Madison in the Sixties – March, 1965
March 14— Close to a thousand Madison residents, most coming directly from church, mass at the State Street steps of the State Capitol for a prayer vigil in support of the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. Republican governor Warren Knowles draws sustained applause when he salutes the demonstrators, including a group that walked almost two miles through biting winds from the First Congregational Church on Breese Terrace. Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky is master of ceremonies for the program organized by the Reverend George Vann, pastor of St. Paul’s African Methodist Church. The emotional highlight is the eulogy by First Unitarian Society’s Reverend Max Gaebler for his friend the Reverend James Reeb of the Unitarian Universalist church in Boston, who died Thursday after being attacked by segregationists in Selma.
Two days later, three busloads of Badgers bound for Alabama to support the historic march leave town on a trip arranged by the university Friends of the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). “I am proud that our students are concerned enough about basic human rights to express their views,” Chancellor Robben Fleming says, calling on instructors to treat the two- day absences as they do “other collegiate ventures which cause temporary absence.”
But the original destination, Selma, is getting too dangerous. The group heads for Montgomery instead, until the situation there also proves so hazardous that SNCC officials ask the 114 students to head for Washington, DC, to protest federal failure to protect the marchers. After talking it over for more than two hours at the Chicago bus depot, the group reluctantly agrees to the new plan, which becomes a wintry four- day vigil in front of the White House. Squatting on snowy, slushy sidewalks isn’t much fun, and the students are a bit bitter about not being Alabama bound, but they draw national media to the cause and feel they’ve done some good. At night, the students stay at the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple, sleeping on the pews and floor.32
Meanwhile, a chartered flight of about twenty- five clergy, doctors with donated medical supplies, and law students leaves Madison for Montgomery at about two in the morning on St. Patrick’s Day.33 But the “Freedom Fliers” make it only to Chicago before they’re snowbound by a late- winter storm and stuck for twenty- four hours. Still, their spirits stay high. “We shall overcome,” one passenger is said to remark, “even the weather.”34 Atty. Gen. Bronson La Follette served as secretary-treasurer of the committee which raised the necessary $3,000.
The group finally makes it to Montgomery late Thursday morning, March 18, staying about 18 hours to observe, assist, and report on the march. University YMCA program director Jim Sykes is among those walking the last miles into the capital. Daily Cardinal editor Gail Bensinger and sports editor David Wolf bear witness in Montgomery, while reporter Eric Newhouse, on the bus initially slated for Selma, reports from Washington.
In campus news this month
March 4— The Hillel Foundation on Langdon Street hosts a coffee- and- cookies reception for folk singer Pete Seeger, a fund- raiser for the University Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; a minimum contribution of seventy- five cents is requested. The highlight of Seeger’s Orpheum show that night is a driving rendition of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A- Gonna Fall” that delights and excites the near- capacity crowd.114
On March 15 – three weeks after the Committee to End the War in Vietnam registers as a student organization, David Keene registers the UW Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), an affiliate to the national conservative group, which has grown from a meeting at author and polemicist William F. Buckley’s Connecticut estate on September 11, 1960, into an enduring and powerful right- wing organization.
March 28— Though her lustrous voice is not the wonder it once was, world renowned contralto Marian Anderson still thrills a capacity Stock Pavilion crowd of three thousand— her third “Cow Barn” concert since 1938— with a program of classical songs and Negro spirituals. Madison is one of only fifty stops on her international farewell concert tour.
On March 30, Renowned combat photojournalist and Shorewood native Dickey Chapelle, tells the five hundred guests at the Matrix dinner in Great Hall that America is losing the war in Vietnam. Dr. Kathryn F. Clarenbach, toastmistress for the Theta Sigma Phi event, speaks on the need for every woman to become active in her community and fulfill her own potential. Chapelle, sister of UW geology professor Richard Meyer, later speaks at a pro-war rally sponsored by the Committee to Support the People of South Viet Nam. She tells a crowd of about two hundred at the Law School that she’s “honored to attend the first counter- demonstration” in support of the war.
And an important passing to note –
Oscar G. Mayer, seventy- six, whose family visit to Madison in 1919 led to the founding of the city’s most important private employer of the 20th century, dies in his sleep of a heart attack at his home in Evanston, Illinois, on March 5. Mayer, then the general manager of his father’s Chicago packing plant, was here to visit his brother- in- law, banker Frederick W. Suhr; one day when it was too rainy to go for a drive, Suhr told him there was an auction for a failed meatpacking co- op near the sewage plant on the northeast side of town. Mayer had been looking for a rural slaughterhouse to decentralize his operations, and he liked what he saw; his father, Oscar F. Mayer, authorized him to offer $300,000 for the facility, which co- op members overwhelmingly accepted. A few months later, the company subsidized the extension of streetcar tracks from the east side to the plant, so its workers could get to the remote site; it also built fifty modest homes for workers. Mayer became chairman and moved the company headquarters to Madison upon his father’s death at age ninety- five in 1955; at the time, the company employed close to five thousand workers, about one- third of the city’s entire industrial workforce.
Mayer and several executives, especially Adolph C. Bolz, also became important local philanthropists.204
And that’s this week’s MITS. For your award-winning listener-supported WORT news team., I’m Stu Levitan
As more than a hundred equality activists board buses, believing they’re headed south, two knuckleheads show their opposition to civil rights in an offensive and provocative way.
WHI IMAGE ID 137747, PHOTO BY EDWIN STEIN