Madison in the Sixties. May, 1965
UW Chancellor Robben Fleming uses a May Day talk to defends the patriotic integrity of the university, declaring “there is not a shred of evidence that we have spawned subversives.” The phony charge is the result, he tells the law schools’ spring banquet, of the university’s “reputation for free inquiry and interchange of opinions.”
But the president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association doesn’t agree, calling for “a lot more God and country” on campus, and fewer political demonstrations. Burlington businessman Robert Spitzer tells a Founder’s Day dinner on May 4 that “It seems a shame that alumni are often forced to spend more time defending the University than they do singing its praises.” Spitzer adds that professors whose actions “bring disrespect or hurt the image” of the university should face discipline, because “academic freedom, misused, can become academic license.”
Two days later— supporters of the CEWVN delay and disrupt three military and State Department officials (the so-called “truth teams”) invited by the Committee to Support the People of South Viet Nam to explain the government perspective on the war. About seven hundred students, roughly split between opponents and supporters of the war, pack the 450-seat a room in the Social Sciences building past capacity as Evan Stark and others heckle and hiss at the officials. Anti-protesters try to shout down the disrupters and the event devolves into chaos—all in front of network news crews and national reporters.[i]
The editorial backlash is swift, severe, and widespread. “If the minority fringe is allowed to continue to make all of the noise on this campus without opposition,” the Daily Cardinal warns, “academic freedom here at Wisconsin will be dealt a very serious blow.” The conservative State Journal declares “the ‘end-the-war’ crowd is doing an excellent job of self-destruction of any influence it might have had on campus.” Even the antiwar Capital Times calls the action “an offensive display of childish show-offism” and says participants “did damage to the university and have made themselves legitimate subjects of censure.”[ii]
The morning after the confrontation, right wing state senator Gordon Roseleip harangues the board of regents for 40 minutes on why they should support his bill banning communists from speaking or teaching on any campus of a state-supported college or university. The regents listen politely, then go about their business without further comment.
But a few days later, UW President Fred Harvey Harrington does comment, rejecting Roseleip’s proposal and reaffirming the university’s policy of free speech. He tells the North Shore Republican club that “one is not unpatriotic if he happens to oppose the government policy in Vietnam.”
Later in the month, Ambassador Averell Harriman suffers some satirical leafleting outside and snickering inside but is not disrupted when he speaks to a generally receptive crowd of about a thousand at the Union Theater.
A few days later, History Professor William Appleman Williams assures the Exchange Club that Madison remains a small, placid city, and no one should be overly concerned by the demonstrations. Williams, who opposes US policy in Vietnam, said the government officials themselves were to blame for the confrontation earlier in the month. “They were not sent out to enter into a dialogue,” he said, but only present the official side of the situation.
In case any future protests get out of hand and lead to federal charges, Madison finally has a new US District Court judge to hear the case – former state Democratic party chair James E. Doyle, confirmed by the US Senate on a unanimous voice vote. Doyle is the husband of school board member and former state representative Ruth Doyle.
Although the fight for civil rights is receding as the university’s primary political cause, the campus remains friendly territory for the movement’s leaders. On May 5, Floyd McKissick, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, tells a Union Theater crowd of about two hundred that “it’s getting harder to teach non-violence,” and that armed groups of Negroes may soon replace the mainstream organizations like CORE, the NAACP and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. As those groups fade away, he says, “the hate that is inside Negroes increases. When they fail, non-violence fails.”
On May 17, the school board names Madison’s first free-standing junior high school on the spur of the moment, without the item even appearing on the meeting’s agenda, all because building committee chair and board vice president Dr. Ray Huegel says contractors have to finish the wall where the plaque would be installed to meet the July 28 completion date. At least it’s a popular and appropriate choice—ratifying the request from the steering committee of the South Madison Neighborhood Council for “Abraham Lincoln Junior High School.”[iii]
Madison enters the jet age at 4:50 p.m. on May 23rd, as Northwest Airlines begins daily 727 fan-jet service through Milwaukee to New York’s La Guardia Airport. More than twenty-five hundred area residents are on hand at Municipal Airport to tour the innovative aircraft before fourteen passengers take off on the first flight. Mayor Otto Festge presides at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Reynolds Administration project, presenting a package of Wisconsin cheese to a stewardess who is said to deliver it to New York mayor Robert Wagner.[iv]
On the 27th, the council enacts an ordinance making it illegal to recruit, use, or be a professional strikebreaker, defined as “any person who customarily and repeatedly offers himself for employment in the place of employees involved in a labor dispute.” The ordinance, which does not affect the use of scabs who don’t “customarily and repeatedly” cross picket lines, carries fines of $50–$500.[v]
And the younger set is making news. Tim Blau, a 13-yo 8th grader at Cherokee Heights School, captures the championship of the city marbles tournament sponsored by the Capital Times and the Madison Board of Education at the UW Field House. Mibster skills run in his family – his brother Frank, now a sophomore at the UW, took the city and state titles in 1960.
But city health officials are now worried about a new craze sweeping the country – skateboards. Sidewalk surfing has sent 39 Madisonians to hospital emergency rooms in just six weeks this spring with injuries ranging from scrapes and bruises to sprains and broken bones.
[i] Neal Ulevich, “600 Hear Three on Viet Nam,” DC, May 7, 1965; Steven Barney, “Hostile Students at UW Delay Viet Policy Talks,” WSJ, May 7, 1965; “Hostile Students Harass Three Experts on Viet Nam,” CT, May 7, 1965.
[ii] Editorial, “Demonstrators Hurt Academic Freedom,” DC, May 7, 1965; editorial, “Childish Exhibition of Students Interferes with Free Speech,” CT, May 8, 1965; editorial, “The Right to Act Foolishly,” WSJ, May 10, 1965.
[iii] “It’s Lincoln Junior High School,” WSJ, May 18, 1965; Brautigam, “Lincoln Name Is Given to New School on South Side,” CT, May 18, 1965.
[iv] Wineke, “Madison Jet Service Launched,” WSJ, May 24, 1965.
[v] Coyle, “13 Aldermen to Offer Strikebreaker Ban,” CT, May 12, 1965; Aehl, “Strikebreakers’ Use Here Will Be Barred,” WSJ, May 26, 1965; “Mayor Signs Strikebreaker Ban,” CT, June 11, 1965.