African-Americans at the University of Wisconsin (1875-1969)

By Harvey D. Long (SLIS) for the UW-Madison Archives

William Smith Noland graduated in 1875 as “a basically prepared student in the Classical department of the University of Wisconsin.” Noland is the first known African-American to enter and graduate with a B.A. He was a member of the Hesperian Society, a campus literary club, and elected class poet by his peers. Noland briefly attended law school at the University.

William Noland pictured in class album, 1875

Noland pictured in class album, 1875

William T. Green  graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1892.  Green practiced law in Milwaukee and was a leader in the African-American community.

William T. Green pictured in Souvenir Book, 1892

Green pictured in Souvenir Book, 1892

The McCard brothers of Rockford, Illinois matriculated during the 1890s. William received a B.L. in 1893 before earning a law degree from Northwestern University. Harry, William’s younger brother, was a member of the Mandolin Club, Junior Orator and vice president of the Republican Club. Harry practiced medicine after graduating from the University in 1896.

Harry McCard pictured with Mandolin Club, 1897

H. McCard pictured with Mandolin Club, 1897

On January 11, 1906, skilled orator Eugene J. Marshall won first place in the annual Hamilton Club oratorical contest. The following evening, all of the literary societies and others interested in oratory, gathered at Library Mall to celebrate the victory. Marshall received a $100 prize and free membership into the Hamilton Club.

Marshall pictured in The Badger, 1907

Marshall pictured in The Badger, 1907

In 1918, Mabel Watson Raimey earned a B.A., becoming the first African-American woman to graduate from the University. She attended Marquette University Law School and was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1927. Raimey was the first African-American woman attorney in Wisconsin.

Raimey pictured in The Badger, 1919

Raimey pictured in The Badger, 1919

Julian Ware (3rd row, 3rd from left) and teammate Adelbert R. Matthew (2nd row, middle) were the first African-American varsity athletes at the University.

UW Baseball Team, 1903

UW Baseball Team, 1903

George Coleman Poage graduated with a B.L. Poage was a member of the varsity track team, breaking several records in dashes and hurdles. He would become the first African-American to win an Olympic medal in 1904.

UW Track Team, 1903

UW Track Team, 1903

W. Cecil Bratton rowed freshman crew, making him one of the first African-Americans to row on any level of collegiate crew.

UW Crew Team, 1925

UW Crew Team, 1925

Jimmie Elmer Tyler, class of 1924, moved from Lexington, Kentucky to live with relatives in Madison. Tyler’s senior thesis was “A Study of the Amount and Character of the Teacher-Training Offered in Negro Normal Schools.” After graduation, Tyler joined the Dallas School District to train African-American grade school teachers.

Tyler pictured in The Badger, 1925

Tyler pictured in The Badger, 1925

Freddie-Mae Hill taught home economics at Booker T. Washington’s famous Tuskegee Institute after receiving a B.S. in home economics in 1928. Her senior thesis was “The Evolution of Textile Printing.” Hill was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. While visiting relatives in Wisconsin, her father decided to move the family to Madison. Her parents owned and operated Hill’s Grocery in Madison for more than 50 years. Today, the Hill building has been designated a Madison landmark.

Hill pictured in The Badger, 1929

Hill pictured in The Badger, 1929

In 1932, George James Fleming (4th row, 2nd from left) graduated with a B.A. in journalism. Fleming was editor of The Daily Cardinal and a member of Sigma Delta Chi, a society for journalist.

Fleming pictured with Daily Cardinal editorial staff, 1932

Fleming pictured with Daily Cardinal editorial staff, 1932

“There are fifteen Negro students in the University of Wisconsin,” according to Velma Bell Hamilton’s master’s thesis, “The Negro population of Beloit and Madison, Wisconsin.” A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Beloit College, Hamilton earned a master’s degree in sociology from the University in 1933. Hamilton was Madison’s first African-American teacher.

Argyle Stoute earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from the University. Stoute was instrumental in establishing the Negro Culture Foundation, an interracial club dedicated to researching and preserving African-American history. By 1950, the Foundation was no longer listed in The Badger.

Stoute pictured in The Badger, 1943

Stoute pictured in The Badger, 1943

After attending Howard University in Washington D.C., Mary Hinkson enrolled at the University to study under pioneer dance instructor Margaret H’Doubler. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1946 and a master’s in 1947. After graduation, Hinkson joined the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Hinkson, c. late 1940s

Hinkson, c. late 1940s

Florence A. Frye studied zoology at the University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1947. In 1952, she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and practiced medicine in Evanston, Illinois.

Frye pictured in The Badger, 1948

Frye pictured in The Badger, 1948

Author Lorraine Hansberry (3rd row, 6th from left) briefly attended the University of Wisconsin. Hansberry is best known for her play, A Raisin in the Sun.

Lorraine Hansberry pictured with Langdon Manor, 1948

Hansberry pictured with Langdon Manor, 1948

Impressed with his culinary skills, Donald Halverson, Director of Dormitory and Commons, hired Carson Gulley as a chef in Van Hise Refectory in 1926. “Somehow I had the chance to taste that pie and it was fabulous–the rich chocolate, the creamy filling and the whipped cream…,” recalled a UW graduate after eating a slice of Gulley’s famous fudge bottom pie. The University later renamed Van Hise Refectory to the Carson Gulley Commons.

Gulley's chefs course, c. 1940s

Gulley’s chefs course, c. 1940s

During the 1945-1946 academic year, Alain Locke was visiting professor in the Philosophy department. After graduating from Harvard University, Locke became the first African-American to receive the prestigious Rhodes scholarship. “Philosophy students have crowded the classes of Dr. Alain L. Locke,” reported a January 31, 1946 article in The Daily Cardinal.

Locke's faculty employment card, 1945

Locke’s faculty employment card, 1945

Cornelius L. Golightly was an assistant professor in the Philosophy department from 1949 to 1955. Golightly graduated from Talladega College and received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan before becoming the first African-American tenured professor. Golightly taught courses in philosophy and psychology.

Photo of Golightly, c. 1950s

Photo of Golightly, c. 1950s

Arthur E. Burke, an African-American graduate student in the English Department, was denied a room in the University Club. Faculty and students protested, resulting in the admittance of Burke.

The Daily Cardinal, 1944

The Daily Cardinal, 1944

The Beta Omicron Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated was the first Black Greek-letter organization (B.G.L.O.) at the University. The chapter was established on April 17, 1946.

Badger Yearbook, 1947

The Badger, 1947

A student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) was established on campus in 1947.

NAACP Correspondence, 1947

NAACP Correspondence, 1947

Vel Phillips was the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1951. In 1956, Phillips also became the first woman ever to sit on Milwaukee’s Common Council. She also became the first woman judge in Milwaukee County and the first African-American to serve in Wisconsin’s judiciary.

Vel Phillips, photo courtesy of Wisconsin Alumni Association, c. 1950

Phillips, photo courtesy of Wisconsin Alumni Association, c. 1950

Students protested the refusal of several chain stores in the South to allow African-Americans to sit at lunch counters. Students picketed the Woolworth store on the square, and 500 students demonstrated on Library Mall on March 3, 1960.

UW students praying, 1960

UW students praying, 1960

After a rally on Bascom Hill, students marched down State Street as part of a memorial for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.

UW students on Bascom Hill, 1968

UW students on Bascom Hill, 1968

The Black Peoples Alliance organized a strike. The student strikers demanded an increase in minority recruitment and a Black studies department. On February 12, 1969 Governor Knowles called out the National Guard.

Members of the Black Peoples Alliance, 1969

Members of the Black Peoples Alliance, 1969

Gwendolyn Brooks was the Rennebohm Visiting Professor of Creative Writing during the spring of 1969. Brooks was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, for Poetry, in 1950 for “Annie Allen.”

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks, 1969

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks, 1969