As people continue to take to the streets to demand justice, it’s not the first time Black people in our state have fought for their Civil Rights. In the early 1840s, Wisconsin met the critical mass for becoming a state. The population was a mix of Native people, North Easterners, and those from the upper South. Many came as a result of the Lead Rush in the 1820s and decided to stay. There are also Black people whose arrival can be traced back to the 1720s, coming into the state with the French fur traders. Some also came with southern officers and several arrived enslaved and remained so for 12 years, having falsely been promised their freedom. In spite of their longevity in the region, once Wisconsin became a state and entered the election process, Black men were not allowed to vote.
Dr. Christy Clark-Pujara is an Associate Professor of Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison. She says the dubious ranking of being one of the worst places to raise Black children fuels her passion for studying the history of Black people in Wisconsin. Clark-Pujara says that as Wisconsinites we need to own our history and understand the steps it took to get to where we are today. One major step was gaining the right to vote. In this edition of Radio Chipstone, Clark-Pujara introduces contributor gianofer fields to Ezekiel Gillespie and his fight for Black male suffrage in Wisconsin.
About the Host:
gianofer (JON nah fer) fields is an Art Historian and Material Culture contributor and curates the Radio Chipstone series. The project is hosted by the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and funded by the Chipstone Foundation; a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.
About the Guest:
Christy Clark-Pujara is Associate Professor of History and Graduate Advisor in the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on the experiences of black people in French and British North America in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. She is particularly interested in retrieving the hidden and unexplored histories of African Americans in areas that historians have not sufficiently examined—small towns and cities in the North and Midwest. She has been an Anna Julia Cooper Fellow and a Resident Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities. Author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island, she is currently working on a forthcoming book, From Slavery to Suffrage: Black on the Wisconsin Frontier, 1740 to 1866, which will examine how the practice of race-based slavery, black settlement, and debates over abolition and black rights shaped white-black race relations in the Midwest.
Image: Ezekiel Gillespie (1818-1892) of Milwaukee. Daguerreotype made in the 1840s. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Magazine of History: Volume 60, number 3, spring, 1977, p. 178. Published by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
This segment comes from the Radio Chipstone Archives on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio. See here.