Madison in the Sixties –November, 1965
The country’s two most important civil rights leaders visit the UW campus this month. On the second, John Lewis, the 25-year-old national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, returns to Madison for two speaking engagements on the second, starting with a noon rally on the Memorial Union steps. That night, he tells a crowd of about 400 in the Great Hall that “that racism is embedded in the very heart of this country. A system of segregation which puts more value on property rights than on human rights.” After a standing ovation, the group moves up Langdon Street to the Hillel Foundation for a freedom hootenanny.[i] During the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in March, Lewis who severely beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge.
On the 23rd Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. returns to the Stock Pavilion to speak on “the future of integration” – the same title as his address in 1962, but with a different text. the Baptist minister gets a standing ovation from a near-capacity crowd of about twenty-six hundred with his call for a massive program of public works, expanded public education, an increase in minimum wage to $2 an hour, and the employment of blacks in Southern law enforcement.
November 23 is also campus election day, and among those elected to the WSA Student Senate is history graduate student Paul Soglin, The Illinois native campaigned for “a radical approach to student government . . . one that challenges the decadent order” in which “the student joins with the administration in determining curriculum, tenure, and other major decisions.”[ii] Soglin wins a narrow victory after one of his two opponents is disqualified for a false campaign poster. Students also approve by 2-1 a referendum directing the WSA to limit itself to campus issues and not take stands on national or international issues that don’t “directly” affect UW students.
And a professional politician comes to campus – US Senator George McGovern (D-SD), for a daylong appearance as the UW’s “politician-in-residence.”[iii] Recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II, McGovern calls for a stop to the bombing in Vietnam, but not a military withdrawal, He also visits with his daughter Susan, a student at the university.
In other protest news, six members of the Committee for Direct Action, arrested during their sit-in at the entrance to Truax Air Base last month are found guilty of loitering in a public street and fined $25. The activists, leaders of the Committee to End the War in Vietnam, were attempting a citizen’s arrest of the base commander. And it’s a blustery twenty degrees on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when about a dozen protesters from a group called Viet Nam Dissenters, dressed in black with faces painted white, march from campus to the Capitol carrying a coffin made of paper and wood. As they near the Capitol, about fifteen members of the Citizens in Support of the United States Soldiers in Viet Nam hurl raw eggs and smash the mock coffin. Police observe the assault without response.[iv]
Putting their money where their mouths would have been, more than four thousand residence hall students give up their Thursday dinner the week before Thanksgiving, raising over $3,500 in this year’s Fast for Freedom fund-raiser for the Mississippi Poor People’s Corporation and he National Student Association.[v]
There are encouraging signs in the Triangle urban renewal project. Interest in the proposed shopping center set for the southeast corner of Park and Regent Streets is so strong that the MRA votes for a design competition; rather than simply selling the land to the highest bidder, the MRA will set a price and have a panel of experts judge the submitted designs, then negotiate with the firm with the best plan and highest economic value. At least four firms have formally expressed interest in building the center, which is to include a grocery store and various neighborhood retail businesses. “There is no question we will be able to install an excellent center which will service the area,” says MRA director Sol Levin.
But another MRA project has a less-upbeat update, as the first report on the South Madison rehabilitation area documents the pocket of poverty in the area south of Wingra Creek and east of South Park Street. One- third of the 202 households are considered impoverished, with annual incomes of less than $3,000 – almost three times the countywide figure is 12.8 percent. Unemployment is 24 percent, ten times the Dane County figure. Fifty- nine percent of the 721 individuals are nonwhite and just over half of the total population is under nineteen. It’s a stable neighborhood— 15 percent have lived there all their lives or more than twenty- five years, and almost two- thirds have been residents more than five years. But more than 25 percent say they moved there because it was the only area a black family could find housing; 15 percent say it was all they could afford. Support for a renewal project in South Madison is overwhelming— 88 percent think it’s a good or very good idea.108
Madison police chief Wilbur Emery finally makes real progress in his war on bicycles when the Traffic Commission recommends an ordinance banning two-wheelers from the Capitol Square and State Street, and restricting their use on several major traffic arteries during rush hour. Also under consideration – mandatory bike registration and licensure of bicyclists, and formally designating bike routes. Mayor Otto Festge calls the proposed ban an imperfect solution and promises to give “careful consideration” to student opposition.198
There’s a wide range of musical offerings. On the 8th, jazz multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk dazzles a capacity crowd at Turner Hall in a benefit for the Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Madison Citizens for Peace in Viet Nam.[vi] A week later, genial folk-rock chart-toppers Sonny and Cher delight the teens for two shows at the Orpheum. And home-grown recorded music, too — On the 9th, Central High grad Tracy Nelson, a month shy of 21, releases her first folk-blues record album, Deep Are the Roots, on the Prestige label. But the Shorewood Hills native, who volunteers at the Plymouth Congregational Church’s day care center and has completed two years of studies in social work at UW, isn’t planning on a career in music; she thinks she’ll go into teaching.[vii]
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For you award-winning, listener supported WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan
Photo of State Street from just west of Gorham November 13, 1965. Courtesy UW-Madison Archives S05353
[i] Bednarek, “Rights Activists Explained: They’re Against All Violence,” WSJ, November 3, 1965; Fox, “John Lewis Condemns Government System,” DC, November 3, 1965.
[ii] Eric Newhouse, “Opposition Doubts SRP Poster Claims,” DC, November 17, 1965; Paul Soglin, “WSA Candidates’ Election Statements,” DC, November 23, 1965.
[iii] Hunter, “Halt Viet Bombing, McGovern Urges in Visit to U.W.,” CT, November 8, 1965; John Powell, “McGovern Calls for ‘New Asian Policy,’” DC, November 9, 1965.
[iv] “Eggs Greet Viet War Foes; Paper ‘Coffin’ Kicked In,” CT, November 29, 1965.
[v] Leslie Simon, “‘Fast for Freedom’ in ’65 Will Aid War on Negro Poverty,” DC, November 9, 1965; Dale Shanley, “Fast Expects $3500 from Meal Refunds,” DC, November 19, 1965.
[vi] Collis H. Davis Jr., “Noted Jazz Musician Will Give Concert Here,” DC, November 2, 1965; Davis, “Monday’s Concert by Roland Kirk Proves to Be a Musical Success,” DC, November 10, 1965.
[vii] Robert Davis, “Tracy Does Very Well Indeed,” WSJ, November 14, 1965; Tracy Nelson Messenger exchange[with author?], May 13, 2017.