Madison in the Sixties – August, 1967
After a summer sizzling with what it calls “tension-filled incidents with racial overtones,” the Equal Opportunities Commission holds a series of public hearings in neighborhoods with large minority populations, hoping to gain some understanding and tamp down tensions. A later report documents just how bad things were – more than a dozen racial conflicts all over town, including “numerous hostile confrontations” resulting in fights between white and black students near East High, with “conflict and hostility spread[ing] to Central High Negroes.” There’s “evidence of white apprehension and hostility when a Negro family” moves to the Monroe Street area, and “vandalism to homes and cars of Negro families” living around Odana Road and Tokay Boulevard. In the Sherman Terrace area, a white woman pickets the new home of an African American family.[i]
On August 2, about 150 east side residents, about twenty of them African American, attend an emotional hearing at Marquette School, where they tell telling commissioners and Mayor Otto Festge about what they perceive as race-based police brutality and other discrimination. Several Black speakers also criticize the Police Department for still employing only white officers The next night, a comparable crowd on the South Side tells similar stories at Abraham Lincoln School. Speakers call for a civilian review board of police actions, which the liberal mayor rejects because that’s already a function of the Police and Fire Commission.[ii]
Sometime between the two hearings, the police department takes an important step toward someday hiring its first nonwhite officer—for the first time, it adds the statement “An Equal Opportunity Employer” to its job advertisement running that week in the daily newspapers. The statement was not included when the ad was placed but added as a “correction” after the department’s all-white hiring practices came under fire at the August 2 public hearing.[iii]
On August 4, the commission and public hear from inspector Herman Thomas and the six policemen who patrol the South Madison and Williamson Street areas, all of whom insist they have never hassled or hurt any black residents. “I’m amazed at the small number of incidents and the ease with which we can communicate with the colored people,” says South Madison patrolman Gerald Eastman. Everyone downplays the possibility of violence.[iv]
A few weeks later, the EOC issues a new brochure entitled, “When Members of a Minority Group Move into Your Neighborhood.”[v]
In mid-December, the commission reviews the hearings and the state of race relations in Madison in a disturbing thirteen-page report. It finds that “A serious lack of rapport exists between Madison minority group members and the police, due largely to “a past reputation for discrimination, and general denial of the respect for the dignity of the Negro citizen. There is real fear of harassment and retaliation. Efforts must be made by the Police Department to ensure the unbiased treatment of all citizens regardless of race, creed, color or economic status.” The EOC calls for “the active recruitment and hiring of Negroes and other minority group members to dispel the attitudes created by past actions of the Madison Police Department,” along with “intensive and extensive training and education for officers at all levels in minority problems and the prevention and control of racial incidents must be instituted.
Diversity is also on the mind of school superintendent Douglas Ritchie, who tells the board of education he wants a “cosmopolitan staff embracing all nationalities and races,” but that there is a “shortage of Negroes in the professions and a lack of applicants.” A federally mandated survey in the fall shows that only thirteen of Madison’s 1,623 instructional staff are black. Of the 33,522 pupils, only 512 are non-white, with sixteen of the fifty-four schools having no Black students at all. The four schools with the highest number of Black students are Franklin elementary (101), Central High (50), Marquette Elementary (49), and Lincoln Junior High (48).[vi]
Ritchie is also seemingly supportive of free speech and political activism for teachers. When five Madison teachers are arrested for handing out antiwar leaflets at a teacher convention outside the new Dane County Memorial Coliseum—which police call unauthorized use of the Dane County Fairgrounds—. Ritchie gives his after-the-fact permission and they are quickly released on order of district attorney James Boll.[vii]
The neighborhood with the greatest concentration of Black residents may soon see improvements, as the Council revives the long-stalled urban renewal project for South Madison. In late June, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had canceled the project’s $1.6© million grant because the city failed to make sufficient progress during the three-year planning period. So the city buckled down, and this month the common council unanimously approves plans for the seventy-two-acre, fifteen-block project that will rehabilitate 155 of the area’s 221 substandard structures, reconstruct several streets to Madison standards, and improve Penn Park.
In early October, HUD approves the plan and authorizes the MRA to begin work on the project before the grant is fully processed. By late fall, MRA has acquired about twenty-five of the properties it will raze, putting the project so far ahead of schedule that street reconstruction and park development are moved up to the spring of 1968. MRA relocation officer Charles Hill tells the MHA there will be about seventy-five families needing public housing due to the South Madison project alone.[viii]
Something for the kids at the Dane County Coliseum – British teenybopper stars Herman’s Hermits, singing all their hits. Opening is another band from England, which so far is far less successful, but much louder, especially their finale. They call themselves The Who.
And the war in Vietnam hangs heavy on Madison this month. On the seventh, Army Specialist 4-C Vernon J. Stich, twenty-one, son of Vernon Stich, 2112 Atwood Ave., a heavy truck driver, is killed in a vehicle crash in Cam Rahn Bay. He had been in country about 75 days.[ix] And Army Corporal Mark W. Neuman, twenty, West High 1965, a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, is killed while on patrol on August 25. Neuman, whose father, Master Sergeant Willard F. Neuman, 1833 Baker Rd., is the supervisor of Army recruiting in Wisconsin, had volunteered for six months’ extra duty in Vietnam.[x]
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing, sacrifice-honoring WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
[i] Report and Recommendations, Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, Dec. 1967; John T. Aehl, “Rights Unit List 18 Racial Conflict Cases,” WSJ, March 29, 1968.
[ii] Aehl, “Marquette, South Side Residents to Be Heard,” WSJ, August 1, 1967; Brautigam, “Marquette Area Racial Efforts Assured of Support,” CT, August 3, 1967; Brautigam, “Negroes Complain of City Landlord’s ‘Solid Front,’” CT, August 4, 1967.
[iii] John Stumreiter, “Madison Police Recruit Ad Pledges No Race or Creed Discrimination,” CT, August 12, 1967.
[iv] Coyle, “Rumors of Madison Riot Prove False, Police Say,” CT, August 5, 1967; Coyle, “Negroes Expect No Violence Here,” CT, August 7, 1967.
[v] EOC minutes, August 22, 1967.
[vi] Brautigam, “City Wants Teachers from Many Races,” CT, August 8, 1967; Pommer, “Schools Have 13 Negro Teachers, 512 Negro Pupils,” CT, December 18, 1967.
[vii] Pommer, “Arrest Teachers for War Protest,” CT, August 31, 1967.
[viii] “Housing ‘Mix’ for Elderly Eyed,” WSJ, January 10, 1967; Coyle, “City Loses Grants for Renewal Projects,” CT, June 22, 1967; MRA minutes, July 6, 1967; Coyle, “MRA Approves Speed-Up for South Madison Project,” CT, July 7, 1967; “MRA Told Funds Will Be Available,” CT, July 24, 1967; MRA minutes, August 9, 1967; “MRA OKs South Madison Project,” CT, August 10, 1967; “South Side Project Receives Go-Ahead,” WSJ, October 4, 1967; Zweifel, “MRA to Buy 16 Properties in South Project Location,” CT, November 7, 1967.
[ix] “Ex-Madisonian Killed in Viet Nam,” WSJ, August 11, 1967; www.virtualwall.org/ds/StichVG01a.htm.
[x] “City Man Is Killed on Extra Viet Duty,” WSJ, August 29, 1967; www.virtualwall.org/dn/NeumannMW01a.htm.