half. The feed-in ends by order of the University Health Sanitarian and the start of Thanksgiving break. There are no incidents or arrests, and no satisfaction on the part of the protesters after their action.
And two socio-cultural developments in November. The Afro American and Race Relations Center opens on the third floor of an old house at 929 University Ave.. And the university’s first black homecoming is a milestone for black Greeks.
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.