Stoney the Road, a Madison Black History
Struggle & Triumph
|Clockwise from far left: Pia Kinney
James (l-r), Betty Banks and Dr. Muriel
Simms have been working on Stoney
the Road, a project documenting
Madison’s African American community
from 1900-1950; Dr. Muriel Simms (in
her father’s lap); The grandparents of
Betty Banks - William Miller and Anna
Mae Miller; Anna Mae, Caolyn and
DuBois Miller in a goat cart
By Jonathan Gramling
The way that some people would conceive it, African
Americans suddenly appeared in Madison in the 1970s and
always lived in South Madison until recent times. However
nothing could be farther from the truth. There has been an African American presence in Madison at
least since the Civil War in the 1860s and during those early years, an African American ran for
Betty Banks’ people came to Madison at the turn of the 20th century when Madison’s Black
community was centered east of the Capitol Square on Dayton and Mifflin Streets where the Hill Grocery, old St. Paul AME Church and the
Black Mason’s building still stand. Another segment of the community was entered where the old Mt. Zion Baptist Church once stood near
the corner of Lake and Johnson Streets as well as in the old Greenbush where Bayview Apartments and several medical buildings now
Banks wanted to preserve and document the history of those times and created the Stony the Road: Celebrating the History of Early African
American Settlers of Madison, 1900-1950. Banks, Pia Kinney James, Dr. Muriel Simms and Mary Wells set out to collect as many documents
and photos that they could to preserve the past connected to many of the national social and political movements of the African American
community in the 20th century. On March 22, the group gave a presentation at the South Madison Library.
These early settlers in Madison weren’t from Chicago. They were from places like Kentucky, Tennessee and even rural Wisconsin.
“My grandparents came here at the turn of the 20th century,” Banks said. “They came here in 1900. They were newly married. They were a
handsome couple. He graduated from Berea College in Kentucky. She graduated from Knoxville College in Tennessee. She was a teacher
and he was a lawyer. In fact, someone sent me a picture of him, which I gave to this collection. He was on the baseball team. They came
here and settled and bought two houses, one to be used as a boarding house and the other as a family home. He was asked by Governor
LaFollette to work for him. And my grandmother didn’t work. They came here with some means. They had a cook and housekeeper. They had
six children. My mother was one of them, Anna Mae Mitchell. They were pioneers in a lot of social justice causes.”
Banks’ grandparents, William Miller and Anna Mae Miller, were connected to the National NAACP. Banks still has a letter sent to her
grandfather from Oswald Garrison Villard, one of the founders of the NAACP and grandson of William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist.
“My grandfather was called a messenger to Governor LaFollette, but he was an advisor,” Banks said. “He and W.E.B. DuBois were friends.
And there were people who were followers of Booker T. Washington and people who were followers of W.E.B. DuBois. Those were the
radicals of the times, people who followed him DuBois. He came to Madison and stayed with them several times. My grandfather was the
Wisconsin contact for the Niagara Movement that was the forerunner of the NAACP. Also he was a member of The Talented Tenth. Those
were Black male lawyers who DuBois were obligated to uplift the lives of other Black people. And so, they came here and pioneered many
And back in those days, the countryside was where Madison College-Truax now stands.
“What is interesting is my grandparents didn’t want their kids to ride on the back of the streetcars,” Banks said. “So they would walk from
Dayton Street to the Truax area to their country home because they did not want their kids to ever feel like second-class citizens. So they
It was school segregation that brought the father of Dr. Muriel Simms — the retired principal of Lincoln Elementary School — to Madison.
Plessey v. Ferguson and “Separate, but Equal” were still in force in the southern and border states, even in higher education.
“My dad came here in 1927 to go to school because Missouri would rather pay an African American to go out-of-state to go to school for
higher education instead of allowing them to go to a public school in Missouri,” Simms said. “That’s how my dad got the money. He heard
about Wisconsin and said, ‘Okay Missouri, pay me my tuition to go to Wisconsin.’ Missouri did not want him going to a college in Missouri.”
Simms grew up in the shadows of UW-Madison.
“I lived on the corner of Lake Street and Dayton Street, a block away from where the school board building is right now,” Simms said. “They
tore our house down because the university was buying up a lot of property back then. My dad was the last holdout. He was holding out for
every dime he could get from the university. Every time I go down Dayton Street, I still see the house we lived in. Washington was a 1-8
grade school. Because the university bought up the property, we moved out to the east side where Gardner’s Bakery is now. I went to the
old Sunnyside School, which was K-8.”
Back when Simms was growing up in Madison, the African American community was very small and someone self-contained due, in part,
to the high degree of bigotry that African Americans experienced. Restrictive covenants still remain on the deeds of many a Dane County
property even though they could no longer be enforced due to the Civil Rights Act of 1966 that prohibited discrimination in housing. The
Black community made its own entertainment.
“I remember Old Black Madison as one of friendship, one of community, one of supporting each other, one of banding together to fight for an
issue, one of unity, one of fun and establishing many activities among each other and for each other, Simms recalled. “I remember
camaraderie and companionship. I remember my parents every Sunday going some place to visit another Black family. That’s how I became
friends with Muriel Hamilton because we visited the Hamiltons. That’s why I know May Kay Hanna. I used to play with her because her
father Hilton was a prominent Black Madisonian. We ventured out into the community and visited other families. We visited Irma and
Leonard Jenkins. Sunday was spent visiting other Black families all over Madison.”
Pia Kinney James’ grandmother was White and hailed from northern Wisconsin.
“My great, great grandparents came from New York, coming over on the boat,” James said. “They settled in the Webster-Sparta-LaCrosse
area. They had a farm there and did laboring all over Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. That’s how my grandmother met her first husband
in Minnesota and then met her second husband who is mom’s dad. He was John Smith Barlow. She met him and they moved back to
Wisconsin. So they’ve been in Wisconsin since about 1925-1926.”
Pia Kinney James’ mom, Doris Kinney, and her siblings became orphans. Her story reflected the backbone of the African American family,
the extended family where family members didn’t have to be related by blood.
“My mother Doris Barlow Kinney came to Madison in the early 1940s,” James recalled. “She ended up coming from an orphanage in Sparta,
Wisconsin. She came down to South Beloit and lived there for a period of time with a reverend. And then when he got moved out of his
church, she came here to the Allison family and she continued to be raised by the Allisons until she grew up. It was Roxanne’s
grandmother. And Gram and Grandpap Allison became my foster grandparents. They were the only grandparents I knew.”
Kinney stayed in the Allison’s boarding house in the Old Greenbush. And that is where she met her future husband after she graduated from
West High School after first attending Old Central High School.
“My dad is from Indiana and South Beloit,” James said. “They met here at the Allison Rooming House. My mom met him when he was
released from the military after World War II. They dated for a while. They got married. She was 21-years-old. And then they started having
kids. Meanwhile, her brother, John Barlow, my uncle, was in the military when they got married. He was in the Navy. Doris got a hold of him
and said, ‘We’re getting married. Can you come to the wedding? And he did. In the meantime, he met Darlene Barlow who was a member of
the Vaughan family. That’s the ex-slave who lived here around 1901-1902. His name was Harry Vaughan. In 1947, the newspaper here in
Madison did an article on him. He was 102 at the time. The other two families were ex-slaves as well. Darlynn was born from that family.
She married John Barlow. Darlynn and Doris became best friends. Neither one of them had sisters whom they grew up with. Even though
we are connected by marriage, they had a strong bond as well.”
These Old Black Madison families have left their marks on Madison. Banks’ mom, Anna Mae Mitchell, was one of the founders of the
Madison Urban League in 1968 and Banks established the Family Resource Center that was a part of the old South Madison Health & Family
Center-Harambee. James became Madison’s first African American female police officer. While their presence may have been “invisible”
Old Black Madison has been an intricate part of Madison’s political, social and economic development since the turn of the 20th century