Madison in the sixties – July, 1968
The Madison Parks Commission was really only looking out for its animals when it told the Lions Club it had to move its 4th of July fireworks out of Henry Vilas Zoo. But it may have been doing a favor for the club and the entire city as well, as Warner Park proves a perfect spot for the patriotic pyrotechnics. With its easier access and more plentiful parking, the north side site draws about 70,000 to the 45-minute display. Activists follow with literature –members of the Committee to End the War in Vietnam urging self-determination for the Vietnamese, and a group supporting NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller for President. There are no reported disturbances involving either group.
A week later, the Rockefeller campaign comes to the UW campus, in the person of NY Mayor John Lindsay, who draws a near-record crowd of six thousand to the Union Terrace for a Friday afternoon campaign speech. It’s the largest outdoor speech on campus since eight thousand gathered to hear Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949. The charismatic young Republican suffers no pickets or disruptions, is applauded for his attacks on the war and President Johnson, and is booed only for his references to Rockefeller. Lindsay also meets briefly with law professor Nathan Feinsinger, who settled New York’s crippling transit strike in 1966.[i]
On July 11, the council approves an $8,300 appropriation for the police department to buy sixty-two riot helmets, forty-eight night sticks, and 150 gas masks. Or does it?
As newly elected Eighth Ward alderman Paul Soglin notes the next day, there were only eighteen members on the floor at the time of the voice vote; since he and fellow first-termer Ald. Alicia Ashman were both recorded as voting no, the measure could not have gotten the seventeen votes required under council rules.[ii]
Among the dozens of anti-Dow protesters sent to the emergency room by baton-wielding police in the Commerce building on campus last October, Soglin says police shouldn’t have additional riot equipment “because they don’t know how to use it,” and don’t need it.
And Soglin, currently a history grad student, objects strongly to the resolution’s preamble, which warns about “increased activities by certain groups,” making it “imperative that the department be prepared to meet any situation that may arise.”[iii]
“As far as I’m concerned, the motion was not passed,” Soglin says.
But as far as city attorney Conrad is concerned, it was; being recorded as voting no on a voice vote is not the same, he says, as voting no in a roll call. On Conrad’s advice, Mayor Otto Festge signs the resolution appropriating the funds.[iv]
The Madison Professional Policemen’s Association writes to Ashman that it is “shocked and dismayed” by her vote, coming at a time when “assaults on police are at an all-time high” and “the public is more and more condemning violence and supporting its police.” Association vice president Roth Watson says the association didn’t write a similar letter to Soglin because it “recognized that Ald. Soglin’s constituents are not necessarily concerned with the safety of police officers.”[v]
On July 22, Soglin, Ashman, WIBA radio host George “Papa Hambone” Vukelich, and Professor and Mrs. Francis Hole file a taxpayer’s lawsuit seeking to block the purchase as an unauthorized expenditure. “The domestic arms race has to stop somewhere,” Ald. Ashman says. “Why not stop it here?”[vi]
Circuit Judge Norris Maloney thinks the legal question is close enough that he issues a temporary restraining order on July 24, stopping the city from going through with the purchase.[vii]
The next day, Emery unloads his frustrations at a special meeting of the Equal Opportunities Commission. “If everyone would shut up and forget about it, everything would be fine,” he says, revealing that he “would have preferred to keep the whole thing secret” but had to go to the council for the money.[viii]
Rather than litigate, the council simply re-legislates, bringing the measure back for another vote on August 8. At about the same time that the Republican convention in Miami Beach is nominating Richard Nixon for president, the council ignores a satirical skit by the Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union and approves the riot gear, 17–3. Ashman tries to attach a strict gun control measure “for the further protection” of officers, but is unsuccessful.[ix]
On July 19—The regents adopt tough rules subjecting students to discipline—up to expulsion— for “intentional conduct that seriously impairs University-run or University-authorized activities,” including blocking building entrances or interrupting classes, speeches, or programs by heckling or “derisive laughter or other means.” The code permits the immediate suspension of a student, pending a hearing, if it appears the misconduct will be repeated. A student who is expelled has to wait a full year before reapplying for admission; Regent Walter Renk’s motion to bar students who are expelled from ever reapplying for readmission loses, 9–1.[x]
And when a group of residents in the Williamson-Marquette area voted to establish a community center within the Madison Neighborhood Centers, they hoped to set up shop in the former Assembly of God Church at 1103 Jenifer St. But at only 40 feet from the nearest residence, the building is ten feet too close under the zoning code. The issue splits the neighborhood until the Zoning Board of Appeals settles the matter this month by rejecting the center’s request for a variance, 4-1. MNC director Chester Zmudzinski says the grounds of the Marquette school are a possible alternative. The site snafu is an unexpected sudden setback for the planned center’s newly appointed first director, Reverend David G. DeVore. A graduate of the University of the South and Wisconsin’s Nashota House Seminary, the 27-yo has just completed a year as the curate at Grace Episcopal Church, where he was ordained. He has also been a chaplain for the Dane County Probation Department, following clinical training in NYC’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s West Side, at the Wisconsin School for Boys, with the Illinois prison system and on a South Dakota Indian reservation. The planned center, the fourth under the auspices of the Community Chest – funded Madison Neighborhood Centers, will offer the usual range of MNC activities – day care for children of working mothers, hobbies, tutoring, games, dancing, sports, music and group discussions.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, listener-sponsored WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Photo – Assembly of God Church, 1103 Jenifer St.
[i] Hunter, “‘Lindsay for President,’ Shouted Here,” CT, July 13, 1968.
[ii] Dave Zweifel, “Soglin Questions ‘Pass’ Vote for Police Riot Funds,” CT, July 12, 1968.
[iii] Dennis Cassano, “Court Writ Sought to Block Riot Gear,” WSJ, July 23, 1968.
[iv] Zweifel, “City Atty. Doubts Soglin’s Case, but Will Study Plea,” CT, July 15, 1968; Zweifel, “Challenge to Riot Fund Can’t Stand, Says Conrad,” CT, July 17, 1968; “More Riot Control Gear OKd; No New Police Policy Is Seen,” WSJ, July 20, 1968.
[v] “One Anti-Riot Curb Vote Is Criticized,” WSJ, July 17, 1968.
[vi] Dennis Cassano, “Court Writ Sought to Block Riot Gear,” WSJ, July 23, 1968.
[vii] Cassano, “New Vote Set on Riot Gear,” WSJ, July 25, 1968.
[viii] EOC Minutes, July 26, 1968.
[ix] Robert Pfefferkorn, “Riot Control Gear Approved on New 17-3 Vote of Council,” WSJ, August 9, 1968; Richard Brautigam, “‘Funny Thing’ Is Staged by Riot Gear ‘Supporters,’” CT, August 9, 1968.
[x] BOR minutes, July 19, 1968; Pommer, “Tough Discipline Code Set for U.W.,” July 19, 1968.