Madison, the second week of August, 1969
A city council showdown between the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Madison Police Department over racism, hiring and training is averted thanks to Mayor Bill Dyke.
It was in August, 1968 after a teen dance at Breese Stevens Field was marred by a series of race-based fights and the arrest of several black youths but no whites, that the council asked the EOC to look into the relationship between Madison’s minority community and the all-white police department. After a series of hearings throughout the fall, the commission issued a report this past April which declared “tensions do indeed exist between the minority community and the police department.” The commission recommended that the department make it a high priority to recruit black officers, that at least one experienced black officer be hired as a supervisor, and that community members with special expertise participate in the screening for certain administrative positions.
Four months later, as a resolution to endorse the EOC report heads to the council, police chief Wilbur Emery and the Police and Fire Commission finally respond, rejecting most of the EOC analysis and recommendations.
“Tensions do not exist between the entire black community and police,” the PFC maintains, but only “that segment which has attained professional status, as well as juveniles who have had frequent contact with police.” The PFC declares that “a sound, amenable relationship exists between the police and the older, established and law-abiding black citizens.” The commission does not elaborate on what it means by those terms, but Mayor Dyke says it did not mean to imply that black professionals were not law-abiding.
Asking the council to reject the EOC report, Emery says that recruiting black officers already is a high priority, but that many of the EOC recommendations would impinge on his authority or that of the PFC, or don’t have funding.
Hours before the council meeting, Dyke brings Emery, EOC director Rev. James Wright and PFC Chair Stuart Becker together to hammer out a compromise. Their draft declares that “although there is some difference of opinion as to the extent of tension, there is agreement that significant tension does exist between the black community and the police,” and warns that “unless the causes are removed such tension will continue to exist in the city.” The resolution, which the council approves 18-2, says many of the EOC recommendations are already being put into practice, and calls on the mayor and police to “proceed with immediate, effective implementation of such recommendations as is possible within the funds presently available.” Although it does not require any changes to police recruitment or training, Rev. Wright calls it “a step in the right direction.”
But the council’s first and only black member can’t speak or vote on the issue, because Ald. Eugene Parks has lost his seat – at least temporarily – by moving to the wrong side of N. Murray Street and thus out of his Fifth Ward district. Parks recently moved from 625 Lake Mendota Court to 315 N. Murray, which is actually in Ald. Paul Soglin’s Eighth Ward; only the western side of the street, with the even numbers, is in the fifth ward. Parks doesn’t realize what he’s done until another alder challenges his residency; Parks quickly moves to the University YMCA on South Brooks Street, well within the fifth ward, but city attorney Edwin Conrad rules it’s too late – state statutes declare a public office automatically becomes vacant when an incumbent no longer lives in the area represented. Parks attends this week’s council meeting, sitting quietly at his desk. The council is expected to appoint Parks to his old post later this month.
Madison Area Technical College names Richard Harris, former director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center, a sociology instructor and counselor for disadvantaged students. The Madison native Harris, who lives at 1905 Baird St., holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s from the University of Illinois.
Plans to turn a duplex at 1314 Jenifer Street into a halfway house for down and out alcoholics are shot down as the Zoning Board of Appeals denies a variance for the Wisconsin Rescue Mission and Halfway House after intense neighborhood opposition. “This type of variance will directly result in the kind of blight which we are actively working to prevent,” Marquette Neighborhood Association officer David Mollenhoff tells the board at a tense and contentious meeting. Chair of the association plan committee, Mollenhoff repeatedly warns the board that the Marquette neighborhood is at risk of becoming “another Mifflin Street.” Despite the impassioned plea from Ald. Sommers not to “just throw these people out on the street,” the Zoning Board rejects the variance. Rescue mission leader Rev. John Hendrickson, who already operates such a facility at 1321 Williamson Street, says he would not have sought the variance if had known the neighborhood was opposed. “Now that I know how my neighbors feel,” Hendrickson says, “I’m glad the zoning board decided as it did.”
The Broom Street Theater closes its inaugural summer season with two one-act plays – Bertolt Brecht’s “The Exception and the Rule,” and Lanford Wilson’s groundbreaking profile of an aging drag queen, “The Madness of Lady Bright,” starring Andre de Shields in the title role. de Shields, who has performed in England for several years, is also in the current Madison Civic Repertory production of “The Fantasticks.”
And that’s this week’s Madison in the sixties. For the award-winning WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.