|Vol. 13 No. 3
FEBRUARY 5, 2018
Help Make History Happen
Happy Black History Month! There are a lot of activities going on this month both on our college campuses and in the community. I hope people
turn out and take advantage of the many educational opportunities that are available to learn about African American contributions to America
and world civilization. I also hope people turn out to learn more about the centuries old struggle for Black Freedom in this country, a freedom
that has yet to be achieved and must continuously be fought for.
I have always felt that the more I learn, the more I realize the vast amount of knowledge that I don’t know. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. I’ve been
able to put a few of the pieces together, but I know there are a whole lot of pieces missing from the big picture. There is always so much more
Take, for example, the fight for Black voting rights. Now the struggle is usually framed in terms of the fight for the right to vote in the American
South in the 1950s and 1960s, a right that was theoretically secured by the 15th amendment, but needed a century to be practically realized in
the South. And we all know of the struggle and the price that was paid to secure that right with the Selma to Montgomery March and the three
civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi including Andrew Goodman who studies briefly at UW-Madison.
But who among us knows about the struggle for Black voting rights in the North? My superficial impressions of Wisconsin history are that
African Americans had the vote until the tactics of the Old South to use voter IDs, limitations on voter registration tactics and other measures
were instituted during the last 10 years.
But I did an interview with Professor Christy Clark-Pujara yesterday where she taught me that the fight for Black voter rights in Milwaukee
began with the failed Wisconsin Constitution in 1846 that would have made Wisconsin a state. There were forces in Wisconsin even then
opposed to the full participation of African Americans in the body politic and shaping what the state would become.
And so the passage of voter suppression measures targeting the African American community didn’t start just 10 years ago. It’s been going on
since before Wisconsin became a state. The struggle continues and people shouldn’t give in to the suppression much like their ancestors in
the 1840s didn’t give in to it either.
Professor Clark-Pujara will be the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Open House being held on February 15th, 4-7 p.m., at
their headquarters at 816 State Street. Clark-Pujara’s talk is just one component of the celebration that includes some snacks from Melly Mel’
s. It will be a deliciously educational time.
Black History didn’t just happen. It’s not just the passive unfolding of events that impacted Black people. Black History is composed on
ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things. It has been composed of waves of everyday people standing up for their rights and for the
values they hold dear.
One of those values is education. In the Antebellum South, the education of Africans who were enslaved was punishable by beatings and even
death. There are many unknown Africans who were slaves who gave their lives for the education of their children and others.
They knew that an educated mind would never tolerate subjugation and slavery. A free mind is a free human being. Efforts to prevent African
Americans from learning and gaining an education — even the modern day fiction that trying to become educated is trying to become “white” —
are an attempt to keep African Americans subjugated, clear and simple.
One of the biggest impacts on the Jim Crow South was the segregated schools because the Black schools had inferior books, supplies and
facilities even though they had an abundance of people who believed in the academic potential of each and every Black student.
Intentionally or not, when Brown vs. Board of Education ended “Separate but Equal” and order the integration of the schools — which usually
meant closing down the Black schools and laying off their teachers — it destroyed that network of academic and personal support that Black
students experienced in their schools.
And for a variety of reasons, we are left today with academic disparities that seem to be irresolvable at times.
But we do have something happening in South Madison that can impact that, the building of a new Madison College South facility at the corner
of Badger Road and S. Park Street. It is going to expand South Madison’s technical college capacity by a factor of three. The Madison College
staff is bending over backwards through the leadership of Dr. Jack Daniels III to involve the South Madison community in the planning for and
the construction of this facility.
It’s overall cost is going to be about $22 million, an amount that South Madison couldn’t possibly come up with on its own. The major portion of
the funds is coming from foundations and corporations like the Goodman Foundation and the Great Lakes Higher Education Corp.
But the South Madison community and the greater Madison community, especially its communities of color, need to step up to the plate and
give to this project. The Madison area’s communities of color need to take ownership of this complex and, in essence, make it their own in
order to support students of color and others to advance in our society and to become all that they can be for the benefit of themselves, their
families, our communities of color and the Greater Madison area.
I urge everyone who reads this column to contribute. Help make Black History — and Latino and Asian American and Native American and first
generation history — today. Make the dreams of those African who were enslaved real. Help build the institution that will impact many families
in Greater South Madison and beyond. Make a little history this month. Give today.