The Mifflin Community Co-Op is born, Republicans take complete control of state government, and Vince Lombardi comes to town. Just some of what was going on in Madison fifty years ago this month.
Madison, November 1968
Bill Winfield, a member of the Green Lantern Eating Co-op, and his friends sign a temporary lease for the defunct White Front Grocery at the corner of Mifflin and Bassett Streets and start selling $5 memberships for a proposed grocery co-op there. The founding by-laws of the Mifflin Street Community Co-op declare that the store aims “to embody a belief in community self-determination in opposition to the dominant trends in all communities in which control is increasingly concentrated outside the community and operated for profits which are not used for the betterment of the community. Our assets, as people and money, are committed to this struggle by any means necessary.” They raise about $1,500 by Christmas break and proceed to start stocking the store with equipment and goods.[i]
November 1-2—The university’s first black homecoming is a milestone for black Greeks—two nights of dances and more put on by the Black People’s Alliance, Alpha Kappa Alpha fraternity, and Kappa Alpha Psi sorority.[ii]
November 2—Chancellor Young assures the Wisconsin Alumni Association board of directors that the university “will catch, punish and separate from the University those who obstruct its function.” Young warns the SDS/WDRU not to go through with their threatened takeover of another campus building. But, he says, “If it’s confrontation that some of these students want, then they will get it.”[iii]
Three nights later, about two thousand students stage a boisterous but orderly march up State Street protesting the day’s presidential election and the imminent return of Dow Chemical company for more job interviews. Afterward, about 1,300 attend a mass meeting in the Union Theater and overwhelmingly reject calls from SDS leaders and Alderman Paul Soglin to take over a campus building.[iv] It appears the Chancellor’s hard line has worked.
The election is not good for protesters or the university. A week after delivering a strident attack on university students, Gov. Warren Knowles is easily re-elected to his third term over Attorney General Bronson La Follette, leading the first GOP sweep of the four constitutional offices since 1956. Republicans also maintain their control of the legislature, keeping arch conservative Harold Froelich Speaker of the Assembly. Vernon “Jack” Leslie, 48, becomes the first Republican elected Dane County sheriff in 20 years, unseating Sheriff Franz G. Haas, 60, whom Leslie had served as undersheriff until being fired upon announcing his candidacy. Leslie was a long-time Democrat who quit the party after it honored local Quaker peace activist Betty Boardman, who sailed with medical supplies to North Vietnam in March, 1967. Eugene Parks, 21, the Wisconsin Alliance Party candidate for sheriff, polls 7,900 votes after a brief write-in campaign, which city clerk Eldon Hoel calls a “fantastic” result.[v]
And Young’s hard line still holds when Dow Chemical returns on November 7, with no attempts to disrupt or obstruct, and no arrests. Potential confrontation turns to communication as protesters and engineering students engage in conversation in and around the Engineering Building during the interviews.[vi]
November 14—Vice Chancellor Robert H. Altwell informs Chancellor Edwin Young that President Harrington has “completely reneged on his promise to provide funds to match the student’s contribution” to the scholarship fund established earlier this year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. “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.”[vii]
Green Bay Packers general manager Vince Lombardi is among the guests November 18 when the Madison Housing Authority dedicates the 168-unit public housing project for the elderly on W. Olin Ave., as the Bjarne Romnes Apartments, named after the city housing director who died in April. The $1.4 million three-story horseshoe-shaped project, designed by architect Herbert Fritz, was built by Public Facilities Associates, the development firm started in 1967 by David Carley, former Democratic national committeeman and candidate for lieutenant governor, and his brother Jim. Lombardi is chairman of the Public Facilities board.[viii]
The next day, the Carley firm gets development rights to a little more than half the remaining vacant land in the Triangle Urban Renewal Area, in order to build 250 units and a shopping center at the corner of Park and Regent. Fred Mohs and Associates gets the rest of the land to build 350 apartment units. The tentative deal is contingent on detailed plans for construction and financing and requires approval by HUD and the City Council.[ix]
And it’s quite a month for music in the Union Theater. Jazz saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd, the 1967 Downbeat jazz artist of the year, and his quartet, featuring Keith Jarrett on piano, for two Sunday night shows before small but enthusiastic crowds.[x] A week later, it’s 20-year-old mop-top violin phenom Pinchas Zukerman, showing why he was the 1967 co-winner of the coveted Leventritt Award. There’s spoken word culture, too; Robert Bly, winner of the National Book Award for poetry and cofounder of American Writers against the Vietnam War, reads and discusses his poetry in the Old Madison Room.[xi]
[i] Michael Bodden, “A History of the Mifflin Street Co-Op,” Waxing America, www.waxingamerica.com/2006/05/history_of_the_.html.
[ii] “Greeks Plan First Black Homecoming,” DC, October 31, 1968.
[iii] Stephen Koehl, “Chancellor Vows Action against Obstruction,” WSJ, November 3, 1968.
[iv] Gondek, “Students Overflow Theater, Vote Down Building Coup,” DC, November 6, 1968.
[v] Dieckmann, “Leslie Wins Sheriff Contest,” WSJ, November 6, 1968; “Eugene Parks’ Vote Total Put at 7,939 in Canvass,” CT, November 13, 1968.
[vi] Pommer, “Anti-Dow Demonstration Winds Up Peacefully at U,” CT, November 8, 1968; Steve Twin, “Dow Protesters Seek Neutral U,” DC,November 8, 1968.
[vii] Robert H. Atwell to Edwin Young, November 14, 1968; Young Papers, Series 4/20/1, Box –,University Archives.
[viii] “Lombardi to Join Carley’s Housing Development Firm,” CT, May 8, 1968; Whitney Gould, “Richmond Hill Delights New Tenants,” CT,June 19, 1968; “Housing Project for Elderly Here Honors Bjarne Romnes,” WSJ, November 19, 1968.
[ix] Dennis Sandage, “MRA to Weigh Two Plans to Finish Triangle Project,” CT, October 29, 1968; Sandage, “Builders Argue on Triangle Redevelopment,” CT, November 7, 1968; MRA minutes, November 19, 1968; John Mollwitz, “Triangle Area Developing Set,” WSJ, November 20, 1968.
[x] Lynne Ellestad, “A Beautiful Tenseness Marks Lloyd Quartet,” WSJ, November 18, 1968.
[xi] “Campus,” DC, November 1, 1968.