From February 3-8, twenty-one nationally renowned guests – including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young – and forty-three faculty, staff, and students, lead a conference at the University of Wisconsin entitled “The Black Revolution: To What Ends?” Produced by Union Forum Committee co-chairs Margery Tabankin and Neil Weisfeld for $8,861, the six-day symposium attracts 16,500 attendees and crystallizes the incipient Black power movement on campus. Chancellor Edwin Young unwittingly helps underwrite the conference, through a $2,500 contribution his office had made to the Afro-American Race Relations Center, which turned it over to the conference.[i]
Organizers don’t ignore cultural and historic aspects. The Memorial Union’s Main Gallery hosts a collection of paintings, sculptures and prints by a dozen Black artists. And across Langdon Street, there’s a Black History Exhibition at the State Historical Society, featuring African artifacts, photographs of the slave trade and a narrative of the Black experience in Wisconsin.
The Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., pastor of Detroit’s Shrine of the Black Madonna – formerly Central United Church of Christ – proposes a separate Black church, “to correct the white distortions of Christianity.” Describing Jesus Christ as “a Black Revolutionary,” and the Apostle Paul as “kind of an Uncle Tom Jew,” Cleage tells an enthusiastic Great Hall crowd that “the total relationship (between whites and Black s) is so tainted by the idea of white supremacy … that nothing whites can do is right. The white man is essentially an enemy – he is part of the system of oppression.”
Local civil rights activists also participate, including city council candidate Eugene Parks, associate editor of the Black -oriented Madison Sun newspaper. At an integrated panel on “Racism in Madison,” Parks denounces the University for not divesting itself of stock it holds in the Chase Manhattan Bank, which makes loans in apartheid South Africa. “Chase Manhattan is making money off the backs of Black s in Africa,” Parks says. “If the University were really concerned about my welfare, it would repudiate such connections.” Madison Sun publisher Lawrence Saunders adds that Madison itself is “hiding behind a cloak of liberalism.”
On the fifth, Sociology Professor Nathan Hare, acting chairman of the embryonic and groundbreaking Department of Black Studies at San Francisco State University, tells a standing-room-only crowd in Great Hall that “the White university establishment” is destroying Black society and culture and that “we may have to cut off the ears of a few college deans to expose the way they act as puppets of the educational system.” And he explains why he excludes whites from a course he taught on Black consciousness at SF State: “to teach a white Black consciousness is sort of like teaching a dog catedness.”
At a panel that night, he tells students they must “do whatever needs to be done [to get the university to] meet your demands.”
Active in the bitter three-month-old Black Student strike that led to his department’s creation, Hare meets later with UW student Willie Edwards of the Black People’s Alliance and other Black student leaders and puts their activism into context with the hard-line crackdown that new SF State president S. I. Hayakawa has begun. “We are on the front lines at SF State and getting our asses kicked,” he tells them. “You are on a radical campus and have a responsibility to your brothers and sisters to take action.” Edwards and the others embrace Hare’s challenge, and start planning a Wisconsin Black strike, led by the Black students’ inner council, called the Wapenduzi Weusi – Swahili, more or less, for “Black revolutionary.”
A bit before noon on Friday, February 7, about ten Black students, led by Edwards, present a list of thirteen demands, including an “autonomous Black studies department controlled and organized by Black students and faculty” with a Black chairman “approved by Black students and faculty”; that “Black students have veto power in hiring and firing all administrators and teachers involved in anything relating” to the new Black studies department; at least five hundred additional Black students be admitted to the university by fall; Black student control over the Black Cultural Center; amnesty for all strike participants; and admission of the Black students recently expelled from UW-Oshkosh.
That afternoon, as Reverend Young, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, prepares to speak at the conference on “Where do We Go From Here?” about three hundred students sweep up Bascom Hill from the noon rally to disrupt classes in seven university buildings. Members of the group, about three-quarters of whom are white, briefly take over numerous classrooms to read and explain the demands; some professors and students are intimidated, but there are no arrests or serious incidents. Swelling to about five hundred, banging trash cans and chanting, “On strike, shut it down!” the group marches down to Library Mall for a rally where Black leaders again explain the demands. Then it’s back up the hill for another round of classroom disruptions, including Professor Harvey Goldberg’s History 474 lecture, followed by a mass meeting of about more than a thousand in the Union Theater, where a Black speaker calls for “complete disruption, and if that doesn’t work, complete destruction” of the university. [ii]
Speaking to an overflow crowd of about 1,300 in the Great Hall that evening, Reverend Jackson says the thirteen demands “should be followed to the letter. Until I see white America go through the psychological exercise of freeing herself of superior delusions, she can’t relate to me. And that’s why there is a Black revolt here tonight, and why wise white people and Black people will support it,” adding that for Black students, the whole University should be a rebellion.” Jackson’s talk is entitled, “The Necessity of Being Militant.”
Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket, Jackson says racism is “deep in the bone marrow of America,” and he puts the civil rights struggle in an economics context. “Lincoln did not free us, he released us into a more cruel world,” he tells the enthusiastic crowd, “He put us into capitalism without a capital base – like putting a fish into a bowl without water.”
Sparked by the symposium, the Black Strike continues and grows.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, conference-cataloging, mask-wearing, hand-washing socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Black campus leaders, including football player Harvey Clay (left, in sunglasses and beret) and Bernard Forrester (right, with bullhorn), explain the thirteen demands at the start of the Black Strike at the noon rally on Library
Mall, February 7. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN–MADISON ARCHIVES IMAGE S00407, PHOTO BY GARY SCHULZ
[i] Frank A. Aukofer, Milwaukee Journal, February 10, 1969; Arthur Hove, “Report On The Conference “The Black Revolution: To What Ends?,” Edwin Young papers, University Archives; Edwin Young testimony, Joint Committee to Study Disruptions, April 30, 1969
[ii] Gary Rettgen, Black s’ Strike Call Disrupts U. Classes,” CT, February 8, 1969; George Mitchell, “Group at UW Disrupts Classes to Aid Black s,” SJ, February 8, 1969; “Black s Demand Reform, Students Stop Classes,” DC, February 8, 1969; “The Strike Begins,” Connections, Vol. 3, No. 6 (February 5-20, 1969), Supplement.