Vol. I No. 1                                                     March 22, 2006
Mother Jacqueline Wright looks back at the Civil Rights Era

Other stories/columns

Some Sadness in March Madness?
by Dr. Paul Barrows

Decision 2006: The Madison School Board Race

Chispas de esperanza en el Senado Estadounidense,
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The threat to our community,
by Pamela Pfeffer

The Philippines: A look at the past and the present,
by Heidi M. Pascual

A photo album of Black History Month,
by Jon Gramling

* MMSD Wild Rice Cultural Awareness and Ecological Restoration Program,
by Jon Gramling

* Hidden Victims and Broken Lives,
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by Elda Gonzalez

Dawn Shegonee,
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*  Hues City Happenings

* Global Connections

and  more!

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    It was very fitting that I interviewed Mother Jacqueline Wright in the vestibule of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The church has always played a central role in her life. Her husband, the late Rev. James C. Wright, had played a pivotal role in Madison's civil rights      movement. Rev. Wright headed Madison's Equal Opportunities Commission for 25 years and was the pastor of Mt. Zion when he died.
      As I listen to Mother Wright talk about her and "Jimmie's" life, my deep respect grew even deeper. She talked about the days when her mother owned a beauty shop on Mound Street in the old Greenbush neighborhood back in the early 1960s. They ended up moving the business to Gilson Street when an urban removal project leveled "The Bush." Unbeknown to them, the property owners on S. Park Street conspired to not sell to the African American businesses moving from the Bush.
      Rev. Wright and Rev. Dawson built the building that now houses the Style and Grace Salon. Back then, it was known as Jackie's Beauty Salon and Jimmie's Barbershop. Wright and Dawson would later team up to build the old Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Fisher Street.
      When listening to Mother Wright recount all of the battles they fought while Rev. Wright was the EOC director and the racial steering that occurred on Madison's south side, it is truly awesome to realize what a spiritual woman Mother Wright is. In spite of the hate and discrimination and prejudice, she has a sweet and smiling demeanor.
      Since Rev. Wright was a carpenter and worked as an aide in Madison General Hospital, I had always wondered how Rev. Wright rose to such a prominent role in Madison's civil rights community. When Mother Wright spoke of the early days in South Carolina, I wondered no more.
      Mother Wright was born in Arkansas, but raised in Milwaukee. She met Rev. Wright when he went to school at the University of Wisconsin. The Wrights were married on December 1, 1951 in Milwaukee and moved to Camden, South Carolina where Rev. Wright was born and raised, so that he could become pastor of his childhood church, Mt. Mariah Baptist Church.
      Moving to the Deep South during the height of segregation was a shocker to Mother Wright, something she never got used to. "I wasn't brought up in a place where you would see 'Colored Only' signs and people would go to the back of the bus," Wright recalled. "I saw signs that said 'Drinking Water for Colored.' That was devastating to me. I just couldn't imagine it because I was brought up in Milwaukee  and we didn't have those signs. When we wanted to have food at restaurants, we had to go to the back or side entrance and they would pass the food to you. Right until my husband passed away, he would never go to a restaurant that had a drive-thru where they hand it to you because it would remind him of the segregated restaurants. Even though you can go to McDonalds or anywhere today for fast food and get it through your window,  he wouldn't do it because he said 'That's the way we had to get food all the time.'; And he didn't like that idea."
Still smiling after all of these years
by Jonathan Gramling
     Mother Wright had just turned 21 years old when she married and she was excited to cast her first vote. Little did she expect the gauntlet of laws and regulations that she would have to pass through to exercise her right. "When I went to register to vote, I had to read," Wright recalled. "I had to show them my high school diploma. I had to show  them my husband's tax papers. We had to show them that my husband's parents owned a house. There were just so many credentials we had to show before they would allow me to vote. We had to pay a poll tax also. I said 'Oh my goodness! But we went through it in order to vote. That's why I am so sorry that the young people today won't come out and vote like they should."
      Wright learned how to drive so that she wouldn't have to be humiliated by being required to sit on the back of the bus. And there were other conventions she probably naively disregarded. "When you would go to stores to buy things and they asked you a question, the proper procedure for Black people was to say 'Yes, ma'am' or 'No, ma'am," she said. "You couldn't just say yes or no. I always still said yes or no because I wasn't brought up that way. My mom didn't even raise me to do that with family members because they had to do that so much in the South. A lot of Black people today say 'Yes, ma'am' because that's from the slave era.Things like that I couldn't get accustomed to."
      Traveling in the Deep South could be risky and could expose African Americans to random acts of violence. Rev. Wright was protected in a way because he was a minister. "When we traveled, my husband always put a 'Clergy' sticker on his license plate because it seemed that the Southern White people would respect clergy," she recalled. "He would always put that on the car so we wouldn't be harassed by the police when we traveled throughout the South."
      Due to the segregated accommodations laws, traveling Black ministers, college  presidents, and other professionals couldn't stay at a hotel or eat in a restaurant. The Wrights' household became a stopping place for people traveling to Allen College and Benedict College in Colombia, South Carolina. "It was almost like a bed and breakfast situation," Wright said.
      Segregation kept the races apart in marriage and in death. One night a couple wanting to get married showed up at the Wrights'     doorstep. They had looked Rev. Wright up in the phone book. "When they rang the doorbell, they said that they would like to see Rev.      Wright," she said. "He came to the door and said  'I'm Rev. Wright.' They were surprised because they didn't know he was Black just looking in the phone book. They said , 'We want you to marry us.' He replied, 'I can't marry you because I'm Black. You'll have to go to a White clergy.' He sent them to a minister he knew."
      Segregation also kept the Boy Scouts apart and created a "separate but unequal" situation for the children of Rev. Wright's church.      But Rev. Wright would not be deterred in helping his scouts enjoy the scouting experience. "My husband went to the headquarters of the  Boy Scouts in Camden, South Carolina to tell them his boys wanted to go on a camping trip with the White boys in order to get their merit badges," Wright recalled. "They said they couldn't because of the segregation laws. So what my husband did was take the old      house next door to the church and he had them to bring in grass and hay to put on the floor. It looked like a camping area. And it was so realistic  and so beautiful. He brought in limbs of trees and hung them on the wall  and made it just like camping outside. They brought in tents. The boys were  able to spend four days inside of that house as if they went camping. White people from other areas came to look at the makeshift campground. They gave them their badges because it was like camping. I never will forget that."
      As a minister and community leader, Rev. Wright was involved in the civil rights movement. The local branch of the NAACP used the church for its meetings. And Rev. Wright traveled the state for civil rights meetings. Some of the White townspeople took notice. "Quite a few Klu Klux Klansmen didn't like the church being used as a civil rights meeting place for the NAACP," Wright emphasized. "So one night, about 2-3 a.m., one of my husband's deacons called and said, 'Rev. Wright, our church is burning.' Several churches were      burned in South Carolina during that time. I remember him hurrying, getting out of the house, and going down to the church. It practically burned down to the ground. We never found out who burned it, but we knew it must have been Klu Klux Klansmen because there were several churches that had been burned."
      Rev. Wright was not deterred. He raised the money needed to rebuild the church, which he did with his two bare hands. And he      continued to travel around the state for civil rights meetings and activities.
      After the church was built, Rev. Wright decided to finish his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While Rev. Wright loved Wisconsin, Mother Wright said, she continued to have a soft spot in her heart for South Carolina, in spite of the unequal treatment and the burning of their church. "I liked the weather and the people in South Carolina and the hospitality," Wright said fondly. "Sometimes the people who lived on farms would bring you all kinds of food from their gardens. They were just kind people. I liked that Southern hospitality. I would have been able to get used to some of the things."
      And as the Wrights would soon learn, everything in Madison was not great for Black folks. "It is segregated here in the way people mistreat you in a hidden way," she confided. "It was just more open in the South than it is here."
      Yet, in spite of all that she has witnessed and experienced, Mother Wright continues to stay positive and spiritual. She is quite a remarkable woman.
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
The journey within
      t has been a long journey these past six months, figuratively and literally, a journey of reflection and soul searching. And now, it's good to be back. And it will be good to see many of you within the give and take of community life. It is so good to be back.
      I had to make that journey within because so much of my life had changed in the past year and most of  its physical underpinnings removed. I lost most of the sources of my  livelihood during that time. I don't really know the truth behind the reasons that those things came to pass. While I may still have feelings about those life-changing events, I have learned that it is best to move on because other opportunities await us when we do reach the point where we can let go. It is a matter of being controlled by the past  --  as  opposed to learning from the past  -- or embracing one&'s future. One course is "death," the other "life."  With the help of dear friends, I have chosen life.
      And I also lost my dear sweet  mother Clare who passed last September after living a good 86 years on this earth. While I thought I had kept a good rational sense of myself, I now      realize that I was insane with grief there for a while. She had been a positive presence in my life for 53 years and to have that cut off, even when it was expected, was intensely traumatic, like having your soul cut right out of you. And still, I grieve.
      And so, I had to take a journey within because the pillars of my past were no longer and I stood at one of  the most important crossroads in my life.
      One road was definitely an easy road. I could settle into a past life and with a lot of hard work, make a comfortable living doing accounting work for various nonprofits. It has always been something I was good at and there is always demand for someone who knows that two plus two always equals four.
      I could have put a down payment on a house --  I've always been a renter -- with money I inherited from the sale of my mom's house and settled into a 50-hour work week and lived the good life. And I could have run into old and new acquaintances on the street and community events and reminisce about what was and speculate about that which would not be. My, how tempting that would be.
      There was another road that also beckoned, one with a lot of ruts at the entrance. It's a route that required long hours and relatively little pay. It was fraught with dangers and risks. It  had no guarantees that I would reach the end. It was a road that I told God I was not capable of traveling, that the easier road was the one I was capable of following.
      But God's people are beacons in the darkness.  And as I wandered the streets of Madison, many whispered in my ear and showed me the way. And they remembered.
      And so, I set forth on the path with great risk and little financial reward. From the hundreds of whispered comments and smiles and hugs, the vision for this newspaper, The Capital City Hues, was born. It isn't so much my vision as it is the dreams and wishes of many of you. I am, after all, a good listener, which makes me a good writer, or so I have been told. I do have a passion for writing  people's stories, to allow their voices to be heard. What can I say, I do love and care for people.
      Starting a newspaper is not something I had planned. I have a big ego -- I'm a Leo after all -- but it  is truly fulfilled when I write a story that touches another person. Starting a newspaper is a vehicle to allow me the independence to write people's stories, unadulterated by other agendas. The Capital City Hues is about the truths in our lives, no matter how big or how small.
      The Capital City Hues is about many voices from all of the hues in our  lives. It is about knowledge. Knowledge is power and The Capital City Hues is about empowering people, our readership, in their everyday lives, and not empowering ourselves, the owners and writers, through the manipulation  and selection of stories to further our places in this world.
      And so,  instead of buying a house, I am traveling down this very risky road. But we shall build a house where truth can dwell. We shall always pursue truth knowing that we can never hold her. Anyone who says s/he holds truth is deceived, for once you hold truth, you immediately begin to transform it  with your own desires and ambitions and it is no longer truth. We are      humbled by the knowledge that only God or a Supreme Being can hold truth.  We can only pledge that we will pursue truth with the same passion it has taken to put this paper together.
      I am pleased and honored to be joined on this journey by a collection of excellent writers and columnists from  across the spectrum of "hues" within our community. I hope this first edition of The Capital City Hues, which I dedicate to my mom and my son Andrew, is worthy to compel you to join us on this journey we are undertaking. Love yourselves!
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