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When a Negro moves to a better house in a neighborhood where he has already lived for some years, and gets anonymous bomb threats by telephone, Madison has a problem.


Equal Opportunities

On December 10, 1963, three individuals were celebrating, possibly more than others, after the City Council passed Madison's Equal Opportunities ordinance. These individuals were Betty MacDonald, John McGrath, and the Rev. James Wright. They had been working in coalition with many organizations, individuals, and city officials on the righteousness of passing this city ordinance.

Twenty years after the event, Ruth Doyle conducted oral history interviews with these individuals. John McGrath and Rev. Wright have since died. Historic Madison recently had these interviews transcribed and edited for publication in a new issue of A Journal of the Four Lakes. Copies of the Journal are available at the public libraries, Borders West, and from Historic Madison's web site.

Included in a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from the time, we found the text of a speech, "Dare We Be Christians?" which Walter Rauschenbush, then an Assistant Professor of Law at the UW, presented to area churches, once on Sunday, June 30, 1963 at the First Congregational Church. Included in his speech were these anecdotes:

- 'When a Negro Army Captain, coming to do graduate work at our University, cannot find a place in Madison to park the mobile home that is to house his family, Madison has a problem.

- 'When a Negro moves to a better house in a neighborhood where he has already lived for some years, and gets anonymous bomb threats by telephone, Madison has a problem.

- 'When a Negro lady seeking to buy a house is told by a real estate man that he'll buy it and sell it to her for $15,000, and she checks and finds the owner is asking $10,000, Madison has a problem.

- "When that same lady finds a house she likes and an owner who will sell, and the neighbors join to offer her $3000 cash not to move in, Madison has a problem.

Included in John McGrath's interview notes folder were clippings from various publications at the time of his death in 1987. John was a pacifist and a civil-rights activist before coming to Madison in 1947. During World War II, he was a conscientious objector and volunteered to work in the West Coast detention camps for Japanese-Americans. When he came to Madison, he immediately set out to find what the status of life was for African-Americans. In 1964, he cited fewer than 100 black students at the UW-Madison.

John commented on the civil-rights movement in Madison by saying, "This is not a revolution. This is something we have inherited from many generations of discrimination. There's no way to break the circle, except at any point you possibly can. We must push in all areas to achieve any goals. You have to fight on all fronts at once."

John was the former associate editor of the Progressive magazine. His friend Erwin Knoll, later editor of the magazine, said John was a religious man who responded to those in need. "When he saw something that needed to be fixed, he did his best to fix it." John had worked for the Progressive for 33 years before retiring in 1980.

Tess Mulrooney