In 1840 there were less than 400 African Americans living in Madison. We know some arrived as slaves to fur trappers, others came to work in the mines. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act caused many to escape to free states like Wisconsin. That’s just the beginning of the story.
Born and raised in Madison, Muriel Simms can tell you stories that run deep through our city. She is an Adjunct Faculty member at Edgewood College and she is the author of Settlin’: Stories of Madison’s Early African American Families. Simms Father came to Madison in 1927 to attend the Pharmacology program at UW-Madison. After a brief return to Missouri, The Elder Simms came back to Madison to settle and build a family. Simms says that her family’s story is just one of many. Her book is a collection of narratives told by those who lived and remember what Madison was like for African Americans in those early years. In part one of this interview, contributor gianofer fields asks Simms to set the scene. Where did African Americans live and what did those communities look like?
This is part 1 of 2. In part 2 of the interview, Simms will discuss how she, her family and the African Americans communities thrived and faced challenges in Madison during those early years.
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:
Muriel Simms is a lifelong Madison resident and longtime educator in the Madison Metropolitan School District. She received her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 and serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Edgewood College. Her recent book, Settlin’: Stories of Madison’s Early African American Families, is now available via the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
Images: All photos courtesy of Muriel Simms. Top left: Muriel’s father, David Simms. Top right: The family at her grandparents house in Missouri, including Mary Simms, Robert Chasteen, Muriel, Mary Chasteen, Dolores, and Dolores’ sons. Bottom right: Muriel with her mother and father at their home on Lake Street. Bottom left: Muriel Simms as a child.
This segment comes from the Radio Chipstone Archives on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio.