Madison, September, 1961
In mid- September, urban renewal of the Greenbush goes into high gear as the the Madison Redevelopment Authority approves a land acquisition policy of paying the higher of two appraisals, and sets purchase offers for 121 Triangle parcels. It quickly buys its first property in the Triangle— an income property at 120 S. Lake St., owned by former Greenbush resident Peter Vitale, for $13,000, with sixty- six other parcels soon to follow. But MRA director Roger Rupnow now realizes that warnings he’s heard about racial discrimination affecting the neighborhood’s Black residents who need to relocate are true. At a September luncheon, he tells the Madison Board of Realtors that MRA officials “have been amazed” at how many times realtors have told them certain housing was off- limits to blacks, and he pleads with the realtors to show houses to Black buyers in nontraditional areas, and stop checking with neighbors.
But the president of the Board of Realtors says that’s not likely to happen. “No matter what our moral convictions are,” Realtors president Vern Halle says, “when a colored person purchases a house next door, it’s going to have economic ramifications.” He insists that he personally opposes the unofficial policy of realtors alerting neighbors about the possibility of a black person moving in next door, but says the board has no official policy on the widespread practice.
At just about the same time, production quietly begins on a university film intended to expose racial discrimination in the housing market, as Stuart Hanisch, an instructor in the Bureau of Audio- Visual Instruction, begins secretly filming a group of black and white actors posing as would- be renters as they respond to apartment listings around Madison. Over the next four months, he records at least thirteen incidents of landlords lying to black apartment seekers about unit availability.
The film of these undercover housing discrimination tests, “To Find a Home,” is produced by UW–Extension in conjunction with the Madison Citizens Committee on Anti- Discrimination in Housing; Lloyd Barbee, president of the Wisconsin NAACP but acting only as chair of the Citizens Committee, raises $3,000 of the film’s $4,000 budget. After Hanisch and Barbee explain the project and the use of hidden microphones and telephoto lenses, Bureau of Audio-Visual Instruction director Professor Fredrick A. White and Extension dean L. H. Adolfson provide the final funding. A rough cut is expected to be available early next year.37
The UW board of regents is grappling publicly on how to balance bucks and bias. While it considers whether to accept a a $100,000 bequest from the late Ida B. Altemus of Stoughton to help “worthy and needy Gentile Protestant students” learns to its chagrin that it also has bequests pending for students of “backward, colored, minority races” and “Caucasian, Christian students of unqualified loyalty to the United States.” And it already administers bequests specifically restricted to:
- “Needy, Protestant Christian high school students of the Caucasian or white race”
- “A Jewish girl in economics”
- “[Students] able to speak one of the Scandinavian languages”
- “[Students] whose thoughts and actions are motivated by a Christian character”
- “[Students] of Negro blood” (the scholarship provision in the bequest of Senator William Freeman Vilas)27
And the university is dealing with off-campus bias as well, as The mayor’s commission on human rights rules that the landlord at 540 W. Mifflin St. was engaging in racial discrimination when he evicted a black UW economics instructor and his wife from a flat where they planned to stay. Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Hall, just returned from his native Jamaica, said they had permission from a UW colleague who was student teaching in Pennsylvania, but the elderly landlord accused him of trespassing and reportedly said he “wanted no truck with colored people.”
As members of the UW Student Council for Civil Rights help the Halls move their furnishings, The landlord’s son denies that his father is racially prejudiced. The Mayor’s Commission, which has no enforcement power, asks the UW housing bureau to take the property off the list of approved student housing until the landlord commits to nondiscrimination.[i]
A racial milestone in the Madison school system, as William “Willie” Taylor becomes Madison’s first Black teacher, teaching physical education at Silver Springs school on the south side. He’s one of 290 new teachers hired to help handle a record 24,337 pupils, an increase almost 32 hundred over 1961. A little more than 19 hundred have come due to two east side annexations, the remaining 1200 reflect the continuing post-war baby boom. The East Side and West Side high schools each have 1400 students, Madison Central only 700.
The school board also opens the brand new Glenn W Stephens elementary school on Rosa Road for K, 2nd and 5th grades. The school is named in honor of the sitting president of the school board, attorney Glenn W Stephens. The school board also decides that the proposed new high school on the far east side south of the Monona golf course will include a swimming pool and a 700-seat theater, among other elements.
And there’s a record enrollment at the UW as well – 19,721. With many more on the way, the university acts to ease the housing crunch by completing the purchase of the property for the first unit of the new southeast dormitories. The regents pay $120,000 for four properties on W Johson, W Dayton and Clymer Streets.
Relief could soon arrive for downtown merchants, as the city parking utility begins the process to buy three parcels on W Gorham and Gilman Streets just east of State Street for a surface parking lot to accommodate 60 cars. The utility also takes step to turn the surface lot on Lake St into a full ramp.
As the situation in Berlin grows more tense and the cold war threatens to get hot, the call to active duty comes to 216 Madison men in the 32nd National Guard Division – two companies of the fabled Red Arrow Division. The men will go into federal service on October 15, and head for Ft. Lewis, Washington for training.
September 28— Flamboyant entertainer Liberace has a heaty steak dinner and a nap at the modest home of his father and stepmother, Salvatore “Sam” and Zona Liberace, 1106 E. Johnson St., before his well- reviewed, near- capacity show at the Orpheum Theater. Sam and Zona are former musicians with the Madison Civic Orchestra, on French horn and cello, respectively.100
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Photo of the Student Council for Civil Rights helping the Halls move their furnishings by Richard Sroda, courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. WHI-113785
[i] “Council Fights ‘Bias’ Eviction,” DC, September 12, 1961; Gordon, “City Rights Unit Finds Race Bias against U.W. Instructor,” WSJ, September 15, 1961.