Madison in the Sixties – race and classrooms
On May 4, 1960 Members of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights have an inconclusive meeting with Superintendent Philip Falk about why he has not offered a full- time position to substitute teacher Sloan Williams or any other Black teachers. Falk says that two offers had been made to another Black teacher, which she declined, alleging past discrimination. A member of the campus Ku Klux Klan interfraternity when he was at UW in the early 1920s, Falk insists that the board doesn’t discriminate and would hire an African American if the most qualified applicant, but won’t engage in affirmative action.
The following September William “Willie” Taylor becomes Madison’s first Black permanent teacher, teaching physical education at Silver Springs school on the south side.
In January 1962, Louisiana native Geraldine Bernard becomes the first Black permanent classroom teacher in the Madison school system, substituting during the spring semester in several elementary schools before later permanent assignments at Silver Spring and Aldo Leopold. In fall, three Black teachers are hired full- time, at schools on the south and west sides.
In early October 1964, the board unanimously adopts a guide to help Madison teachers develop interracial understanding in their classrooms. “A magnificent job,” says Madison NAACP president Marshall Colston of the program, a result of the NAACP’s request last year for a study of how African Americans are treated in textbooks. The Human Rights Curriculum Guide will be used in daily classroom activity for all grades. But EOC chairman John McGrath says it was “a very serious oversight” for the guide to omit any mention of the commission or the new Equal Opportunities Ordinance.116
On March 7, 1966, School Superintendent Robert Gilberts grudgingly agrees to stop requesting photos of job applicants, shortly after state industrial commissioner Carl Lauri and Attorney General Bronson La Follette say doing so is discriminatory and would tend to discourage nonwhite applicants. Gilberts says administrators never discriminated against applicants, and that photos were “a valuable clue” to help officials remember the thousand teacher applicants they interview each year for the three hundred or so openings. “The loss of pictures will create a handicap for both applicants and us,” Gilberts says. “But the use of pictures is apparently not acceptable,” he says, “so we shall comply with the ruling.”174
August 7, 1967 Superintendent Douglas Ritchie tells the board 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
On April 9, 1968— Superintendent Douglas Ritchie keeps schools during the funeral of Dr. King, directing building principals to use their own judgment in deciding how to impart the significance of King’s life. The school census that year shows nonwhites comprise 2.3 percent of the 34,002- student body: 544 black pupils, 24 America Indian, 145 identified as Oriental, 105 identified as Spanish American, the remaining 33.184 identified as white. Sixteen of the fifty- four schools have no black pupils.
May 20— Superintendent Ritchie acknowledges to the Citizens Committee for the Teaching of Negro History in Madison Schools that he could “identify no thread of continuity” in how the schools present any nonwhite history and culture. “The blind spots are so vast, they’re appalling,” says school board member James MacDonald.
May 22— “Our Negro citizens are growing very discouraged, and time is running out,” Betty Fey, chair of the EOC’s Education Committee, says, urging the board to create a human rights curriculum supervisor and a director of human relations. Black children “are not having anywhere near an equal education,” she says, due to the “climate and prejudicial attitudes” of white pupils and teachers who “don’t have the background and understanding” to relate to blacks. The much- ballyhooed 1964 Human Rights Curriculum Guide is “merely gathering dust,” EOC director Reverend James C. Wright adds. The job would be challenging; “There does not yet exist an American history book which includes the role and impact of the American Negro in history,” Fey notes.
June 16— A new “Human Relations Progress Report” documents the difficulty the school board is having recruiting and retaining black teachers; of the 1,850 teachers in the Madison school district, only sixteen are black. “Negroes have excellent employment opportunities,” Ritchie says, “and we are unable to attract many applicants.” A recent recruiting trip to historically black teacher colleges in the South was canceled when only three students signed up for interviews. Madison has just begun trying to recruit in eastern Pennsylvania, but Ritchie isn’t too optimistic. The board conducts a three- day human relations workshop for all principals and administrators, and offers professional credit to teachers who take a weeklong course on “The Negro in American History,” taught by State Historical Society director Leslie H. Fishel Jr., an early member of the Friends of the Urban League. The board later teams up with the local NAACP chapter on a five- point program to improve racial understanding and opportunity.
August 12— The school board unanimously approves Ritchie’s recommendation to create the position of director of human relations— as the NAACP, Urban League, EOC, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Committee for the Teaching of Negro History in Madison Schools have been advocating— as a way to foster interracial understanding.
For the 1969-1970 school year, officials announce the hiring of six new black teachers Although the district takes four recruiting trips to historically black colleges in six southern states, all but one of the new hires are from the Midwest.231 A course in black history, a two- semester elective open to juniors and seniors previously offered only at Central High School, becomes available in all high schools.
In late November, the East Senior High Student Senate votes against participating in the Elks Club scholarship contest until the clause limited club membership to white males is removed from the club’s national charter. “We can’t morally cooperate,” student president Dix Bruce says of the decision to forfeit the chance to compete for $2,250 in scholarships. The West High Senate quickly follows suit.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan