As the month opens, U.S. Army Captain James Gregory, on a year’s leave from the Oklahoma Reserve to attend the University of Wisconsin, is still without a place for his house trailer – apparently because he is Black. The 28-year-old graduate student, here to study cancer research with $225 monthly grant from the American Cancer Society, has been looking without luck for a spot for his 50-foot trailer since classes started three weeks ago. Several sites seemed promising, but as soon as proprietors realized he was Black, all apparent vacancies disappeared – forcing him to bust his budget by staying at the Madison Hotel with his wife and four small children. Ironically, Gregory bought the trailer when stationed at Ft. Sill because of difficulties Blacks have finding housing in Oklahoma. When news of Gregory’s plight becomes public, Mrs. Arnold Jackson, wife of the director of the Jackson Clinic, offers him a spot on the large Jackson property in Arbor Hills overlooking the UW Arboretum. The heavily landscaped 10-acre property and home designed by Jackson family friend Frank Lloyd Wright are appealing, but because of the narrow road and sharp curve approaching the site, Gregory keeps looking, even checking out a trailer court in Lake Mills, 30 miles from campus. Finally, on October 9, a meteorologist with the Madison Weather Bureau, G.A. Rothfuss, rents Gregory a site on his five-acre property in the town of Burke just north of Truax Field. “I felt so sorry for those lovely kids cooped up in a hotel room,” Mrs. Rothfuss tells the Capital Times. “I don’t care what color a person’s skin is if he is a nice person,” she adds. “These people needed help and I’m glad we could help them.”
While the Gregory family drama is playing out, the racial aspects of another form of housing hits a crescendo as Madison’s largest and most successful civil rights demonstration to date occurs on October 4, 1962, when about fourteen hundred sorority and fraternity members march silently in the rain from Langdon Street to Bascom Hall to protest various university human rights regulations.
Some march against a proposed ban on the Delta Gamma chapter over alleged discriminatory practices by its national board. Some march against a rule proposed by the faculty Human Rights Committee (HRC) that all campus social organizations “shall have complete autonomy” over membership, “subject only to restriction not inconsistent with the policies and regulations of the university,” which the protesters contend is both too broad and too vague. Some don’t know why they march, other than that their brothers and sisters do.77
The Delta Gamma’s Omega house is in hot water because its national council suspended the house at Beloit College shortly after it pledged a Black coed, Patricia Hamilton, a 1959 honors graduate at Madison West High School, president- elect of the Beloit Association of Women Students, and daughter of Madison’s most accomplished Black couple, Harry and Velma Hamilton. National officials insist the suspension is due to the chapter’s administrative shortcomings unrelated to Hamilton, and the local house, founded in 1881, notes that it has pledged Jewish women and a nonwhite woman (from the South Pacific) without repercussions from the national council. But the HRC finds the suspension a violation of the 1960 clause banning discrimination, and has recommended the sorority’s ouster by July of 1963.
The large Greek delegation delivers a petition against the proposed ouster to Dean of Students LeRoy Luberg, who calls the demonstration “one of the best organized and most orderly” ever held on campus. Then they march down State Street and home to Langdon Street. “It’s a long way on heels,” says Luberg, who had waived the forty- eight- hour notice requirement to allow the march, which he also calls “unprecedented.”79 And unimpressive, the Daily Cardinal says, calling the march “an unwise endeavor” because its leaders were “so obviously confused” about its purpose that participants showed “befuddlement.” It’s about this time that persons unknown phone in a death threat or two to editor Jeff Greenfield.80
Two days after the long silent march of fourteen hundred students, four hundred gather for a single moment of silence at the Lincoln Terrace, showing support for James Meredith’s attempt to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Although the Cardinal finds this demonstration to be “somewhat disorganized as students stood awkwardly in silence for a moment,” its purpose was perfectly clear and thus “much more effective.”
And the Wisconsin Student Association takes a stand, adopting resolutions deploring the riot by white students against Meredith’s enrollment and the failure by Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett and other state officials to support Meredith’s right to higher education.
In late November, after Delta Gamma’s national president finally gives written assurance that the sorority has no discriminatory restrictions and that all chapters are free to pledge women without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin, the HRC rescinds its recommendation. Faculty and regents grudgingly agree to let the sorority stay.82
The Inter- Fraternity Council also succeeds in narrowing the scope of the local autonomy provision to apply explicitly to race, color, creed, or national origin, which they endorse. “They don’t have to pick members from minority groups if they don’t want to, but if they want to they should be allowed to do so,” President Harrington explains to the regents as they approve both the new autonomy rule and the Delta Gamma resolution in early November.83
But there’s no reprieve for the men of Phi Delta Theta; banned from campus activities in 1961 because a national leader declared that its constitution’s “socially acceptable” clause aimed to bar Jews and nonwhites, the Madison chapter members quit their national organization go local as Phi Delt after failing in their efforts at the summer convention to have the clause removed. They say they’ll keep working on it.
Everyone needs to keep working on banning bias in housing, says Mrs. Jonas Salk, because that’s the key to desegregating schools, employment and social activity. Mrs. Salk, chair of the Pittsburg Human Rights Commission and wife of the man who discovered the polio vaccine, tells a crowd of 350 at a meeting of the Madison Coordinating Committee on Social Concerns that “fair housing is the most important civic problem we have today.” Currently, only three states and 11 cities have such fair housing laws – and neither Madison nor Wisconsin are among that number.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, fair housing supporting listener-sponsored WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Photo by Edwin Stein for the Wisconsin State Journal. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society, WHI Image ID 137906