Madison in the Sixties – February, 1965
As the month begins, an attack on the UW student newspaper the Daily Cardinal by a prominent conservative commentator and powerful state senator backfires and ends with the governor, regents, and administration giving strong support for the newspaper.
On January 28, right- wing radio talker Bob Siegrist reveals that Cardinal managing editor John Gruber rents a room at 515 W. Johnson St. from Gene Dennis Jr., the son of the late head of the Communist Party USA, and that another renter, Michael Eisenscher, was both the son of the former chair of the state Communist Party and a Communist himself. And Siegrist claims to see a disturbing pattern of the Cardinal covering the same stories as the Communist Party’s Daily Worker.
The next day, Republican state senator Jerris Leonard writes Regent president Arthur DeBardeleben that he’s “very much disturbed” to learn about Gruber’s rooming house relationship “with known political leftists,” a situation that “has reached the point of absurdity . . . clearly appalling.”136 Denouncing what he considers the Cardinal’s “left- oriented journalism,” Leonard calls on the regents to “investigate Mr. Gruber’s associations and intensively review the editorial policy” of the Cardinal and report to the governor and legislature. “If it is determined that Mr. Gruber’s reported association influences the political tone of the Cardinal,” Leonard writes, “it is clear that his removal must be sought.”
As assistant majority leader and chair of the powerful State Building Commission, which controls major university construction, Leonard issues a not- so- veiled threat – that if the regents don’t investigate and report within two weeks, he’ll call for a “special legislative committee to study this matter and take appropriate action.”
As Siegrist hammers away every night at the Cardinal staff and their friends, campus groups of all stripes rush to the paper’s defense, including the Young GOP and Inter- Fraternity Council.
When the regents meet on February 5, it’s Leonard’s letter, not Gruber’s housing, that they find clearly appalling. Democrats and Republicans alike— labor leaders and industrialists— denounce what one calls a witch hunt and another equates with McCarthyism. Then they unanimously adopt a resolution that Regent Kenneth L. Greenquist— a former state commander of the American Legion— likens to the famed “sifting and winnowing” statement from 1894. Blustery right- wing state senator Gordon Roseleip tries to get the House Un- American Activities Committee to investigate— at the same time he demands a free subscription for all legislators— but Governor Knowles, a Republican, ends the controversy by endorsing the regents’ action a few days later. “This is America,” he says. “Let’s continue to have the right of free speech and free press.” 140
Two days after the regents meet, the American bombing of North Vietnam on February 7 sparks the creation of Madison’s first ongoing antiwar protest organization, the Committee to End the War in Viet Nam.
On Feb. 8, the executive councils of both the university’s Young Democrats and Young Republicans adopt resolutions endorsing the bombing.
On Feb. 9, about 250 students march through freezing rain— and an occasional hostile snowball— from campus to the Capitol for a rally sponsored by a group , organized by sophomore Daniel B. Friedlander calling itself the Ad Hoc Committee for Peace in Viet Nam. Among the speakers are professors William Gorham Rice, Joseph Elder, Francis D. Hole, and Maurice Zeitlin. John Coatsworth, who violated the travel ban to Cuba in 1963, moderates the rally, which also features Hillel Foundation director Rabbi Richard W. Winograd and mayoral candidate William Osborne Hart. But leaders of the major campus organizations, including the Wisconsin Student Association, Memorial Union, Associated Women Students, and Inter- Fraternity Council, issue a statement afterward declaring that a majority of students “would not condemn the government for its recent actions in Viet Nam.”4 Madison police film and photograph the rally from the Capitol’s second- floor balcony, ostensibly for “training” purposes; some civil libertarians raise concerns, but council conservatives block all attempts to question police chief Wilbur Emery on the full purpose or use of the films and photographs. The overt intelligence gathering soon becomes covert, with systematic police infiltration of the antiwar movement.
On Feb. 12 and 13th, the group, now calling itself the Committee to End the War in Viet Nam, stages a twenty- four- hour vigil on the Capitol steps, maintaining between fifty and a hundred demonstrators through the thirteen- degree night; several participants, including Liz Dennis and Stu Ewen, pass the time singing old rock- and- roll songs with new antiwar lyrics, while Professor William A. Williams— whose reputation as a revisionist historian of American diplomatic history was what brought Coatsworth to Wisconsin— shares a flask with sociology grad student Evan Stark. Two students are arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for pelting the picketers with snowballs. There are no other incidents, as a Saturday rally of more than three hundred and another night’s vigil cap the week’s events. The weekend vigils continue for about two months.
Friedlander and undergraduate history student Jim Hawley— who had created a stir by attending the 1962 founding convention of Students for a Democratic Society as a seventeen- year- old member of a communist- front youth group— register CEWVN (later known as CEWV) as a university student organization on February 25.7 Led back and forth by UW students associated with the Communist and Socialist Workers parties, CEWV is the main antiwar group for about the next two years – primarily leafleting, holding meetings and rallies, with some members engaging in disruptive protests.
The east side was where Madison’s transit system began in 1892, and it’s where the Madison Bus Company 3-month experiment in express bus service starts on February 22, between the Capitol Square to South Stoughton and Buckeye Roads. With only nine stops – and none between the square and the intersection of Milwaukee St and N Stoughton Road – the trip takes about 20 minutes. Adult fare is 25 cents coming downtown, 30 cents going home. in twenty minutes, for thirty cents. The route is soon serving close to two hundred riders per day on nine round trips— popular enough that the company adds a bigger bus, and the city and Public Service Commission approve a west side route to Nakoma Road and Midvale Boulevard. Service will start once the widening of West Washington Avenue from Proudfit to Park Street— part of the Triangle and Brittingham urban renewal projects— is completed in late September. On tap for 1966: express service north to the hospital grounds.
And as the month ends, Robert M. La Follette High School senior Eugene Parks, president of the Madison Youth Council, concludes the First Baptist Church’s eighteenth annual Youth Series with a talk on “The Courage to Be a Real Leader.”
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing listener-supported WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan.