Madison in the Sixties – April, 1964
As the month opens, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) are continuing their boycott and picketing of the Sears store on East Washington Ave., where only one of the store’s 321 employees is Black – a maintenance worker. CORE publicity director Lea Zeldin says many customers have canceled their store charge accounts in support of CORE’s demand the store hire more Black workers. Although CORE does not file a formal complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission, the EOC, holds a public hearing under its plenary power to investigate possible discrimination. About 60 persons attend the April 6 hearing, where the testimony is compelling but inconclusive. When the EOC closes its file without action on April 14, Sears has three full- time and four part- time Black employees. CORE president Silas Norman congratulates the store and urges it to do more.
The country’s most prominent opponent of the civil rights bill being debated in Congress, and one of its important supporters, both visit Madison this month.
On April 2, about 20 CORE activists picket in the cold rain as Alabama Gov. George Wallace brings his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to the west side, for a speech to the Madison Exchange Club at the Cuba Club. Wallace denies he is racially prejudiced and draws applause for his attack on the pending federal civil rights bill as something that “will destroy the constitutional rights of everybody.” Club members give him a warm reception.
On the 25th, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a cofounder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, rouses a Capitol Square crowd of about five hundred with his emphatic call for adoption of state and federal civil rights legislation. UW freshman Tracy Nelson, the young folk/blues singer from Shorewood Hills, is among the entertainers at the rally sponsored by the Madison Committee for Civil Rights.44
On the 27th, about thirty college and high school students from the Madison CORE chapter sitting int the balcony of the Assembly chambers engage in the first civil rights demonstration to disrupt the Wisconsin legislature in support of their demand for a special session on civil rights legislation. When the Assembly sergeant-at-arms brusquely confiscates their several unauthorized signs (top), the group stands to sing “We Shall Overcome” (bottom), annoying the assembly so much it adjourns. There are no arrests and the group marches out singing. CORE chapter chair Silas Norman opposes the action and resigns, and leaves about a month later for the Selma Literacy Project. He is succeeded by Bourtai Scudder, daughter of British modernist poet Basil Bunting.
Residents of the Greenbush neighborhood had been angry at the Madison Redevelopment Authority for years over the way it turned their homes and businesses into the Triangle Urban Renewal Project. But it was only when the MRA started looking at property around the university that political opposition became a threat. A group composed largely of small property owners called the Madison Home Owners Association filed almost 8000 signatures and gets a referendum on the April ballot to “terminate all urban renewal activities” and abolish the MRA. The entire political establishment – Mayor Henry Reynolds, university president Fred Harvey Harrington, and both newspapers all forcefully oppose the referendum, but on April 7, the vote comes down to the last precinct reporting. With 36,665 votes cast— representing 70 percent of registered voters— the MRA survives by 367 votes, 18,516–18,149. The Ninth Ward (home of the Triangle and Brittingham projects) and the near-east side Sixth Ward (where many are bitterly opposed an ongoing study of the Marquette neighborhood) both vote heavily to end all renewal activities, while the Fourteenth Ward (where residents favor the South Madison project) votes heavily to continue. It’s strong support from west side wards that keeps the MRA alive.12
But urban renewal itself kills the political careers of two east side incumbent alders, including a member of the MRA member the Sixth Ward alder who sponsored the MRA’s study in the neighborhood. The MRA’s public relations consultant later says they should have built low-cost public housing as their first project next to Brittingham Park, rather than the market rate apartments they approved.
On the 24th, a proposal to transform State Street – Madison Properties Inc., the development firm owned by Gerald Bartell and Robert Brooks, announces plans for a ten- story, Holiday Inn in the 400 block of State Street, with the entry to its 167-car garage off West Gilman Street. The parcel has been vacant since Victor Music burned down in December 1961. Bartell says he has an accepted offer from Meyer Victor and hopes to begin construction by late July.
On campus, a big weekend April 17–18— While the legendary Bo Diddley rocks the Military Ball in Great Hall (with Ken Adamany’s band The Knight Trains on the bill) on Friday night, folksinger Guy Carawan, who first popularized “We Shall Overcome,” is singing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at the University YMCA. Saturday night, it’s a Bo Diddley album, and nickel bags of popcorn, for the thousand who pack Great Hall for the Student Peace Center’s eighth annual Anti-Mil Ball. There’s great live music, too, for the largest turnout yet— Tracy Nelson sitting in with the Johnny Kalb blues band.
Responding to the release earlier this year of the surgeon general’s report linking cigarettes to lung cancer, the Council for the first time sets an age limit on smoking. Reasoning that smoking and drinking beer should have the same legal age, the Council initially sets the smoking age at eighteen.. But after the Madison Youth Council calls this an infringement of personal liberty and urges education rather than enforcement, the council reverses its decision, and on sets the legal smoking age to sixteen. Madison Youth Council vice president Eugene Parks, noting the many aldermen smoking during the meeting, says his group doesn’t condone smoking, “but we feel this is the responsibility of the youth and his parents.” Nadine Goff, editor of the Central High School Mirror, tells the council that a survey shows that almost 30 percent of Central senior high students and nearly 20 percent of junior high students smoke or had smoked.1
And, after receiving many complaints about dogs running loose in city parks, the Parks Commission bans man’s best friend from seven city parks. “Maybe we need a dog park,” suggests commissioner Mrs. George Hanson.153
And that’s this week’s MITS. For your award-winning, listener-supported WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
David Sandell photo for The Capital Times, courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. WHI Images ID 137734